Generally speaking, Georgia State Universtiy does not receive much attention when it comes to sports. The school sits in the massive shadow of three professional franchises in the city of Atlanta, as well as two major college athletics programs within 100 miles. Over the last several years, much of the publicity GSU has received has been because of its young, upstart football program. However, for the first time in many years, the Panthers are beginning to be recognized on the hardcourt as well.
This season, the Panthers dropped their first three games in an early season tournament hosted by the Washington Huskies. But after returning home from the pacific northwest, the new head coach of the Panthers, Ron Hunter, made some adjustments. Apparently, the team responded well to those changes. Since their final game of the season opening tournament on November 14, the Panthers have not lost a basketball game. The Panthers are currently on a school-record nine game winning streak. Over those last nine games, GSU has averaged 73.2 points a game, while their opponents have only managed an average of 51.8 points per game. Granted, Georgia State has had the fortune of playing the easiest schedule in the nation. Unfortunately, many of the teams on the Panthers’ schedule have not performed as well as predicted. For instance, Rhode Island, traditionally a strong mid-major team, has only won two games this season. Rhode Island most likely considers this their worst season in decades. GSU played Liberty this year as well, a team who has had a bit of success over the last few years, this year the Flames have fallen off a bit. Even though Georgia State has had statistically the easiest schedule in the nation, they have done what good teams should be doing to weaker teams. Not only winning, but winning big. Six of those nine wins have come by a margin of 20 points or more.
Georgia State is led by Senior forward Eric Buckner, who averages 3 blocks per game, ranking him 12th in the nation in blocks. At one point earlier in the season, Buckner climbed as high as 3rd in the nation in the category. Buckner is a major player in the Panthers’ shut down defense. GSU Sophomore guard Devonta White is another key component of the Panthers’ defnesive prowess, especially when the press is applied. Offensively, the Panthers are also led by White, the speedy point guard. But GSU gets a lot of help off the bench, in the form of Jihad Ali. Ali is averaging 12.0 points a game.
The next few games will give fans a very accurate gauge of what to expect the rest of the season from the Panthers. GSU hosts Drexel on January 2, and then takes a road trip to take on George Mason and VCU only days later. The importance of these games cannot be emphasized enough, despite their early place in the conference schedule. Georgia State is off to their best start since the 2001 NCAA Tournament team. This years team is off to a hot start, like the GSU of old, and hopes to return to the NCAA tournament come March.