Nov 22, 2013; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Joseph Bertrand (2) makes a three pointer during the first half against the Chicago State Cougars at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Game Preview and Live Thread

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Here we go again. At 6:15 CST tonight, the Illinois Fighting Illini return to the court to renew hostilities with the Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech in the latest installment of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Illini will be looking to improve to 8-0 for the second straight season under John Groce, and a win tonight would also be Illinois’ fifth consecutive win in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

These two teams hooked up last season in Champaign-Urbana, and the Illini improved to 8-0 while taking the W 75-62. Joseph Bertrand had a quality performance that night while making 6 of 8 shots, including 3 of 4 from 3 point range, to finish with 15 points. He also mixed in 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal.

Georgia Tech will undoubtedly be looking to stop Rayvonte Rice who leads the Illini scoring attack at 17.1 ppg, just as they tried to stop Brandon Paul a year ago to no avail. That defensive focus should free up Joseph Bertrand just as it did a year ago, and it will be important for Bertrand to assert himself offensively if the Illini want to find their way to a second consecutive win against the Yellow Jackets.

Tracy Abrams had a very quiet scoring night a year ago, registering only 6 points on 2 of 7 shooting, but did manage to mix in 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals to provide positive production. While the assists and rebounds are absolutely wanted, Abrams needs to consistently put the ball in the hoop.

He is coming off a very strong second half performance in the Illini’s last game against IPFW, and the Illini will need Abrams to ride the momentum from that performance into tonight’s contest.

Defensively, the Illini will be looking to lock down Trae Golden (13.5 ppg), Marcus Georges-Hunt (11.5 ppg), Daniel Miller (10.3 ppg), and Robert Carter, Jr. (9.3 ppg). As you can see, the Yellow Jackets boast a scoring balance very similar to what Illinois brings to the table.

Senior Guard Trae Golden is clearly their trigger man, not only leading the Jackets in scoring, but also in assists per game (3.8 apg). Odds are good that Tracy Abrams will draw this assignment when the Illini are not playing the 2-3 zone they have shown on occasion.

6’8” Sophomore Forward Robert Carter, Jr. could be a matchup issue for Illinois this evening, as he appears to be an active player on both ends of the floor. He comes in to this game as the Yellow Jackets leader in rebounds per game (9.5 rpg) and steals per game (1.5 spg). Tack on his 9.3 ppg and he quickly becomes a player that must be watched closely this evening. Jon Ekey will need to keep a body on him at all times when shots go up to neutralize his rebounding ability.

Nnanna Egwu will be tasked with slowing down 6’11” Daniel Miller who adds 8.1 rebounds per game and team leading 1.8 blocked shots per game to his 10.3 ppg. I’m sure Egwu will be more than up to the task.

Tonight’s game appears to be a fairly even matchup on paper despite Georgia Tech’s 5-3 record. As I said in our roundtable discussing Illinois’ chances tonight, I see no reason why Illinois can’t improve to 8-0. This Georgia Tech team has recently shown the ability to cough up a 15 point lead so there seems to be no reason to think that Illinois can’t come back should they find themselves behind by double digits at any point in this contest.

The Skinny:

Where: McCamish Pavilion (Atlanta, Ga.)

When: 6:15 CST

TV: ESPN2

Check back in tonight, and feel free to join in the discussion in the comments section below. GO ILLINI!

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer

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Tags: Illinois Fighting Illini Jon Ekey Joseph Bertrand Nnanna Egwu Rayvonte Rice Tracy Abrams

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