In preparation for the 2008-09 basketball season, I will be profiling key contributors for the Tar Heels. Today’s profile looks at sophomore C Tyler Zeller
Weight: 240 lbs
2008-09 and Career Stats: 15 gms, 3.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg
What Happened Last Season
Tyler Zeller actually started the first game of last season at center while Tyler Hansbrough was nursing a shin injury and scored 18 points against Penn. At the conclusion of the 2nd game versus Kentucky, Zeller was fouled hard on a breakaway dunk attempt and broke his wrist upon impact. At that point, it was assumed Zeller was done for the season but his rehab went according to schedule and the sophomore returned in a reserve role on February 18th versus NC State. It was clear that Zeller was never really comfortable with his best two games coming in mop-up duty versus Georgia Tech during the regular season and Radford in the NCAA Tournament. Once the regular season concluded, Zeller saw very limited action of the 2-3 mins per game variety. The long layoff caused Zeller to be a step behind on defense and oftentimes out of position. On offense he could not find a rhythm which is more a product of playing time than anything else. Despite the limited playing time, Roy has said, Zeller benefited from returning, an idea initially opposed by the Tar Heel head coach. I am guessing he got over it.
Outlook For This Season
Assuming Zeller is completely healthy, the assumption is he will come off the bench behind Ed Davis at center. That is unless something is happening in practice he don't know about. I would expect Zeller to be more offensive minded than Davis whereas Davis is probably more defensive minded than Zeller. A rotation of those two could prove effective. The question is how much playing time will Zeller actually see? That depends greatly on how much the Wear Twins get used and whether Roy puts Davis at the four and runs Zeller at the five giving the Heels a huge frontline. According to various reports, Zeller has greatly improved his strength and gained a decent amount of weight since last season. That should allow him to be more effective on the post, especially on defense. Zeller also runs the floor extremely well and is a seven footer who can hit a hook shot. That makes him a potent offensive weapon since a shot like that would be difficult to defend.
Zeller's defense last season left a lot to be desired and will be a focal point this season. The added weight and strength should help where his defense is concerned not to mention being healthy. Because Zeller is seven feet tall, it is assumed he will be an outstanding shot blocker. That is not always the case since shotblocking is more a product of timing than it is being tall. That being said, Zeller is going to block his share of shots because he is tall and long. The key for him is to do so without getting in foul trouble. Also, simply because he has the strength and weight to be physical does not necessarily mean Zeller will instinctively do that on the court. Hopefully the UNC coaches have stoked an aggressive fire in the sophomore from Indiana. The only other issue I foresee is Zeller finding a role and being comfortable in it, especially on offense. Roy says he does not have an idea of who will play what minutes so by extension is might be a source of anxiety for a player to come off the bench and press too much in an effort to secure more playing time. Hopefully that will not be an issue for Zeller who appears to have a high basketball IQ.
Consistency with few fouls.
If Zeller comes off the bench and provides UNC will solid defense along with consistent scoring ability, the Heels will be in excellent shape. The Roy Williams System is predicated on up-tempo with the caveat of running so many weapons in and out of the game that the opposing team is worn completely down. If UNC can rotate post players with regularity without sacrificing any offense or defensive quality, opposing teams will have a difficult time matching up, especially when the small forward is 6-10. At some point opposing players lose their legs and run out of fouls to give which can tilt a game fairly quickly in the Heels' favor. Zeller's play is crucial to making that happen.