Georgia State basketball: It’s time to pay attention


The Georgia State Panthers just might be the best kept secret in the country when it comes to college hoops, and on Monday evening, Ron Hunter’s club will be on full display with a nationally televised contest against the 14th-ranked Iowa State Cyclones in Ames. We’ve been touting the GSU basketball team in this space for some time, repeatedly stating that the Panthers display the best college basketball team in the state of Georgia, but Monday night brings a lot of extra attention to the proceedings, and with that, it is time to pay full attention to this year’s Georgia State squad.

Monday night is a big game for a number of reasons, but chiefly among them is that it will likely be the only “ranked” opponent that GSU has the privilege of playing against this season. Iowa State is ranked among the top 15 teams in the country for a reason, and the Cyclones are led by a legitimate All-American in Georges Niang. It is fair to say that the Cyclones may not be quite as promising as they were a year ago when they made the Sweet 16 before bowing out to eventual National Champion UConn, but this is a “real” team for R.J. Hunter, Ryan Harrow and company to measure themselves against.

Speaking of Hunter and Harrow, the duo makes up one of the best backcourts in the country, regardless of conference or classification. It would be easy to ignore the fact that two players combined for 49 points and 14 assists in only 53 combined minutes in the opener, simply because of the lackluster opponent. However, many pundits believe that either (or both) Hunter and Harrow could make a run at various national honors this season, and the consensus on R.J. Hunter continues to be that he has a legitimate chance to garner a first-round NBA draft selection in 2015.

There won’t be many opportunities to watch the Georgia State Panthers play basketball without a great deal of effort this season, and that is a shame. This is a talented bunch, with players like Kevin Ware and Curtis Washington (the team’s best frontcourt asset) providing stellar support to the “big two”, and Ron Hunter is a legitimate, high-level coach who is capable of shepherding this team to success not seen since the days of Lefty Driesell.

In the world of bold predictions, this Georgia State team is fully capable of winning 30 games and garnering an at-large selection in the NCAA Tournament, and I believe that is fully within the realistic range of outcomes. Hopefully for the sake of the Panthers, who ran into a buzzsaw led by NBA lottery pick Elfrid Payton in the Sun Belt Championship game a season ago, they won’t “need” an at-large bid, but an upset victory on Monday in Ames (where GSU is a 10-point underdog) would go a long way toward building that resume.

Georgia State is the best college basketball team in the state of Georgia, and when there are two “major conference” powers within the same borders, that is saying something. It’s going to be a fun year in Atlanta.