Illinois freshmen: early look

Both of the Fighting Illini's top-100 signees ranked outside the top 50, and for that reason few expected either to stand out this season. In fact, it's an unranked prospect who has stood out most.

To this point, predictions appear accurate that both shooting guard Kendrick Nunn (No. 52 in the 2013 class) and wing Malcolm Hill (No. 72) will serve as understudies this year to more experienced players.

Rayvonte Rice has taken the offensive bull by the horns, scoring 17 points a night and relieving pressure on the freshmen guards. Thus, Nunn and Hill are combining for only 22 minutes per contest. Neither player has found his scoring stride, and this season likely will be one that features incremental progress for each.

Nunn is solidly built but not a consistent scorer, while Hill hasn't been able to locate his perimeter shooting stroke and has shot just 4-21 on the season.

Perhaps unexpectedly, guard Jaylon Tate has played the most of the guard signees. He hasn't shot well, either, but he actually leads the team in assists with 26 (in only 19mpg) and sports a fantastic 4-1 A-TO ratio. Very rarely does a freshman point guard demonstrate such a command of the floor game, and of all the rookies Tate may be the one to begin to take on greater responsibilities.

Power forward Austin Colbert is thin and must gain weight before he's ready to tackle Big Ten competition, but he'll be a stalwart utility player down the road. Center Maverick Morgan is a project and likely will need a couple years before he's ready.

Illinois has a lot to be excited about. The Illini have promising talents in Nunn and Hill in development this season, while Tate could prove a national surprise. They'll need patience with their frontcourt freshmen, but they also have a couple more due in for next season, including touted forward Leron Black.


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