Illini still looking to improve ahead of Challenge

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Illini still looking to improve ahead of Challenge

CHAMPAIGN Illinois is not resting on its laurels before its first game as a nationally ranked team under coach John Groce.

The ranking is nothing but a number, Groce said at his Tuesday press conference. Its early in the season, were just seven games in.

In the seven games the 22nd ranked Illini have played and won, many things have gone well for the team. However, Groce has seen just as many things he would like to improve. First and foremost, is improving on rebounding.

After Sundays late win over Gardner-Webb, Illinois starting forward, Tyler Griffey, and center, Nnanna Egwu, have pulled in a total of just 7.2 rebounds per game. The teams leader in rebounds is guard D.J. Richardson, who has picked up an average of five per game.

Groce says he is not particularly concerned with who is getting the rebounds because guards picking up rebounds is usually an indication of big men blocking out successfully but he would like to see an improvement in the teams total number of rebounds per game (36.6, 133rd nationally).

The overall rebounding percentage is what were spotlighting, Groce said. Weve had some games where weve done that well, weve had some games where we havent, but we need to be more consistent in that area.

Illinois opponent in the ACCBig Ten Challenge on Wednesday is Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets (4-1) have been a surprising team so far this year, placing third in the DirecTV Classic over the holiday by upsetting St. Marys.

Georgia Tech has averaged 37.2 rebounds and limited opponents to just 31.6 in five games. Groce described his Challenge opponent as a tough, physical team and acknowledged the difficulty of the task facing his team at the Assembly Hall on Wednesday.

They are terrific on the glass and very physical. We have to be ready for that and ready to fight on the backboard, he said.

The Illini has not had to fight too much on the backboard this season, simply because the shots keep falling. In the first NCAA statistical rankings of the season, put out this week, Illinois claimed the nations best three-point shooting average. Through seven games the team has made 76 threes, an average of 10.9 per game. Should they keep up the pace, this years Illini will set a new school record for threes per game.

The teams high clip from behind the arc clearly encouraged Groce, but the coach wants to see better offense all around from his team. Working the ball inside and finding the center in zone defense were two issues he specifically pointed out on Monday.

We have four guys averaging double figures. I'd like to get a fifth, Groce said.

Brandon Paul (18.7), Tracy Abrams (12.3), Richardson (12.0) and Griffey (10.9) are currently averaging double figures per game. Illinois next scorers are guard Joseph Bertrand (7.4) and Egwu (6.1), the center. The Illini will try to boost those two into double figures in Wednesdays contest against Georgia Tech.

Tip-off for Illinois 14th annual ACCBig Ten Challenge game will be at 8 p.m. and the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2. Illinois comes into the game with a three-game winning streak in the Challenge, and, on the heels of their first ranking under Groce, the team will not be easy to defeat this year.

Haven't lost in the B1GACCchallenge in my career, don't plan on changing that anytime soon, Paul (@BP3) tweeted on Tuesday.

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