Georgia State considers itself favorite in Sun Belt tournament

Georgia State is the No. 2 seed in the Sun Belt Conference tournament, but it boasts the No. 1 player in the conference. And that’s largely why it considers itself the conference’s best.

D’Marcus Simonds ranks among the more prolific scorers in the country. He’s helped the Panthers to a 21-10 record while averaging 21.5 points per game. That’s the 19th highest scoring average in the country.

Georgia State will begin play in the tournament at 6 p.m. ET Friday in New Orleans against the winner of Troy-South Alabama game being played Wednesday night.

“The last time we had the best player in the tournament, we won it,” coach Ron Hunter said. “I remind D’Marcus of that.”

Hunter was referencing his son, R.J., who guided the Panthers to their most recent Sun Belt championship, in 2015. The team has won one tournament game since, and despite possessing the No. 2 seed a season ago, it was upset in the semifinals by Troy.

But this team is different, more complete, largely because of Simonds, but Hunter loves that his group can win however the game turns. They prefer to outgun opponents with a 3-point barrage, but if a defensive struggle is needed, they’ll oblige.

The data backs it up: Georgia State has won six games scoring 71 or fewer. It’s had four wins with 90 or more points. And plenty of numbers in-between.

That, Hunter believes, makes the Panthers the favorites in what he called arguably his favorite season as a coach.

“We are (the best team in the conference),” Hunter said. “And we want to go out and prove it.”

The Panthers didn’t exactly flex their muscles over the past month. After upending Louisiana-Lafayette, the conference’s No. 1 seed, GSU sagged off as it knew it had secured a bye.

They lost four of their final six, including a rivalry game at Georgia Southern and an ugly upset against Louisiana-Monroe. The Panthers closed the regular season with a 90-75 win over South Alabama, mitigating some concerns.

“We got complacent, starting thinking about tournament,” Hunter said. “But I like where we are. I love the versatility.”

Hunter isn’t worried about the slow finish. Always candid about his group’s strengths and weaknesses, Hunter said his team’s biggest flaw was playing down to competition. But it’d play up in the bigger games, which encourages Hunter with the team entering win-or-go-home territory.

The Panthers await the winner of Troy-South Alabama, two teams who both defeated GSU at one point this season. They find that more motivating. Even splitting the season series, it’s easier to gear up for a team who’s already taken you down.

Aside from the top seed, Louisiana-Lafayette has an advantage with the tournament in New Orleans. But Georgia State holds a mental edge: It’s defeated Louisiana-Lafayette four consecutive times, including a blowout victory this season, and has topped them four of the past five times on the road. Louisiana-Lafayette hasn’t beaten Georgia State since 2016.

Hunter wouldn’t look too far ahead, given that both parties would play twice before facing each other. But he’s confident in overcoming the road disadvantage if it happens. 

“It’s an advantage,” Hunter said of the tournament being held in New Orleans. “It’s a true road game. Their fans are there. But we’ve also fared well there. … It doesn’t matter (the opponent). We believe we can win.” 

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in State Report

Georgia college, town reflect Hispanic growth and prosperity
Georgia college, town reflect Hispanic growth and prosperity

Dalton State College student Bryan Lopez is part of a school team that will, as part of its many duties, recruit students across the state line in Tennessee this fall. Lopez, 22, an aspiring dentist who came with his family from Guatemala when he was 12, will stress to his target audience — Hispanics — that this college is the...
Ex-Brinks employee convicted of conspiring to rob armored trucks
Ex-Brinks employee convicted of conspiring to rob armored trucks

Federal prosecutors say a former Brinks employee used his knowledge of armored truck routes and drivers to orchestrate two Savannah-area heists. Victor Natson, 27, worked for Brinks, Inc. for two years before he conspired with a convicted gang member and that man’s cousin to pull off the robberies in October 2016 and January 2017, according...
Why a small change in law could create danger for students
Why a small change in law could create danger for students

A dozen words have stirred panic among the people responsible for keeping Georgia children safe when they’re going to and from school.  A phrase that state lawmakers inserted into a 15-page traffic measure in the waning days of this year’s legislative session will muddy the law about stopping for school buses while they’re loading...
Another Georgia school district joins the movement to arm teachers
Another Georgia school district joins the movement to arm teachers

The Fannin County Board of Education approved arming teachers Thursday, becoming the second system in the state to make that move. The county is on the Tennessee border. It’s 3,212 students and faculty of 179 are dispersed among three elementary schools, a middle school and a high school. It has about about half the number of students as Laurens...
Georgia school district to allow teachers to carry guns
Georgia school district to allow teachers to carry guns

A school district near Macon is looking to become Georgia’s first one to let some teachers and other personnel bring guns to school. At its April 12 meeting, Laurens County’s school board passed a resolution to “authorize certain personnel to possess or carry weapons on any property or in any building owned or leased by the district...
More Stories