The 7-foot senior, who was recently named 2012 ACC Player of the Year, has blossomed into one of the most potent big men in the nation, averaging just under a double-double this season, with 16.4 ppg and 9.3 rpg.
Unfortunately for Maryland fans, Zeller's dominance has been no more evident this season than in the two regular season matchups against the Terrapins. In these two contests, Zeller has averaged 26 points and 7.5 rebounds, leading the Heels in scoring each time.
On Feb. 4, Zeller was 7-of-12 from the field and 8-of-9 at the charity stripe, where he is shooting just over 80 percent on the season. Four fouls limited the big man to only 22 minutes of play in the 83-74 Carolina win, well under his average of 27.3 minutes per game.
The second time the teams met, on Feb. 29 in Chapel Hill, featured a performance that all but put the cherry on top of his player of the year season. The center from Washington, Ind. went off for 30 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while only shooting 5-of-12 from the field.
Yes, you read right. Thirty points on 5-of-12 shooting. How's that possible, you ask. Here's how. Zeller got to the line 23 times that Wednesday night. He sank 20 of his 23 attempts en route to a lopsided 88-64 Carolina victory on Senior Night.
I would say I have never seen a big man shoot so many free throws, said Terps' forward James Padgett. But he did a great job getting in deep position and the ref called what he saw. So, it was a lot of fouls and unfortunately it got a lot of our big guys in foul trouble, but we're gonna try and do what we can to keep him from getting deep touches.
Turns out very few, if any, of the Terps had ever seen such a spectacle in the course of their careers.
I've never seen somebody shoot 23 free throws, said center Berend Weijs. It was a strange game.
Not planning to witness such a sight again, the Terps' senior backup was quick to recite how the frontcourt plans to keep the surefire All-American from continuing his dominance.
Well of course we gotta stop Zeller from getting his position into the post, said Weijs. He's great using his body to get a good post position so we gotta make sure that he doesn't get that position. We gotta push him off the block because when he's off the block he's less effective.
Strange game or not, the Terps are hoping Friday's matchup with the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament will turn out to be significantly different, especially after they were able to pick up some momentum while rolling over Wake Forest earlier Thursday afternoon.
It gives you some momentum, said Weijs of the win. We shared the ball, we rebounded, we did everything that was necessary. So we got a little feel right now and we're playing together. And I think that's momentum and if you carry that into tomorrow, I think we can come out great and if we keep feeling the same way I think we can give them hell.
Maryland has not had the strongest of performances in their games against Carolina this season, only shooting a shade over 38 percent from the field combined in the two losses (shoot an average of 42.3 percent on the season).
Leading scorer Terrell Stoglin has especially had a hard time against the athletic, big guards that the Heels have thrown at him. The sophomore, who is averaging 21.2 ppg, is averaging only 13.5 ppg against tomorrow's opponent, while shooting an average of 29.1 percent from the field.
Yet, despite their struggles against the No. 4 Heels, many of the Terps are confident that this time could shape up to be a different story.
We definitely believe they're beatable, said Padgett. We haven't played up to our full potential yet. Coach has said, going into March hopefully we can play our best basketball and this should be our opportunity to show that we are playing our best basketball.
You know, it's a new season, and right now we're 1-0, said senior Sean Mosley. Tomorrow we get another shot to play another game and we gotta come out with the same attitude and the same energy for 40 minutes. It's definitely gonna be a dogfight tomorrow.
Who knows what could happen? Maryland put up a real fight in the Feb. 4 matchup against Carolina at home, leading by as many as nine in the second half and forcing the Heels to mount one of their biggest comebacks of the season in order to secure the road win. While the Feb. 29 matchup at Carolina was a much different story, the Terps seem to be replenished with a new energy after their 82-60 win on Thursday.
Maybe their newfound swag, as Sean Mosley calls it, and the neutral court could produce an outcome nobody expects.
At least there's one person who believes. I think it'll be a lot different on a neutral site, said Terrell Stoglin, It's gonna be a good game.