Cory Jefferson, Marcus Smart

Baylor power forward Cory Jefferson to return for senior season

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Creighton wasn’t the only basketball program to receive good news on Thursday.

Baylor power forward Cory Jefferson, who emerged as one of the most improved players in the Big 12 this past season, announced his decision to return to school for his senior season in a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Jefferson didn’t see much playing time during his first two seasons in Waco, playing just 4.6 minutes per game as a freshman and 10.5 minutes per game as a redshirt sophomore on a team that reached the Elite 8.

(CLICK HERE to follow along with who is turning pro and who is returning to school.)

But the mass exodus of big men following that run opened the door for Jefferson to earn more opportunities and he took advantage, averaging 13.3 points (61.0% FG), 8.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots per game for a team that won the Postseason NIT.

With Baylor still waiting on an NBA Draft decision from 7-footer Isaiah Austin and having to account for the loss of veteran guards Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton, Jefferson’s decision to return is welcome news to say the least.

With veterans such as Jefferson and Brady Heslip being joined by a freshman class that features wing Ishmail Wainright and center Dominic Woodson, Baylor’s chances of returning to the NCAA tournament may ultimately depend on what happens at point guard.

In addition to returnees Gary Franklin and L.J. Rose, head coach Scott Drew inked junior college transfer Kenny Chery to help account for the departure of one of the Big 12’s best point guards in Jackson. If one of those three can handle the responsibilities, Baylor should move back into the field of 68 in 2014.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Boise State loses guard Harwell to torn ACL

Leon Rice
Associated Press
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Expected to be one of the favorites in the Mountain West this season, Boise State’s perimeter ranks have shrunk by one player due to injury. Thursday it was reported by the Idaho Statesman that freshman guard Malek Harwell will redshirt after suffering a torn ACL in practice. Along with fellow freshman Paris Austin, Harwell is expected to be a key part of the Broncos’ future beyond the upcoming season.

Now, instead of competing with an experienced backcourt that includes four redshirt seniors, Harwell will work to get his knee back to full strength for the 2016-17 season.

Among the guards who will play significant minutes this season are Anthony Drmic, who took a medical redshirt last season, Montigo Alford, Mikey Thompson and grad transfer Lonnie Jackson (Boston College). Chandler Hutchison, who started in Boise State’s final 18 games of the 2014-15 season as a freshman, will also compete for playing time.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.