Illinois (7-0, 0-0) at Georgia Tech (5-3, 0-0)
7:15 PM EST
Line: Illinois -1
Series Record: Illinois 7-1
Last Meeting: Illinois 75 Georgia Tech 62 (2012)
Illinois may be undefeated but that was definitely on the line last week. The Illini ended up winning their games against UNLV and IPFW, but by a combined four points and only by some late game heroics. A win's a win, though, and Illinois will gladly take their 7-0 start. Now Illinois will face a test against Georgia Tech, a game that is winnable but could be a bit more challenging as they travel on the road to face the Yellow Jackets. The game will be the first of several non-conference tests for John Groce's team, as they also face off against Missouri and Oregon later on in December.
So when it comes to the three remaining non-conference games that could help strengthen the teams resume, Georgia Tech is by far the easiest game for Illinois to win (as well as the weakest). Illinois is trying to head back to the NCAA Tournament for a second year in a row, even with most people predicting the team to fall a bit short. In what will be a tough, beat 'em up season in the Big Ten, Illinois will benefit from every win out of conference they can get and this Georgia Tech game would be a nice enough win (if only to avoid a bad loss).
Luckily for the Illini the team has been coming together nicely even though they aren't that experienced when it comes to playing together. Rayvonte Rice is coming off of a hot week and leads the team in scoring, but wing Joseph Bertrand has been equally impressive on most nights. Nnanna Egwu could improve his offensive game, but he's been solid down low when it comes to rebounding the ball and has had a nice start to the season. At the point any inconsistencies with Tracy Abrams have been balanced out with Jaylon Tate looking impressive as a freshman. The team could use a bit more production from transfer Jon Ekey, but at the same time he hasn't been detrimental to the team either.
So what you get with this Illinois team is a well balanced roster that doesn't exactly wow you at any specific spot, but also has no glaring weaknesses. If Rayvonte Rice continues to develop as a pure scorer he could become the go-to-guy offensively and could develop into the de facto leader for the Illini. There's still some areas that could be a bit more refined, but this team has the capability to produce from all positions and will be competitive night in and night out.
The most difficult thing about this game against Georgia Tech will be the location, as Illinois has to travel south all the way down to Georgia. Luckily for Illinois, though, is this Georgia Tech team hasn't been very good the last several seasons. That streak might continue, as Georgia Tech has dropped three of their last five games, all by double digits.
Offensively Georgia Tech simply isn't very good. Coming into tonight they're ranked 186th in field goal percentage and 284th in three point percentage. They're a solid rebounding team but they also commit plenty of turnovers and far too many fouls, allowing opponents to get to the line a lot. They also have no major scoring threat, with their leading scorer Trae Golden only averaging 13.5 points per game. The poor offense means that Georgia Tech will have to slow down the Illini offense, but the frequent fouling from Tech will allow for Illinois to pick up easy points from the charity stripe.
Georgia Tech has been down towards the bottom of the ACC for awhile now and even if Illinois is only hovering around the middle of the Big Ten right now, they're still the better team here. Georgia Tech will have to take advantage of having the home court edge here because that's the only thing they have going for them in this matchup. If Illinois continues their trend of winning ugly, the game could be competitive. But Illinois has enough weapons that there's no reason they shouldn't find a way to win impressively here.
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