HQ forecast: Illinois 71, Georgia Tech 62
Georgia Tech at Illinois, 8 p.m. today
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams So. 6-1 12.3
G D.J. Richardson Sr. 6-3 12.0
G Brandon Paul Sr. 6-4 18.7
F Tyler Griffey Sr. 6-9 10.9
C Nnanna Egwu So. 6-11 6.1
FYI: Richardson’s 5.0 rebounds per game are tops on the team, and fellow guard Joseph Bertrand is second with 4.9 off the bench.
OFF THE BENCH
G Joseph Bertrand Jr. 6-6 7.4
F Myke Henry So. 6-6 4.9
F Sam McLaurin Sr. 6-8 4.7
Georgia Tech (4-1)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Mfon Udofia Sr. 6-2 10.2
G Brandon Reed Jr. 6-3 5.6
G Marcus Georges-Hunt Fr. 6-5 11.4
F Robert Carter Jr. Fr. 6-8 8.0
C Dennis Miller Jr. 6-11 5.6
FYI: Georges-Hunt is shooting 46.8 percent (22 for 47) from the floor and has turned the ball over four times in five games.
OFF THE BENCH
F Kammeon Holsey Jr. 6-8 10.6
G Chris Bolden Fr. 6-3 5.4
G Jason Morris Jr. 6-5 3.6
Site: The Assembly Hall, Champaign (16,618).
TV: ESPN2 — Bob Wischusen (play-by-play) and former Illini Stephen Bardo (analyst) call the action.
Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (expert analysis) have the call on WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.
Series: Illinois leads 6-1. Last meeting: No. 2 Illinois 105, Georgia Tech 66, Nov. 23, 2001, in Las Vegas.
FYI: The last time Georgia Tech visited Champaign, Lou Henson’s Flyin’ Illini improved to 17-0 and moved to No. 1 in the country after a 103-92 win on Jan. 22, 1989.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
The Big Ten was billed as the best conference in college basketball entering the season. This challenge is another opportunity to prove the pundits right. Entering the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, three teams were ranked in the Top 5, and the league boasted signature wins against Kansas (by Michigan State), Georgetown (Indiana), Pittsburgh (Michigan) and Butler (Illinois). John Groce is a prideful Big Ten guy, but he’s focused on his program in particular. “We can’t control the other games; I’m concerned with Georgia Tech,” he said.
Illinois’ ascent into the Top 25 this week is familiar territory for the players. The Illini have been ranked at some point during each of the four seasons the seniors have been on campus. The problem has been staying in the polls, as they haven’t always handled the notoriety particularly well. With a solid veteran core, Groce is confident the focus that got the team in the polls remains the same. “What’s it mean in terms of the long-term mission that we’re on to try to be the best basketball team we can be in February and March? Not a whole lot. Those guys know that, especially the seniors know that. They talked about it (Monday),” Groce said.
One real area of concern for the Illini through seven games has been rebounding. They gave up 21 offensive rebounds to Hawaii, 10 to Chaminade, 16 to Butler and 10 to Gardner-Webb. The Yellow Jackets average 12.6 offensive boards per game, and coach Brian Gregory comes from the Tom Izzo coaching tree. “We’ve got to do a better job of blocking out. They’re notorious, as are the coaches in that family for rebounding, and their niche (is) in the area of rebounding; they’re terrific on the glass, and they’re physical,” Groce said.
Prediction: Illinois 71, Georgia Tech 62
Brandon Paul is off to a fantastic start to his senior season, but when the Illini watched the film from Sunday’s game, the senior guard took a great deal of criticism from the staff. And when the player who was named ESPN’s National Player of the Week is getting an earful — and takes it in stride — it sends a message to the other guys that they’re not above it. Abrams, Egwu and Devin Langford struggled Sunday, and they got their earful, too. They’ll be better as a group for it, and the Illini should continue to show improvement as a team because of it. (N-G record: 6-1)