In Indiana's attention-getting 2013 recruiting class, Noah Vonleh is the unquestioned headliner.
The lone McDonald's All-American.
The one ranked in the RSCI top 10.
The one who can take a quarter off the top of the backboard and leave ten cents' change. (Okay, that was Earl Manigault. Just checking that everyone was paying attention.)
Vonleh stands just shy of 6'10", weighs in near 240 pounds and is very likely still growing. On a team hurting for inside presence, he will be the opponent's primary focus every night.
Classmate Luke Fischer is near 6'11", but his lanky frame currently supports only 220 pounds.
Both Fischer and Vonleh have versatile enough skill sets that they can face the basket, which will aid the Hoosiers in juggling matchups. What, though, is the baseline production that IU must expect from Vonleh for a run at a Big Ten championship repeat?
Is All-America caliber production unreasonable?
Before Cody Zeller, the last Indiana big man who came in with Vonleh's level of hype was another tall youngster with a highly versatile skill set who joined as part of the 2000 class.
Unlike Vonleh, though, Bloomington native Jared Jeffries didn't exactly have to leave town.
Last week, we discussed exactly how inexperienced the 2013-14 team will be, relying on two upperclassmen and a host of freshmen and sophomores. Jeffries joined a 2000-01 team with a very similar roster, spearheaded by juniors Dane Fife and Kirk Haston.
Jeffries had slightly less pressure on him to be an interior force than Vonleh will face. Haston was an established burly rebounder coming off a season in which he ripped down 8.3 RPG, good for third in the Big Ten. Also, 6'9" sophomore Jeff Newton was a dangerous rim protector who averaged nearly seven points, four rebounds and two blocks as a freshman.
Vonleh is joined by the aforementioned Fischer and sophomore Hanner Mosquera-Perea, who barely saw any substantial time as a rookie. Those two will need to put in strong work to free Vonleh to get away from the rim.
Even in Jeffries' sophomore campaign, which was contested without the NBA-bound Haston, he still had lots of perimeter support and yeoman inside work from Newton and senior Jarrad Odle. The unquestioned star of the team, Jeffries put up a strong all-around stat line (15 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per game) that garnered him consensus All-America honors and made him a lottery pick in that year's NBA draft.
An Outside Chance
As of today, the 2013-14 Hoosiers also lack proven threats from three-point range. This is a similarity between Jeffries' first preseason and Vonleh's, as players like Tom Coverdale and Dane Fife had their breakthrough seasons alongside Jeffries. Haston also flexed a newfound outside shot after attempting only two bombs the prior year.
Vonleh actually has better perimeter support, primarily from 35-percent career three-point shooters Evan Gordon and senior Will Sheehey. Beyond those two, though, the most likely outside shooters may be sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell (30 percent last season) and a freshman like Stanford Robinson or Collin Hartman.
Jeffries helped his Hoosiers to 46 wins over two seasons, a share of the 2002 Big Ten regular season championship and an improbable run to the NCAA title game. Entering his freshman year, his supporting cast wasn't proven, but capable players (Fife, Coverdale, Kyle Hornsby) stood up to be counted.
With a more touted class joining him in Bloomington, Vonleh should be able to count on greater support from his classmates if the likes of Perea and Jeremy Hollowell can't play like veterans. Still, relying on freshmen can be a highly inexact science. Vonleh himself may struggle to acclimate to the college game.
If the Hoosiers want to successfully defend the Big Ten crown, Vonleh may need his development to accelerate on a faster curve than even Jared Jeffries'. Their skill sets may be more similar than we know, and that 15-and-8 season that earned Jeffries All-America honors may be just the starting point for Noah Vonleh if Tom Crean wants to cut down more nets in 2014.