Panthers open NCAA tournament vs. three-seeded Bears in Jacksonville

After all of the media attention, interviews and practice, it will be time to hit the court at 1:40 p.m. today.

The stage is set for 14-seeded Georgia State to face the three-seeded Baylor Bears in Jacksonville, Florida in the NCAA tournament.

Georgia State is participating in its first NCAA tournament since 2001 when Charles “Lefty” Driesell was head coach. That year, the Panthers as an 11-seed defeated six-seeded Wisconsin.

Dating back to Jan. 19, the Panthers have won 13 of their last 15 contests, including its two victories in the Sun Belt championship. Junior guard R.J. Hunter is coming into the matchup vs. Baylor as Georgia State’s leading scorer, averaging 19.8 points per game.

Fans across the country will also have a chance to get a glimpse of Kevin Ware who is playing in his first NCAA tournament game since 2013 with Louisville. Ryan Harrow, who suffered a hamstring strain during the Panthers’ regular season finale vs. Georgia Southern on Mar. 7 will be a gametime decision.

The zone defense is at the center of head coach Ron Hunter’s defensive gameplan. Forcing turnovers, a weakness of Baylor’s, will be key in Georgia State’s hopes of victory over the three-seed out of the Big 12.

The Panthers must also manage to keep the Bears off the offensive glass. Baylor finished the season as the second-best offensive rebounding team in the Big 12, averaging nearly 15 offensive rebounds per game. A big reason for that is Bears junior forward Rico Gathers, who is averaging 11.6 rebounds per game.

Baylor also shoots the ball particularly well from three-point range. They shot nearly 38 percent from behind the arc–the best percentage of Big 12 teams. Junior forward Taurean Prince himself is shooting nearly 40 percent from three-point range.

One advantage the Panthers should have is the number of fans attending the game. Support-wise, Georgia State earned a favorable draw from the NCAA’s Selection Committee with its first game being in Jacksonville, Florida.

Jacksonville is only a four or five-hour drive from Atlanta as opposed to Baylor which is in Texas. Its proximity to Georgia should make for a home-court advantage favoring the Panthers.

Tipoff is at 1:40 p.m. on TBS. WCNN-AM 680 The Fan will provide radio coverage as well as channel 93 on Sirius XM Satellite Radio.