Last Tuesday the Illini faced their toughest test of the season to date when they headed out west to take on UNLV. It was not easy, but in the end the Illini managed to pull out the win. Tonight they'll find themselves in a similar position, on the road against a team that could present quite a few problems.
The Georgia Tech team the Illini will face tonight is not one of the best teams in the ACC. It's lost two in a row coming into this game and is only 5-3 on the season with its best win coming against Georgia. However, it's three losses are respectable losses, coming against a very good Dayton team, Ole Miss and St. Johns. So this isn't a game the Illini can take for granted -- and, honestly, there is no game this Illini team should ever take for granted, especially on the road.
What Georgia Tech does do that can give the Illini problems is rebound. Particularly on the defensive end. I think that will be one of the more interesting aspects of tonight's game. The Illini enter the game as the tenth best offensive rebounding team in the country with their rate of 42%. However, Georgia Tech is the thirteenth best defensive rebounding team in the country with a rate of 75.6%.
And Georgia Tech's best rebounder is Robert Carter. Carter is averaging 9.5 rebounds per game, but what's truly impressive is his defensive rebounding rate. Carter is pulling down 33.7% of the available defensive rebounds this season. Fully a third of them, by himself. The only player in the country with a better rate than that is Dartmouth's Gabas Maldunas -- who, coincidentally, we'll be playing a week from tonight -- who checks in at 43.2% but isn't playing nearly the same level of competition.
And Carter isn't the only good rebounder on this team, as Kammeon Holsey and Daniel Miller have been strong as well.
The good news is that the Yellow Jackets aren't nearly as good on the offensive boards, but that could be due to their style of play. The Jackets move quick. While they're not exactly efficient -- they're offensive efficiency is ranked 191st in the nation -- their average possession lasts only 15.6 seconds, and only 33 teams spend less time with the ball in their hands each time down the court. Considering the fact that they don't take a lot of threes, this tells me that Tech is a team that's looking to get going in transition and it all starts with the defensive rebounding.
Which is why offensive rebounding and transition defense will be two very important factors for the Illini tonight. Kind of like they were against UNLV last week. We struggled a lot with it in the first half of that game, but improved in the second half. Hopefully that experience helps us tonight.
Another thing to consider with this Yellow Jackets team is that it's deep. Based on usage rates, it appears that Brian Gregory rolls with a ten-man rotation, as ten guys play at least nine minutes a game, and seven play at least 18. That means the Jackets go deeper than the Illini, because even though we generally play ten guys on a given night, Maverick Morgan and Kendrick Nunn aren't seeing the kind of minutes that Tech's ninth and tenth guys off the bench are.
So, in summation, tonight's game is certainly the kind of game the Illini can win if they play well. But shooting tonight may be even more important than it has been, because we're simply not going to have the kind of advantage on the offensive glass that we've had most of the season. Misses tonight can quickly turn into Georgia Tech points.
It's going to be a very interesting game, and one that should teach us quite a bit about our team.