2017-18 Record: 24-11 (12-6 Sun Belt); Lost in NCAA tournament to No. 2 Cincinnati
Key Returners: D’Marcus Simonds (G, Jr.), Jeff Thomas (F, Sr.), Devin Mitchell (G, Sr.), Malik Benlevi (F, Sr.)
Key Losses: Isaiah Williams, Jordan Session
Key Newcomers: Damon Wilson (transfer from Pitt), Nelson Phillips (No. 191 247sports Composite)
Ron Hunter led the Panthers to their fourth NCAA tournament appearance last season with help from some supremely talented players, including Sun Belt Player of the Year D’Marcus Simonds.
Hunter has established a culture of winning at the mid-major in Atlanta and he’s also shown the ability to recruit, snatching up players who have offers from Power 5 schools and taking in transfers who didn’t quite fit in at high majors. Since 2015, the Panthers have made more postseason appearances than both Georgia and Georgia Tech.
The Panthers will try to recreate their success from last season and return a host of players who helped them get there.
Key Non-Conference Games
The Panthers don’t play many high-major teams in their non-conference slate this season, but Hunter scheduled games against tough mid-majors, like ETSU and St. Bonaventure. A Nov. 9 trip to Montana won’t be easy either.
Nov. 6 vs. ETSU
Nov. 19 vs. St. Bonaventure (Cayman Islands Classic)
Nov. 28 at Tulane
Dec. 4 at Alabama
Dec. 15 at Kansas State
Dec. 19 vs. UNC-Wilmington
Three Things to Watch
D’Marcus Simonds’ draft stock
After winning the Sun Belt Player of the Year award and leading the Panthers to an NCAA tournament appearance, Simonds briefly considered making a jump to the professional ranks after his sophomore season. Simonds averaged 21.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game as a sophomore and quickly established himself as a legitimate NBA prospect.
Simonds decided to return for his junior year and he’s less than 700 points away from setting the career scoring record at Georgia State. As he continues to score in bunches and develop his overall game, Simonds’ stock in the NBA draft figures to keep rising. Back in February, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony had him tabbed as a top 25 pick for the 2019 draft. If he captures the school’s scoring title and leads the Panthers to another Sun Belt title, he may feel accomplished enough to make the leap to the NBA Draft.
3’s from Mitchell, Thomas
While Simonds is nearly unstoppable when he’s barreling toward the basket, other offensive weapons the Panthers have are a pair of sharpshooters from beyond the arc. Jeff Thomas, a 6-foot-5 senior, is eighth all-time in three-pointers made at Georgia State and connected on 39.2 percent of his shots from outside last year. Devin Mitchell, a 6-foot-4 native of Suwanee, Georgia, was an All-Sun Belt Third Team selection last year as he shot 44.7 percent from three-point land. Thomas and Mitchell keep defenses honest and prevent them from packing the paint on Simonds. If these guys are left open, they’ll flush deep shots with ease.
What can Damon Wilson bring?
Wilson is a native of nearby Powder Springs, Georgia and is eligible to play after sitting out a season due to NCAA transfer rules. He played in 59 games in over two seasons at Pitt, but averaged just 8.6 minutes per-game over his career there. If more playing time is what he’s seeking, he might get it at Georgia State.
Arguably his best game at Pitt was as a freshman, when he tallied 20 points and three assists in a win over Central Arkansas. He’s shown the ability to create for others, having multiple assists in 12 games at Pitt, but Panthers’ fans may not know what they’re getting from Wilson until they see him play for longer stretches.
D’Marcus Simonds would start on most college basketball teams in the country. He’s the go-to guy here. If he’s successful, then the Panthers likely will be too.