Jeffries has Hoosiers off to fast start in Big Ten

It's amazing how a few Big Ten victories can change a coach's perception. You know that non-conference schedule that Indiana coach Mike Davis wasn't so excited about? The one that didn't feature a home game until Dec. 4. The one that had road games at Charlotte, at North Carolina, at Southern Illinois, at Miami. The one that also had games against Kentucky and Butler. The one that led to a 7-5 start of the season. Now Davis can't say enough good things about it. "I was so upset with the schedule," Davis said. "Now it's probably the best thing that could've happened." Collegerpi.com ranks Indiana's schedule strength as No. 4 in the country. For a team with just two seniors and a sophomore go-to guy in Jared Jeffries, the schedule might have been a little too tough for the Hoosiers. And after losing to Butler just before New Year's, the fans of the Red and White, uhh scratch that, the Crimson and Cream, began wondering if Davis was really the right guy for the job. But since then, the Hoosiers have been the most impressive team in the Big Ten and they head into Saturday's game at Ohio State with a 4-0 league record. While beating Northwestern and Penn State to start conference play was expected, Indiana followed that up by whacking Michigan State from the opening tip, then going to Iowa, one of the preseason league favorites, and winning. A year ago, Indiana blew a 17-point lead at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and lost. Davis openly credits the non-conference schedule for the fast start. "It's really helped us," Davis said. "Because now we're able to go into a game and not fear or panic. It really has helped our guys to be tougher and keep our composure under pressure on the road." And it doesn't hurt to have the best player in the league either in Jeffries. While Jeffries allowed Kirk Haston to be the focus of the offense a year ago, he has developed into one of the most dangerous scorers in the league. At 6-10, Jeffries has solid post moves -- something he showed when Iowa opted to play behind him -- but he can also bounce the ball and create in the open floor. Not a bad combination. Jeffries leads the Hoosiers with averages of 17.1 points and 7.1 rebounds, but he's averaged 20.2 points per game in conference play. He hit Michigan State for 21 and followed it up with 26 against the Hawkeyes. "If he keeps playing the way he is, he can be the player of the year in the Big Ten," Davis said. "His development is unbelievable. He comes to practice every day and works hard, he stays after and works. He's a guy who's making the team go and making opportunities for our guards. And he has the Hoosiers at the top of the Big Ten. "Indiana is arguably the best team in the conference," Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien said. "I think those guys going anyplace and winning is not that much of a fluke."

Games of the Week
Indiana at Ohio State
Saturday

Who would've guessed a month ago that this game would be for control of the Big Ten lead? The Hoosiers and the Buckeyes, however, are the only undefeated teams left in the conference.
Bowling Green at Ball State
Saturday

While Ball State became the mid-major darling with victories over Kansas and UCLA in Maui, and while Butler moved into the polls by going undefeated until January, Dan Dakich's team is the Midwestern mid-major that's been a bit overlooked. The Falcons are 13-1 entering Wednesday's game with Toledo. Because the two teams are in opposite divisions of the MAC, this will be the only meeting between the two teams.
Oklahoma at Kansas
Saturday
How's this for a week for the Jayhawks? First is a game at Oklahoma State, then comes a game with Oklahoma, a team that's a legit Final Four candidate. Kansas doesn't exactly have a lot of time to celebrate that victory over the Cowboys.
Overlooked league race
Sure, the conference season is still in the early stages, but one of the more interesting races appears to be brewing in the Mid-Continent Conference. You know, the league that Valparaiso has dominated in recent years. A year ago, the Crusaders showed they were vulnerable when Southern Utah won the title. This season, there's a mess at the top of the standings. Oral Roberts is the lone unbeaten team in Mid-Con play at 3-0, followed by IUPUI (3-1), Valpo (2-1), Oakland (2-2) and Southern Utah (2-2). Suddenly, Thursday night's Oral Roberts at Valpo game is huge. That would've been difficult to imagine when Oral Roberts started the season 2-7. Since then, the Golden Eagles have won seven of nine and started Mid-Con play with a 3-0 record for the first time in school history. Valpo suffered a talent hit in the last week when guard Antonio Falu, a junior college transfer, left the team for what the school described as personal reasons. Falu was rated as the No. 3 junior college shooting guard by juco guru Rick Ball and was averaging 12.4 points per game for the Crusaders. Around the Midwest

  • Iowa State senior Tyray Pearson has been one of the bigger individual surprises this season in the Big 12. A year ago, Pearson averaged 8.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Last week, in games against Missouri and Oklahoma State, the 6-7 forward averaged 29 points per game. He's second in the Big 12 with a 19.8 scoring average despite facing double-teams. "He's an excellent low-post scorer," Cyclones coach Larry Eustachy said. "Marcus Fizer was not better at catching the ball on the low post and scoring."
  • How rare was Minnesota's victory at Purdue last weekend. Well, in the 28 previous meetings, the Gophers were 2-26. Minnesota won games in 1982 and 1997 -- both years the Gophers won the Big Ten. After starting 7-5 and losing three road games by at least 20 points, Dan Monson's Gophers are playing better entering Wednesday's game at Wisconsin. While Minnesota opened Big Ten play by being routed at Illinois, the Gophers have responded by defeating Michigan State, Michigan and Purdue and are in third in the conference.
  • What's the deal with Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton sticking his tongue out in the middle of the Kansas game?
  • Oklahoma and Final Four are beginning to be mentioned in the same sentence. After all, the Sooners have won 12 straight games. "They are a legitimate Final Four team right now," Texas Tech assistant Pat Knight said. "They have seven guys in a set rotation who all do their jobs. We were impressed with Oklahoma on tape before we played them. But we were even more impressed after seeing them in person."
  • Loyola University in Chicago has quietly opened Horizon play with a 4-0 record. Not bad for a team that was last in the league a year ago with a 2-12 conference record and was just 7-21 overall. David Bailey, a 5-8 guard, is a big reason why. Averaging 23.1 points, he leads the Horizon in scoring and is sixth nationally. Bailey will play against his younger brother, Martell, when Loyola hosts Illinois-Chicago on Thursday. The Ramblers have a chance to make a run as they play three of four at home, where they are 6-0 this season.
  • Things have certainly changed for Michigan State, which started the Big Ten season 0-3 for the first time in 14 years. This week, the Spartans dropped out of the Associated Press Top 25 after a streak of 72 consecutive poll appearances. That streak started in late January 1998. "When teams look at us now," Michigan State junior Aloysius Anagonye said after the Spartans loss at Indiana, "they expect to win." Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune is a regular contributor to ESPN.com
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