by Justin Dewitt
This year Georgia State is arguably one of the best teams in the State. Despite being predicted to finish second in the SunBelt, the Panthers are on the cusp of making it to the NCAA Tournament.
Since Head Coach Ron Hunter took over, Georgia State has been the most winningest team in the State of Georgia, and the way these Panthers are performing this season they could not only beat any team in the Sun Belt, they could beat any team in the state of Georgia.
What better way to prove you’re the best team in the State than beating the best competition. Georgia State faced off against Georgia Tech, who has arguably been the best team in Georgia over the past few years. The game was deemed “The showdown from downtown” by many people in the city of Atlanta.
Going into the game the Panthers were considerable underdogs because of their mid-major level status. However, Despite it being an exhibition game to raise money for hurricane relief the Panthers took this opportunity seriously and didn’t hold back.
State went on to win that game 65-58. This would be the first of a few opportunities to prove that they belong in the NCAA Tournament. Tech had no answer for sophomore guard D’Marcus Simonds who led all scorers with 30 points. Right after the game Simonds told GSU radio right before the game, “ I want to be known as the best player in GSU history,” and leading his team over downtown neighbors Georgia Tech is a step in the right direction.
The Last time Georgia State made it to the NCAA Tournament they were led by NBA guard, R.J Hunter, and this year they may have the same recipe in D’Marcus Simonds. Despite being just a sophomore, Simonds has moved into Georgia State’s top 25 in career scoring with 950 points. He could become just the sixth player to accomplish the feat in less than two seasons. With five games to play in the regular season, D’Marcus Simonds has 583 points scored, just 105 shy of R.J. Hunter’s school record of 688.
But the Panthers have added something this year that they didn’t have during the 2015 season, DEFENSE.
And Not just any defense, but the number one defense in the SunBelt. Georgia State enters play ranked first in the league in field goal percentage defense (39.8), turnover margin (+3.8) and blocked shots (4.7), along with second in scoring defense (66.4) and third in steals (7.5). If defense really wins championships then it won’t be a surprise to the Panthers holding up that SunBelt trophy at the end of the regular season.
In order to make it back to the NCAA Tournament Georgia State will have to go through the toughest teams in the SunBelt. Fortunately the Panthers have already proven they can play with any team in their conference. Georgia State managed to take down Georgia Southern earlier this season in the quest to prove which team is the real GSU. Another top Georgia team, another victory for the Panthers, and the common denominator is D’Marcus Simonds. He is leading this team.
“We know that every game moving forward is like a conference tournament game if we want to win the regular season title. Our guys know this and will be locked in on Saturday,”Coach Hunter said after the victory over Southern.
State started conference play at the bottom of the SunBelt but quickly made their way to the top with a 10 game win streak. It was the third-longest streak in program history and tied for ninth-longest in the country entering the day. On that streak they were able to knock off the number one team in the SunBelt, Louisiana, the only team predicted to finish better than Georgia State.
To put icing on the cake, State gave them their first and only loss in the conference. Louisiana came into the Georgia State Sports arena undefeated and even though they are still ranked number one they left that gym feeling like the second best team in the SunBelt. If the Panthers can keep this up they very well may make it back to the NCAA Tournament.