With the exception of a 3-year run under Lefty Driesell in the early 2000′s, the Georgia State basketball program has flown under the radar. After all, mid-major programs with only two NCAA Tournament appearances in school history don’t generally get a lot of external publicity, and with the two “powers” in the state being close by in Georgia Tech and Georgia, it’s easy to see why the Panthers have been overlooked. This year, however, things are very different on the GSU campus.
The Georgia State Panthers are the best college basketball team in Georgia.
GSU is in the midst of a staggering 14-game winning streak (longest in school history) that has seen them win every game since December 7th, and other than an injury-riddled 4-game stretch early in the year, Ron Hunter’s club has been lights-out. They have two “high-major”-type players in the backcourt, as R.J. Hunter (who was a 3-star recruit) came to Atlanta as the son of the head coach, and Ryan Harrow (who was a high school All-American and a 5-star recruit) came back to the metro area after stops at NC State and Kentucky.
Our friends at KenPom.com currently have the Panthers as the 74th-ranked team in the country, but when you factor in that early, 4-game skid, that number would skyrocket when considering recent play. Even with that, though, GSU has the highest mark in the state of Georgia (closely followed by Mercer at #90 with UGA and GT outside the top 100), and the Panthers have a real chance at an NCAA Tournament berth.
Imagine this scenario: GSU runs the table for the rest of conference play (not crazy given their recent play) and loses in the Sun Belt Final. Would the Panthers have a chance at an at-large bid? I think so, especially given that they would have 27 wins and a likely top-50 mark in KenPom and the college RPI.
Even if Georgia State doesn’t make the “Cinderella” run to the tournament this season, the Panthers are wholly legitimate. There is a real argument that Hunter and Harrow represent the two best players on any team in the state (although GT’s Robert Carter and a few others may disagree), and with a big-time coach on campus, this may be the start of a real run for the Panthers.