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Checking in on Illinois’ Freshmen after 10 games

The newcomers have been forced into action with varying degrees of success.

NCAA Basketball: UNLV at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Underwood’s roster boasts six freshmen on scholarship, and five of them have seen the court so far this season. Anthony Higgs is the only freshman to be held out so far. Let’s take a look at how each of the players have performed to this point in the season, starting in numerical order.

Alan Griffin

The New Yorker has been a regular in recent games for the Illini following his first appearance against Georgetown. Griffin averages 4.3 points per game along with shooting 41.2% from beyond the arc and 46.7% overall while averaging about 9 minutes per game. Those numbers aren’t bad for a freshman in the Big Ten who has faced a high level of competition this season. Shooting three-pointers is clearly Griffin’s game, and his percentage is solid.

As we saw against UNLV, he can be a tenacious defender as well.

Alan needs to improve his free throw shooting (57.1%) and — like the rest of the team — cut down on the number of turnovers (1.7 per game) if he wants to see more time on the court.

Tevian Jones

Jones has had a rough first year on campus, and is still serving the suspension that he received ahead of the game against Notre Dame to the best of our knowledge. The freshman wing made his debut against Evansville and last played on Nov. 25 against Mississippi Valley State.

So far, he’s shooting 43% overall and 33% from three, while averaging 9 minutes per game in the 6 games in which he’s played. The athletic wing has many facets to his game, including his three-point shot, and I look forward to watching him develop going forward.

Ayo Dosunmu

The freshman who needs the least introduction. Ayo is about where I expected him to be at this point in the season. He’s not dominant and certainly makes his share of mistakes, but he’s an integral part of this roster and can make athletic plays that the other freshmen can’t yet.

Ayo is shooting 41.5% overall and 41.7% from three in 28 minutes per game, and he’s started every game so far this season. His 3.2 assists per game is a positive, but it’s matched with an average of 2 turnovers per game as well. He’ll need to clean up his assist:turnover ratio and shoot better from the charity stripe (60.7%) before he’s able to take the next step.

Giorgi Bezhanishvili

Everyone’s favorite hype man for Illinois basketball, Giorgi has surprised us all with his play as Illinois’ go-to big man this season. Like Ayo, Giorgi has started all 10 games this season, and he’s shooting 48.1% from the field and 23.5% from beyond the arc over 23.3 minutes per game. With 9.3 points per game, Bezhanishvili is earning his keep on the court, but he needs to learn how to use his size to more effectively haul in rebounds, as 4.6 per game is not good enough.

The boards will come with experience, but the athleticism is definitely already there for Giorgi.

Giorgi has played well against solid competition, but he absolutely must cut down on fouls to stay on the court. The freshman has fouled out in three of Illinois’ last four games. I’m not as confident that the foul trouble will simply solve itself.

I recall thinking that former Illini big man Leron Black would figure out how to play defense without fouling as much, but he struggled with fouls all the way through his last season in Champaign. This is where Brad Underwood must show that he has the coaching acumen to develop Giorgi into a legitimate post threat.

Samba Kane

Kane didn’t make much of an impression until the most recent game against UNLV, in which he scored 8 points and recorded 2 blocks in his 16 minutes of playing time. He’s only played in five games so far, with an average of just 6.2 minutes per game. His FG% of 63.6% is promising, but he’s only scored in the games against MSVU (6) and UNLV (8). Brad Underwood could use Kane’s presence down low to grab rebounds, but like Giorgi, Kane just doesn’t seem to have a feel for the boards yet, averaging only 0.6 rebounds per game.

His highlights do give me hope for the future.

To wrap it all up, the Illinois freshmen seem like typical college basketball freshmen. They’re athletic but raw, and their skillsets aren’t quite well-rounded enough yet. For most of these youngsters, that will change over time as they gain experience, and I look forward to watching each of them improve over the remainder of the season.

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