Ranking the best Georgia State men’s basketball teams in the last ten years

Illustration by Natalie Pimentel

Georgia State basketball is currently in a golden age, hosting many accolades in recent memory. In the past decade, the program reached the NCAA Tournament four times and even upset the third-seeded Baylor Golden Bears in a thrilling first-round matchup in 2015. Their three Sun Belt Conference Tournament titles also speak volumes. But, with many titles comes much discussion.

Georgia State alumnus and 247Sports’ Ben Moore ran a poll on his Twitter pegging the question. Athletes, media members and even former coaches voiced their opinion. But some may have not taken the time to think about each team’s resume from both a talent and a record perspective.

Here are the five best teams from a memorable 2010s broken down and analyzed.

5. 2019-20: 19-13 (12-10 Conference record); Lost in the second round of Sun Belt Conference Tournament; MVP: Kane Williams

Starting off the list we have the most recent Panthers team, which had an up-and-down year to say the least. After a rough 1-3 start that featured nail-biting games at Duke and Georgetown, Rob Lanier’s men went on a seven-game winning streak.

It was a season of transition for the team and the program. Longtime head coach Ron Hunter departed for Tulane and was replaced by former Tennessee assistant coach Rob Lanier. The team was also extremely young and were predicted to finish at the bottom of the conference.

“For such a young team, they had an impressive season,” Moore said. “While the ending wasn’t great, they still have years to grow as a team.”

What stands out about this squad is their tenacity and proving the doubters wrong. They finished fifth in the conference behind breakout years for a number of players, including Justin Roberts. Due to inconsistency in the middle of the season, this team was hard to peg, as they would play so well at times and are the top seed but then would go stretches looking like a bottom seed.

Ugly losses, which became lessons, to Georgia Southern and big venues like Duke and Georgetown highlighted a new age coming for the Georgia State men’s basketball program.

4. 2016-17: 20-13, (13-5); Eliminated in the second round of Sun Belt Conference Tournament; MVP: Malik Benlevi

With the 2015 tournament appearance still fresh in the minds of fans, this team is largely a footnote to many. In 2016, the Panthers were in a tricky position. Their previous season saw them go under .500 for the year in conference play.

However, the 2016 squad had a fire lit under them and finished second place in the regular season in the Sun Belt. This was also the freshman year of D’Marcus Simonds.  The Gainesville, Georgia native thrived, bringing home Sun Belt Freshman of the Year and nearly leading the team to a conference title.

While the Panthers would fall to Troy in the second round of the conference tournament, it was still an impressive season by the team and a Simonds’ campaign that will be remembered for years to come.

3. 2018-19: 24-10, (13-5); Eliminated in the first round of NCAA Tournament; MVP: D’Marcus Simonds

Led by D’Marcus Simonds, Panthers bagged a second straight conference title. Despite losing some veterans, they never missed a beat. Not too bad for their first year removed from the RJ Hunter Era.

While it was expected that the team would struggle without a leader, Simonds rapidly emerged as the new face of the program. They finished third in the Cayman Islands Classic, pounding the Georgia Bulldogs 91-67. 

However, what makes this team special was the fan turnout and energy in the GSU Sports Arena. The best game of the year came in front of a loud and blacked out crowd against Georgia Southern where the Panthers won a thrilling 69-66 overtime classic. It is still regarded as one of the most electric games ever played in the arena. 

While the Panthers would lose in the NCAA tournament, the squad was one of the best to play at Georgia State.

2. 2014-15: 25-10, (15-5); Eliminated in the second round of NCAA Tournament; MVP: RJ Hunter

Yes, the season with the shot and Ron Hunter falling off his stool comes in at second on the list. 

Before you get out your pitchforks, hear me out for a minute: the team is remembered for the shot and not the year as a whole. Talent aside, this team lacked dominance throughout the season. They were too prone to being inconsistent and at times looked suspect. 

The team struggled against talented conference opponents on the road. They lost big road games against Georgia Southern, Little Rock and Louisiana-Lafayette. Those losses nearly cost the Panthers a trip to the tournament. 

This exceptional squad ran through its two stars, led by RJ Hunter and Ryan Harrow, who both were given All-Conference honors. The team also won a very competitive Sun Belt which was contested between Georgia State, Georgia Southern and Louisiana-Lafayette. 

The Panthers would win the conference tournament and gain an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Georgia State was the No. 14 seed playing the third-seeded Baylor Golden Bears and were the obvious underdogs.

With just over a minute left and down 10 points, it looked like another one and done for the Panthers. However, they mounted a furious comeback, and with five seconds remaining, Hunter hit a deep-three to give Georgia State a 57-56 lead. 

The shot knocked his father off his stool and made it one the best moments in March Madness history.

1. 2013-14: 25-9, (17-1); Eliminated in the second round of Sun Belt Conference Tournament; MVP: Ryan Harrow 

What, you thought it was going to be another group?

Hands down, the 2013 Panthers were the best team to ever play for Georgia State. They were a bulldozer in the conference, winning 17 games and playing some of the best players in program history. 

“That ’13 team was amazing,” Moore said. “At times, they just looked like a team who could reach the Sweet Sixteen.”

Propelled by star transfers and homegrown talent, transfers like Ryan Harrow from Kentucky and Kevin Ware from Louisville brought both their experience and star-level talent from power five programs. 

However, the Panthers were upset by Louisiana-Lafayette in the conference championship. The way the result happened hurt more. The Panthers surrendered an 11-point lead late in the second half, and the Warhawks never looked back. Even with the loss, 2013 was the best with its top-tier talent led by Panther legend Ron Hunter. 

Yes, this team ultimately failed to qualify for the tournament, but one cannot overlook how dominant this team was throughout the season.