Everyone expected Illinois' core this season to be its returning players.
Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Meyers Leonard had a lot placed on their shoulders, and they’ve lived up to those expectations for the most part. The trio has accounted for 40.6 points, 15.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.9 steals and 3.1 blocks a game this season.
Where the Illini thought they could find the sort of depth to make them a stronger team was in their highly-touted incoming recruiting class. Illinois’ 2011 class was ranked No. 11 in the country and included four of ESPN’s top-100 players. There weren’t any considered to be instant superstars in the class, but the thought was most of them could contribute something this season.
Through 23 games, that hasn’t been the case. As the season has unfolded, Illinois coach Bruce Weber has gone more and more away from playing most of his freshmen. Only Tracy Abrams has seen consistent minutes in every Big Ten game, and none of the freshmen are averaging more than three points on the season.
Here’s a look at Illinois’ freshmen this season:
Tracy Abrams, point guard: Abrams, who was ranked No. 81 in the Class of 2011, has been the star of Illinois’ recruiting class. Abrams was seeing backup point guard minutes the first half of the season and averaged 15.2 minutes during the non-conference slate. With Sam Maniscalco suffering an ankle injury, Abrams has now averaged 25.3 minutes during Big Ten play. Abrams is averaging 3.0 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 23 games, including 10 starts, this season.
Nnanna Egwu, center: Egwu was ranked the No. 10 center and 70th overall player in the Class of 2011. He’s filled in off the bench for Leonard throughout the season, but he hasn’t played consistent minutes. He played less than a minute against Northwestern on Sunday. He’s averaged 1.9 points, 1.6 rebounds, 0.7 rebounds and 10 minutes in all 23 games.
Mike Shaw, power forward: Shaw was ranked No. 91 in the Class of 2011. He was a role player at times this season, but he has fallen out of Weber’s rotation lately. He hasn’t played in the last six games. He’s averaged 1.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 8.3 minutes in 15 games.
Myke Henry, small forward: Henry was ranked No. 97 in his class. Henry saw little time during the non-conference season, and he’s received slightly more minutes during the Big Ten campaign. Weber has touted his offensive ability, but has criticized his defensive game. He played 17 minutes in Illinois’ win over Michigan State, but played just one minute against Northwestern on Sunday. He’s averaged 3.0 points, 1.3 rebounds and 8.1 minutes in 15 games.
Ibby Djimde, center: Djimde could have probably benefitted from a redshirt season. He saw the floor early in the season, but has played a total of nine minutes in the Big Ten season. He’s averaged 0.4 points, 1.0 rebounds and 4.4 minutes in 12 games.
Here’s a look at how the top 15 recruiting classes have fared this season:
1. Kentucky: The Wildcats’ freshmen rarely look like freshmen. Anthony Davis, who is from Chicago, is averaging 13.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.8 blocks. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is averaging 12.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks. Marquis Teague is averaging 9.6 points and 4.3 assists. Even freshman forward Kyle Wiltjer is averaging 5.9 points and 2.3 assists in 13.7 minutes a game.
3. St. John's The Red Storm has struggled this season, but its freshmen have been outstanding. D'Angelo Harrison is averaging a team-best 16.4 points. Moe Harkless is averaging 15.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.7 blocks. Phil Greene, another Chicago native, is averaging 7.6 points, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals. Sir'Dominic Pointer is averaging 6.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals.
4. Texas: The Longhorns have also gotten plenty of production from their freshman. Sheldon McClellan is averaging 11.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.0 steals. Myck Kabongo is averaging 9.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.3 rebounds. Jonathan Holmes (7.8 points, 5.1 rebounds), Julien Lewis (7.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals) and Jaylen Bond (4.0 points, 4.7 rebounds) are also contributing.
5. North Carolina: The Tar Heels haven’t gotten a whole lot out of their freshmen this season. P.J. Hairston (6.9 points, 2.3 rebounds) and James McAdoo (5.2 points, 3.6 rebounds) are the only freshmen consistently contributing.
6. Ohio State: Buckeyes coach Thad Matta hasn’t turned to his freshmen much this season. Sam Thompson (2.7 points, 1.1 rebounds), another Chicago native, and Amir Williams (2.1 points, 2.6 rebounds) have appeared in most games.
7. Arizona: The Wildcats rely heavily on their older players, but Nick Johnson (9.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists) and Josiah Turner (7.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.3 steals) have been helpful.
9. Arkansas: Freshman B.J. Young has been leading the way for the Razorbacks. He’s averaging 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.3 steals. Rashad Madden (7.6 points, 3.6 rebounds), Devonta Abron (5.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.0 steals) and Hunter Mickelson (4.8 points, 3.7 rebounds) also contribute.
10. Syracuse: Jim Boeheim has an experienced group and has only used his freshmen in small roles. Rakeem Christmas is averaging 3.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 13 minutes. Michael Carter-Williams is averaging 3.3 points and 2.4 assists in 12.3 minutes.
11. Illinois: See above.
12. Virginia Tech: The Hokies have struggled this season overall, but their freshmen have provided for them. Robert Brown is averaging 7.3 points and 2.1 assists in 22 minutes. Dorian Finney-Smith is averaging 5.7 points and 7.0 rebounds in 28.3 minutes. C.J. Barksdale (3.0 points, 2.9 rebounds) and Marquis Ranking (2.8 points, 1.3 assists) have also contributed.
13. Alabama: The Crimson Tide are in the middle of the pack in the SEC. They have a handful of freshmen helping out. Trevor Lacey (7.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.7 steals), Levi Randolph (6.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.1 steals), Nick Jacobs (5.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.0 blocks) and Rodney Cooper (3.7 points, 2.4 rebounds) have contributed for Alabama.
14. Georgetown: The Hoyas have gotten plenty of production from Otto Porter, who is averaging 8.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.9 blocks. Jabril Trawick (3.9 points, 1.5 rebounds), Greg Whittington (3.2 points, 2.7 rebounds) and Mikael Hopkins (2.6 rebounds, 1.2 rebounds) have also contributed off the bench.
15. Pittsburgh: The Panthers probably expected more out of their freshman this season. John Johnson (5.1 points, 1.5 assists) and Cameron Wright (2.7 points, 1.8 rebounds) have been the only consistent contributors.