Here's a strong comparison: Kendrick Nunn and Victor Oladipo.
It might come as a surprise to hear the Illini freshman stacked up against one of the best players in college basketball a season ago, a player who's currently one of the NBA's top rookies. But it came from a guy who should know, Indiana head coach Tom Crean, who coached Oladipo for three years in Bloomington.
"Kendrick Nunn is playing outstanding for a guy that people at the beginning at the Big Ten season may not have been locked into. I think you are now, and I don't think there's any question about that," Crean said Monday during the Big Ten coaches teleconference. "Kendrick Nunn, with more minutes, provides just a little bit more explosiveness to their game that creates things for other people. The way he plays, he's a very, very high-energy type of player. And a lot of similarities, in my mind, to Victor Oladipo. And Kendrick's offense is ahead of where Victor's was at the same age, no question about it."
But Crean is right when he talks about what Nunn has contributed to the Illini, helping to turn around the last part of the season and keeping their NCAA tournament bubble from completely deflating. Illinois was on an eight-game losing streak before the insertion of Nunn and fellow freshman Malcolm Hill into the starting lineup. Illinois is 5-3 since. That's also thanks to a team-wide defensive lockdown that featured a 3-1 stretch that saw the Illini hold four straight opponents under 50 points. But Nunn has been right in the middle of everything, averaging 12.1 points per game since being named a starter. It was a good enough stretch to land him on the All-Big Ten Freshman Team.
As for comparisons to Oladipo, if Nunn ends up performing at that level, it's sure to make John Groce very, very happy. Oladipo was a 1,000-point scorer in three seasons as a Hoosier, and he helped lead Indiana to back-to-back Sweet Sixteen appearances. The Hoosiers won 56 games in his final two seasons. And that goes without mentioning his selection as the second-overall pick in last year's NBA Draft. He ranks second this season among NBA rookies with 13.9 points per game.
Nunn and the Illini take on Crean's Hoosiers in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday.