You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 1:20 p.m.

Big Ten coaches size up Freshman of the Year debate: Trey Burke or Cody Zeller?

By Nick Baumgardner

One's nearly 7-feet tall, the other's often the shortest player on the floor.

One serves as a hometown savior, the other hails from enemy territory.

Indiana forward Cody Zeller and Michigan basketball point guard Trey Burke aren't really alike at all, but they are clearly the two best freshmen in the Big Ten this season.

So, who's better, exactly?

"How could you go wrong with either one?" Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said Monday during the Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "You pick one, and I'll pick the other."

Thumbnail image for UMBB_Indiana_Burke_Zeller.jpg

Trey Burke guards Cody Zeller in a game at Indiana's Assembly Hall earlier this year.

Burke and Zeller each earned seven Big Ten Freshman of the Week nods this season, and the ultimate honor will be announced at 7 p.m. Monday on Big Ten Network.

Earlier in the day, most league coaches were asked to make a case for both, and ultimately, to divulge for whom they voted.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said he gave his vote to Zeller, but not without plenty of difficult thought.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber said he voted for Burke, because he helped lead his team to a share of the Big Ten championship. But, ultimately, he believes Zeller has the higher ceiling as a player.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo wouldn't reveal his vote, but did say both players made his all-conference team.

Most coaches declined to offer their decision, but no one called it an easy choice

"Both of those guys are really good players," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "I'm not going to get into who I voted for, because it's always going to upset somebody, and then you're going to have to play them, and I'm not adding motivation.

"Both of those guys are great players, and I did vote for both of them for all-conference. It's a great argument, you can go back and forth and you can take that one to court, and both attorneys would feel like they're going to win."

Zeller finished the season with a better impact statistically, leading all league freshmen in points (15.4), rebounds (6.4), field goal percentage (63.5), steals (41) and blocked shots (40).

Burke finished just behind Zeller in scoring (14.6), and also led league rookies in assists (4.6) and minutes played (35.9).

Zeller became the ultimate centerpiece of Indiana's offense, as the Hoosiers generally ran most set plays through him, and ultimately improved their win total from last season by 12.

Burke, though, spent more time with the ball in his hands than perhaps any other player in the league this season. Taking over for NBA-departed point guard Darius Morris in November, Burke brutalized opponents this season with high-ball screens, arguably turning into Michigan's best player in the process.

And, perhaps most importantly, it'll be Burke -- not Zeller -- who receives a Big Ten championship ring next season, as he helped guide the Wolverines to a share of their first Big Ten title in 26 years.

"They're neck and neck," Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. "Trey Burke just hits big-time shots at the end of games. We cut it to four (Sunday against Michigan) and he hits an and-one three. That's the type of kid Trey Burke is, Trey Burke has really helped Michigan spread out and run coach Beilein's offense.

"That's a neck-and-neck race They're both very, very talented freshmen."

Beilein was asked Sunday if he felt Burke wasn't just the best freshman in the league, but also the conference's best guard. Like most of his colleagues, he didn't take the bait.

"There's a lot of educated people, there's some bright minds out there with coaches and everyone and they see him play and they know the value he's brought to this team," Beilein said. "We lost a very good guard last year in Darius Morris, and for him to do this in the situation he was in, (was tremendous).

"It's really been great, and he couldn't be calmer. I'll let the educated people make the decision, and I'm sure they'll make the right one."

Burke or Zeller.

Zeller or Burke.

The ultimate verdict will be revealed Monday night. But no one has to wait that long to get an evaluation of the duo's overall on-court impact this season.

"You choose one, I'll take the other one," Sadler said. "And both of us would be happy."

Nick Baumgardner covers Michigan basketball for He can be reached at 734-623-2514, by email at and followed on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.

Want to stay connected to Wolverine basketball in your Facebook newsfeed? “Like”'s Michigan Basketball News & Views.



Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 11:32 p.m.

I guess I tend to compare Zeller with his older bro at UNC, and I don't think he's anywhere near as talented. Time will tell. Burke has gone from good to great as the season progressed. As a freshman, Trey is already one of the best players in the B1G. I see Zeller playing all 4 years. Burke...2, maybe 3 tops. Yeah, it's neck and neck this year. Not so much next year.

M 4 ever

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 10:42 p.m.

How are athletes judged? How many championships they win. Trey 1 Zeller 0. Trey also has the ball in his hands all the time and never comes off the court. I don't think it's a hard decision. No disrespect to Zeller but Trey deserves this award. It will be a shame if he is not given it.


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 5:37 a.m.

your argument is based on a last minute shot by OSU. Is that where you want to be?


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 9:50 p.m.

The ball is in Burke's hand for nearly every possession, and all the offense goes through him. Additionally, he single handedly kept us in many key games which led to a championship, both by driving inside and hitting outside 3's. I am biased but to me, Burke is like the QB of our team whereas Zeller is like their receiver. You need both, but as the QB goes, so goes the team. I like the co-frosh of the year, though. They were both great players.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 9:43 p.m.

Zeller's a big. As such, you expect him to outshine a point guard in points, rebounds, FG% and blocks. The only real surprise is that Zeller tallied more steals. Zeller turned the ball over 49 times to Trey's 82. Considering that Trey handles the ball (and actually has to dribble) many more minutes per game than Zeller, this is not a bad stat for him by comparison. Trey was the leading scorer on a B1G championship team. He shot 36% from 3-point land (Zeller was 0-0 on the season) and he averaged 3.4 rebounds (only three fewer per game and he's a full foot shorter than Zeller).


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 5:34 a.m.

Its almost impossible to compare head to head stats, they are so different. The Indiana version of AA live recognizes this as well. they have homers, too, and their arguments are compelling. as a um fan i won't be an apologist for zeller, but it would be worth a trip to their site for those not afraid to hear something not from their own homers. i think zeller should win, but because its political, burke has a shot at this. zeller is not from Meeeeeeechigan!


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 8:37 p.m.

co-freshmen of the year?


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 7:45 p.m.

....too late.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 7:45 p.m.

Zeller will win it because he has all the hype and so called upside...but he came into a situation where he could easily step in a be the guy. True Burke ran the point for a championship team, hit big shots, gelled with guys like Hardaway, Douglas, and Novac, and was heavily relied on in crucial situations. True Burkes job was infinitely more difficult to handle, so he should win it, going away. Alas, that won't happen because the hype machine got on board


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 5:25 a.m.

I think its still a tossup but the evidence is mounting. Burke is on the better team and has helped his team to a b1g cochamp. Zeller has marginally had the better year and has had more of a total impact, based on what was expected of the two teams. B1g abdicated and named them 'co-' freshmen of the week. nobody is confused over the lack of backbone in the b1g office. espn picks Zeller. who knows for sure?


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 9:10 p.m.

Damn IPad auto spell!

Ted Bundy

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 7:44 p.m.

Tough one... Zeller was a consensus 5 star recruit if I'm not mistaken and Burke was a 3 star sleeper. Should that be considered when choosing between the two? Probably not, but it does affect my choice. I probably agree with Bruce Weber's statement the most.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 7 p.m.

You know damn well who Izzo and Matta are gonna vote for - and it ain't Trey.


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 8:01 p.m.

Matta certainly won't vote for him. Burke is from Columbus and Matta failed to recruit way he wants the kid from his own backyard that he let slip through his fingers win Freshman of the Year.


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 5:19 a.m.

wow.. i keep trying to convince my friends that UM is a good school. they get it but have trouble looking through our fans. these stupid non-shots don't help our reputation. put on your thinking caps, boys. TTDS and TTOT have done that already.


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 1:01 a.m.

Are you joking? Izzo is a clown....when did our expectations for coaches get so low that anyone becomes classy.....


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 10:23 p.m.

Izzo is probably the classiest coach in the Big 10 - he's not going to vote purely on the basis of intra-state rivalry.