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Sun Belt Conference Final Preview: Can the Cajuns pull off one more upset?

Sun Belt bullies Georgia State meet an improbable opponent in Monday’s conference championship game

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 25 Georgia State at Georgia Tech
Corey Allen tallied 29 points, eight assists and six rebounds in Georgia State’s 71-66 victory over Appalachian State.
Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

How to watch

Matchup: No. 8 Louisiana vs. No. 3 Georgia State

When: Monday, 7 p.m. ET

Where: Pensacola, Fla.

TV: ESPN 2

DraftKings Spread: Georgia State -3.5, O/U 132.5

How they got to the title game:

Georgia State finding itself one game away from the NCAA Tournament should come as no surprise. The Panthers finished the regular season red hot, and they have now appeared in four consecutive Sun Belt Championship games. Meanwhile, no one expected the Ragin’ Cajuns to score this date with destiny.

After entering the season with lofty expectations, as of a week ago, Louisiana’s season had been one of disappointment. After finishing regular season play 13-14 overall and 8-9 in Sun Belt play, the Cajuns entered the tournament as the eighth seed. The last three days have presented unforeseen euphoria for Cajun fans, but for large parts of this run, things have looked relatively effortless for Bob Marlin’s squad.

Louisiana staved off a late push from UT Arlington to win their opening matchup 67-64, stunned tournament-favorite Texas State 79-72 in a matchup they controlled throughout, and most recently cruised past fourth-seeded Troy 66-57 in the semifinals. Louisiana’s improbable run hasn’t necessarily been fueled by the same one or two players. In fact, the Cajuns have had a different leading scorer in all three tournament victories so far.

Sophomore forward Jordan Brown had a monster performance in Saturday’s upset over Texas State, scoring 31 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Brown is joined in the front court by forward Theo Akwuba who had 15 points and eight rebounds against the Trojans. The Cajuns have also gotten solid performances from guards Jalen Dalcourt and Greg Williams Jr.

Georgia State expected to find themselves here the entire year, and at this point, the annual trip to Pensacola is nothing more than a business trip for Rob Lanier’s group. The Panthers finished regular season play with seven wins in a row, and that momentum has carried into the postseason. In the quarterfinals on Saturday, senior guard Kane Williams scored 23 points and recorded six steals in a 65-62 triumph over Arkansas State.

Sunday’s semifinal matchup presented an opportunity for the Panthers to strike revenge on Appalachian State, who upset the Panthers in last year’s conference championship game. Corey Allen, the heart-and-soul of this Georgia State group, stepped up with a monster performance. Allen scored 29 points, had eight assists and secured six rebounds in a 71-66 victory over the Mountaineers.

After starting conference play 0-4, the Panthers now find themselves one step away from their sixth NCAA Tournament berth and their fourth since 2015.

Prediction

Louisiana has been a great story over the past four days, and Georgia State lost this game to Appalachian State last year in a very similar situation. I don’t expect to see lightning strike twice. Georgia State was always supposed to be the Sun Belt’s best team this year. It may have taken some time to get there, but Rob Lanier’s group has rounded into form at the perfect time. This Panthers squad is ripe with veterans that have played in and won this game before. Georgia State also won both regular season matchups against the Cajuns.

When you factor in Georgia State’s experience, talent and eagerness to get back into the NCAA Tournament after coming up short last year, I can’t pick against the Panthers. I expect them to cut down the nets tonight and cover the spread while doing so.