Georgia State men’s basketball East Coast road trip preview

Photo by Shel Levy | The Signal

It’s been quite a process, but the Georgia State men’s basketball program is on the rise. Two consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament, two straight Sun Belt Conference Championships and a number of players later, they’re making strides. But more importantly, people are taking notice.

Two key games on a weekend in November tell the story. Nov. 15 at Duke University and Nov. 17 at Georgetown University will present Rob Lanier’s men with a chance to shock the world.

For anyone who watches college basketball in March, they know: Upsets are made to happen. It’s why college basketball is amazing to watch. Each and every year in March Madness, someone is always bound to be upset.

In 2014, Mercer University beat Duke in one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history. The next year, future NBA first-round pick RJ Hunter beat the Golden Bears of Baylor University with a 3-pointer at the buzzer. 

In both of these games, the 14-seed beat the 3-seed in the tournament, proving that, at the end of the day, these are kids and they’re going to make some mistakes. 

Here’s an analysis of the Panthers’ two biggest regular-season games in recent history.

Georgia State @ Duke, Friday, Nov. 15th, 7:00 pm

For only the second time in program history, the Panthers will face off against Duke University, the No. 4 team in the Associated Press preseason rankings. The previous meeting was the season opener for the 2012-13 season, which saw six future NBA players take the floor — five from Duke and one from Georgia State. It was a bad loss for the Panthers, as Duke’s talent and depth propelled them to a 74-55 victory inside the famous Cameron Indoor Stadium.

But these teams obviously looked much different from how they do now. One thing about college basketball: Anyone can come out on top and win on any given night.

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, better known as “Coach K,” is often regarded as the greatest head coach of all time. His 1,132 all-time wins currently rank first. He’s led the school to 24 straight NCAA Tournaments, which is the second-longest streak of all time and also coaches Team USA Basketball in the Olympics.

Each season, Duke has consistently held a top spot in the recruitment class rankings. This year was no different. Highlighted by 247Sports’ No. 6 overall prospect in the class of 2019 Vernon Carey, they’ll be as talented as any team in college basketball. 

They also return exceptional players, including Norcross High School alumnus and junior guard Jordan Goldwire.

The Panthers lack the athleticism Duke possesses, so a hot start from their leaders is crucial if they want the upset.

Damon Wilson and Kane Williams will each look to be leaders on both ends of the floor at Cameron Indoor Stadium, arguably the toughest venue for an opponent to play at.

Lanier told The Signal during an interview that his players’ success beyond basketball is what brings joy to him.

For Lanier, this will be the biggest head coaching challenge of his career. An upset over the No. 4 team in the country on the road would be high on his list of career accomplishments.

In order to do that, he will look to Wilson and Williams.

“[Williams] has been the most vocal advocate each practice of what we’re doing, and he is a natural leader,” Lanier said at October’s media day when asked about the two. “There’s a correlation between his energy at practice and our energy as a team. And Damon’s right there with him.”

Duke, on the other hand, doesn’t have a distinguished leader. Their first game, an exhibition against unranked Northwest Missouri State University, saw them squeak by with a mere 69-63 win. However, their 68-66 win over No. 3 Kansas last Tuesday silenced the critics.

With that said, we can expect the Panthers to play far more than just seven players against the Blue Devils and give them as big a fight as the Jayhawks did last week.

Final score: 75-60, Duke. 

Georgia State @ Georgetown, Nov. 17th, 7:30 pm

We’ve addressed Duke losing to Mercer, but Georgetown knows what it’s like to be part of an upset. After all, Patrick Ewing, their head coach, was a player for the Hoyas in one of the biggest upsets of all time.

Like Duke, Georgetown has only played Georgia State twice, with the Hoyas beating the Panthers 83-68 on Nov. 18, 1998.

Now coaching at his alma mater, Ewing, the NBA Hall of Famer, has two seasons under his belt with the Hoyas, with a 34-29 record.

In those two seasons, however, Ewing hasn’t produced any NBA draft picks or NCAA Tournament appearances. 

The resume isn’t nearly as extensive for the Hoyas as it is for Duke, but this is still a well-coached program.

They return two key sophomores from last season: former four-star recruit Josh LeBlanc and former three-star Mac McClung.

LeBlanc led the team in field goal percentage and will be the best returning rebounder for the team as well. He’s a gritty player, and with his 6-7, 215-pound frame, Lanier and his Panthers squad will have their hands full on the glass. 

His weakness lies in the perimeter game. In order to take him out of the game, Georgia State will need to make him take jump shots and not go inside. He led the team in shooting last season at 63%, so it’s clear he knows how to get buckets.

Lanier will look to his big men when LeBlanc boxes out for rebounds and offensive putbacks.

And, of course, you can’t talk about Georgetown basketball without mentioning McClung, the freak athlete with a 47-inch vertical. His 13.1 points per game were good for a freshman, but how he got them was another story.

A poor 39% from the field and an even worse 27.7% from three-point range, McClung struggled heavily last season. His 79.8% from the free-throw line was solid, but he didn’t get to the line as much as he would have liked.

Containing him will most likely be the assignment for Williams. This one is going to be the one-on-one matchup of the weekend.

Prediction: 72-65. Panthers come home with the upset.