Illinois Basketball: What Nnanna Egwu Must Do to Meet Expectations as a Senior

Ryan CuriFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2014

Mar 1, 2014; East Lansing, MI, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini forward/center Nnanna Egwu (32) stands on the court between play during the 2nd half of a game against the Michigan State Spartans at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Illinois won 53-46. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Nnanna Egwu's freshman season stats: 1.9 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.2 APG, 0.6 BPG, 0.2 SPG, 9.8 MPG

Egwu's sophomore season stats: 6.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 0.5 APG, 1.4 BPG, 0.6 SPG, 25.4 MPG

Egwu's junior season stats: 6.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 0.4 APG, 2.1 BPG, 0.3 SPG, 29.7 MPG

Egwu's projected senior season stats: 10.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 2.5 BPG, 0.5 SPG, 30.0 MPG

Feb 9, 2014; University Park, PA, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini center Nnanna Egwu (32) during the second half against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Bryce Jordan Center. Illinois defeated Penn State 60-55. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Spo

Feb 15, 2014; Champaign, IL, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes guard Shannon Scott (3) drives past Illinois Fighting Illini center Nnanna Egwu (32) at Assembly Hall. Mandatory Credit: Ben Woloszyn-USA TODAY Sports

After backing up Meyers Leonard as a true freshman, Nnanna Egwu entered the starting lineup as a sophomore and hasn't relinquished the center slot since. After an impressive sophomore season, Egwu's numbers remained similar as a junior.

In order for his senior season to be considered a success, he'll need to make another leap in 2014-15. 

While Illinois' backcourt players should remain its top offensive options, Egwu has the ability to average double-figure points as a senior. Egwu reached double-figure scoring 10 times a season ago, including a streak of scoring 10 points in each of the season's first four games last November. 

Egwu also needs to hit the boards harder, which should open the opportunity for easy putback buckets. 

Egwu and 6'4" Rayvonte Rice led the Illini in rebounds a season ago, as Egwu reached 10-plus rebounds on five occasions. By hitting the offensive boards, Egwu should also be able to dish out to a better outside shooting squad, with the additions of Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby, thus upping his assist numbers. 

Finally, we come upon Egwu's defense, the more refined part of his game. By improving upon his block and steal numbers, Egwu will contend for the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year award after being snubbed from the All-Defensive Team in 2013-14. 

Egwu's playing time should remain similar, assuming he can avoid the ticky-tack fouls and moving screens that plagued him as a sophomore.

Malcolm Hill and Leron Black will both join Egwu in the frontcourt at the power forward position while sophomore Maverick Morgan should continue to backup Egwu. Western Michigan transfer Darius Paul may have stolen some playing time up front, but Paul has gone the junior college route after a run-in with the law earlier this offseason. 

Because of Egwu's raw ability and lack of experience playing basketball, his upside led many to believe that he had NBA potential early on in his career. While that seems unlikely now given his inconsistent play, Egwu has shown flashes of greatness.

His double-double performance against a strong and veteran Miami frontcourt in the 2013 NCAA Tournament comes to mind, first. 

While it'd be hard to argue that Egwu is Illinois' best player, it can be easily stated that he is their most important player.

Look for Egwu, Hill, Rice, Kendrick Nunn and Tracy Abrams to round out Illinois' starting lineup, the same five starters during the second half of last season.

For Egwu, Rice, Abrams and Starks, this will be their final go-around. Rice and Starks have yet to play in an NCAA Tournament while Abrams and Egwu's career record in the Big Dance is 1-1. A top-quarter Big Ten finish, coupled with a deep NCAA Tournament run would do wonders for the state of Illinois basketball.