Departure of Jeffries brings Indiana back down to earth

by Anthony Maggio

CHICAGO – Not many players in college basketball can dramatically affect his team’s preseason ranking just by leaving school early.

But former Indiana big man Jared Jeffries can.

“Losing Jared Jeffries is a big loss,” Hoosiers coach Mike Davis said at Sunday’s Big Ten media day. “If he’s back, we’re top five in the country off the bat.”

Instead, last season’s NCAA runner-up and co-Big Ten champion isn’t even ranked atop it’s own conference, as both the coaches and the media picked Michigan State as the preseason favorite.

Indiana was second in both polls, tied for the spot with Minnesota in the coaches’ poll. Illinois was ranked third in the media poll.

Jeffries left the Hoosiers following his sophomore year after being taken with the 11th pick in this year’s NBA draft by the Washington Wizards. Jeffries was last season’s Big Ten Most Valuable Player and a second-team All-American.

He led Indiana in scoring (15 ppg) and rebounding (7.6 rpg), while finishing second in steals (54) and third in blocked shots (46).

The Hoosiers players expected to fill the void left by Jeffries are senior Jeff Newton and junior George Leach. The 6-foot-9 inch Newton averaged 20 minutes a game last year, but will see even more time this season. Leach, 6-foot-11 inches tall, averaged only nine minutes a game, and is expected to shore up the team defensively and on the boards.

“I know everyone is saying Jeff and I can’t do what Jared did, but Jeff and I played against JJ every day,” Leach said. “So I think we’ll surprise a lot of people this year.”

Both Leach and Newton hit the weight room this summer to bolster their bodies and in turn, the Hoosiers’ inside presence. Leach added 30 pounds while Newton tacked on 15.

In addition, 6-foot-9 inch sophomore Mike Roberts and 6-foot-8 inch Sean Kline both return from redshirt seasons to fill the frontcourt void left by Jeffries.

Indiana’s backcourt remains almost completely intact from last season, with Dane Fife being the only departure. The Hoosiers have eight guards on their 14-man roster, five of whom should make contributions to Indiana’s three guard offense.

Freshmen guards Bracey Wright and Marshall Strickland are expected to make immediate impacts, but seniors Tom Coverdale and Kyle Hornsby will be the backcourt tandem expected to lead by example on the floor.

“It’s our job to get the younger guys that are going to have to play thrown into the fire,” Coverdale said. “It’s our job to teach the younger guys the little things.”

While breaking in the underclassmen is a priority, Indiana’s most pressing issue is still adjusting to life without Jeffries.

“When you had Jared you had your definite go-to guy,” Hornsby said. “I think it changes the chemistry of the whole team when you lose a guy like Jared Jeffries.”

Rickert honored

minnesota sophomore Rick Rickert, last season’s conference Freshman of the Year, was selected as Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year by conference coaches.

Illinois senior Brian Cook was chosen for the honor by the media.

Rickert and Cook were joined on the preseason all-conference team by Indiana’s Tom Coverdale, Wisconsin’s Kirk Penney and Brent Darby of Ohio State.

Gophers injury update

jjunior college transfer Kris Collins suffered a separated right shoulder last Thursday, but was back in practice on Friday. The injury was a reoccurrence of a high school football injury.

Sophomore guard Brent Lawson broke the pinky finger on his shooting hand Wednesday in practice going for a loose ball. Lawson is out for three weeks and will be re-evaluated at that time.

Walk-on forward Randy Chall, who broke his right hand during the team’s first practice, will have his cast removed next Monday.