Georgia State athletics have come a long way over the past five years especially the basketball program, but it still has a few hills to climb before it wants to be considered an elite program. Right now if you were to ask a random person on the street what they knew about Panther basketball they would probably bring up RJ Hunter and the shot he hit against Baylor in the NCAA tournament. While that isn’t a bad thing, because that was probably the best season in program history, with a record of 25-10 to go along with a regular season Sun Belt title, a conference tournament title, and a NCAA tournament victory over Baylor, it is not necessarily the greatest thing either.
That was two seasons ago, and now the Panthers are trying to get back to the tournament and stay there. Being a mid-major school success is measured at different levels compared to schools at the power five level. For Georgia State, being an elite program would just require them making the tournament year in and year out. Mid-major schools like Gonzaga and Butler are elite programs because of their postseason success. Butler has made it to a few final fours, but without those appearances, it would still be an elite program.
There are other factors that make a team elite, however, and Georgia State is on the right track, but they are not quite there yet. They have however been very successful over the past few years.
“In the last five years, we have taken Georgia State to a level that it has never seen before. We have put together three of the most successful seasons in program history, won in the NCAA tournament and advanced to the postseason three times,” Coach Ron Hunter said. “ From a wins perspective, we have won more games than any other Division I program in the state of Georgia since the start of the 2013-14 season. We have a lot of things we still want to do, but we feel like we are moving in the right direction. Our next goal is to get back to the NCAA tournament.”
Hunter has a record of 110-67 since taking over the program in 2011. Hunter mentioned that the team had a lot of things that it still wants to do, and one of those things must include finishing out big games, or pulling off upsets.
Hunter isn’t a big fan of the term pulling off upsets.
“The first thing is that we don’t look at pulling off upsets, we look at winning games. When we step on the court, it doesn’t matter who we are playing, we believe we can win. As soon as you start to think about upsets it means that you aren’t good enough to be on the court with your opponent and we don’t want to think that way. We leave the upset talk to others and just focus in on doing what we do on the court,” Hunter said.
Hunter is right, you should never go into a game thinking that you can lose, but no matter how you look at it, there is no getting around the fact that they must start finishing games against big opponents.
The Panthers have had several chances to do just that this season. They were up as many as 11 points in the second half against Purdue, were down only five points to Auburn at halftime, and only down eight to Mississippi State at the half in that game as well. You won’t win every game unless you are the UConn women’s basketball team, but when you do have a chance to defeat Power 5 School, you have to take advantage.
In those three games, the Panthers were outscored 123-85 in the second half. They are in the past now, and it’s important not to dwell on them, but they were important for the process of becoming elite. Not only being elite, but also gaining national respect, and building your tournament resume.
One of the key factors in those games and others is that they tend to happen on the road.
“I think the one thing that you have to look at when it comes to beating a Power 5 opponent is that most of the time those games come on their home court. Home court advantage is big in all of college sports. The biggest thing in those games is that the margin of error is very small. You have to play smart throughout and truly limit your errors otherwise the opponent will definitely take advantage of them,” Hunter said.
Panther basketball has definitely had its best three-year stretch in school history, but now it’s time to take it to the next level, and part of that involves finishing out big games. That will in turn result in more NCAA tournament appearances and success, which will truly make it an elite program.