New Georgia State men’s basketball coach Ron Hunter wants nothing less than three wins in its season-opening road trip, which begins with Saturday’s game against Washington in Seattle.
“I don’t believe in moral victories,” he said. “If there’s one guy that has any doubt, then don’t go on this trip.”
The goal may seem high considering the team is still learning Hunter’s up-tempo offensive and defensive systems,which are different than what they played under former coach Rod Barnes. However, the Panthers showed potential in two exhibition victories over outmatched opponents Southern Poly and Oglethorpe. They outscored the two opponents by 66 points. That they have scored 90 points twice in two games shows the difference between Hunter’s style and Barnes’. The Panthers scored at least 80 points just eight times in his four seasons.
But scoring so many points against the Division III Stormy Petrels is different than playing the Huskies, who are a contender to win the Pac-12. That will be followed by games against Portland and Florida Atlantic, which are also contenders in their conferences, and should give Hunter and his staff a good idea against a better level of opponents as to what are the next lessons that should be taught.
The chance of a poor start is worth the risk, Hunter said, because he wants the team to be playing its best basketball at the end of the season when NCAA tournament berths are at stake.
“I want us to get to the point where we aren’t worried about wins and losses,” he said.
Hunter has already learned a few things. He likes that the team is playing hard for him, particularly in the second half of both wins. Instead of sitting back and nursing leads, the Panthers have pushed to extend the margins. He attributes some of that to defensive adjustments made at halftime.
“My teams have always been that way,” he said. “Our defense is based upon matchups so we feel you out. We counterpunch early and then make adjustments.”
While Hunter has gotten an idea of the team’s energy level and determination, he hasn’t figured out the rotations. Before the season, he said he probably wouldn’t use more than eight players. He played nine against Oglethorpe. He said 80 percent of the team has picked up what he’s teaching, while 20 percent, and he said that group are players he was counting on during the offseason, are still learning.
Two seniors who have made progress, guard James Fields and forward Brandon McGee, have been particularly impressive, Hunter said. McGee is averaging 18.5 points and 7.5 rebounds while Fields is averaging 8 points and 4.5 rebounds.
“[Fields] is a kid who I’m doing everything I can not to start,” he said.