First Round Matchup
Opponent: No. 1 Gonzaga
Date: Thursday, March 17
Location: Moda Center, Portland, OR.
Time: 4:15 p.m.
DraftKings Line: Gonzaga -23.5, O/U 148.5
Ever since the 68-team bracket for the 2022 NCAA Tournament was revealed Sunday evening, college basketball junkies far and wide have been scrambling to fill out their brackets. In almost every case, the first matchup fans pick the winner of is the matchup in the west region between the No. 1 overall seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs and the 16th seeded Georgia State Panthers.
Let’s be real, though. When completing these brackets, most fans don’t even acknowledge the team Gonzaga is squared up against. They simply see the prodigious name and immediately sharpie the Bulldogs into the Round of 32.
Gonzaga is certainly the “Goliath” in this matchup. The Bulldogs have a stacked roster and appeared in the National Championship game a year ago. However, ignoring the school playing the role of David in this first-round matchup is blatantly disrespectful to Rob Lanier’s Panthers, who earned their way into this Tournament just like the other 67 teams.
After starting 0-4 in conference play, the Panthers are currently in the midst of a 10-game win streak that dates back to the first week of February.
Gonzaga in the WCC. Texas Southern in the SWAC. New Mexico State in the WAC. Some conferences, especially in the mid-majors, have been bullied by the same school as of late. Well, Georgia State is becoming that program in the Sun Belt.
The Panthers have dominated the Sun Belt basketball landscape recently. Dating back to 2015, Georgia State has earned four of the Sun Belt’s last seven automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament.
In 2015, 14th-seeded Georgia State enshrined itself in March Madness history when R.J. Hunter, the son of then-Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter, hit an incredible three pointer to stun the third-seeded Baylor Bears. Hunter was so moved (literally) by the moment that he fell of the stool he was sitting on. You remember the moment, but it never gets old. So watch it again.
Georgia State is the only Sun Belt program that can make the argument that it is a “basketball” school. Aside from becoming regular attendees of the Big Dance, starting in the 2022-23 season, the program will have a new $80 million arena in downtown Atlanta to call home.
Georgia State released renderings of its new arena and it looks awesome.— Mid-Major Madness (@mid_madness) November 17, 2020
They also seem to be observing COVID protocols with limited attendance here. pic.twitter.com/6Mnr4dA3Xr
Players to Watch
This Georgia State squad is led by a core of veterans. The Panthers’ starting lineup consists of four seniors and a junior.
Corey Allen: If we were to analogize this Georgia State team to the Spartan army in the movie “300,” Allen is this group’s Leonidas. After the Panthers were upset in the finals of the Sun Belt Tournament a year ago, Allen refused to be denied this go-around. Allen went for a whopping 58 points over the final two days of the conference tournament to carry the Panthers back into the Big Dance. For the season as a whole, Allen led the Panthers averaging 14.7 points per contest. In addition to his scoring punch, Allen also adds over three rebounds and three assists per game. If the Panthers find themselves in a pivotal moment, you can expect them to entrust Allen to hit a timely shot.
Kane Williams: After playing high school basketball just 30 miles outside of Atlanta, Kane Williams has become a staple of Panther hoops over the past five years. Williams was also a starter when the Panthers last made the Tournament in 2019. On the season, Williams is averaging 12.5 points and nearly four rebounds and four assists per game. If Georgia State wants to have a chance against Gonzaga, they’ll need Williams to hit a few shots from beyond the arc.
Eliel Nsoseme: Gonzaga has a daunting front court pairing of Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren, so forward Eliel Nsoseme will play a vital role for the Panthers in this matchup. The senior out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo averages close to a double-double, so if the Panthers are to remain competitive he’s going to have to have a big day on the glass. He’ll also have to be careful when it comes to keeping himself out of foul trouble.
Justin Roberts: The third man in Georgia State’s strong trio of senior guards is Justin Roberts. Roberts is third on the Panthers in scoring, averaging 11.2 points per outing. Roberts has been Georgia State’s best 3-point shooter on the season, converting on 36.4% of his attempts from distance.
Keys to Success
3-Point Shooting: Considering how basketball is played now, this is going to be a key for any team that finds itself as a considerable underdog. If Georgia State wants to hang around, they are going to have to have an uncharacteristically good day from deep. The Panthers are only converting on 32.3% of their 3-point attempts on the season, per KenPom, which ranks 246th in Division I. Considering Gonzaga has an elite rim-protector in Chet Holmgren, Georgia State could mightily struggle to score near the rim. The Panthers will need to get hot and stay hot from range.
Win the turnover battle: When the Panthers are playing their best ball, they are usually winning the turnover battle. Georgia State is only turning the ball over on 16.9% of its possessions. Meanwhile, on the defensive end, they’re forcing turnovers on 22.7% of their opponents’ possessions, which is the 18th best mark in the country. If the Panthers can force the Zags into some uncharacteristic mistakes, it would go a long way to helping them stay in the fight.