Before we get into tonight’s game, I would like to ask you a few questions:
As we hit the halfway point in the CAA season, who is Georgia State’s MVP? Who needs to step up? After tonight, what is the toughest remaining game and why? What is the team’s strength? What is its weakness? Who is the coach of the year in the CAA? The MVP? What is the key to the race?
I’m compiling info for a story running Saturday. Post comments below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tonight’s game at Drexel is arguably the most important of the year for Georgia State’s basketball team.
‘Why?’ you may ask. ‘The Panthers (14-6, 6-3) have already beaten the Dragons (15-5, 7-2) handily once this season.’
While it is true Georgia State beat Drexel by 14 points at the Sports Arena on Jan. 2, the Dragons haven’t lost since.
As a matter of fact, it was their only loss in their past 14 games.
Three of their past 14 wins have come by double-digits, including a 71-53 beatdown of the same Northeastern team that defeated the Panthers last week.
As important as a victory would be for the Panthers in the Colonial Athletic Association race, coming out on the good side would be a needed boost of confidence.
Hunter has said many teams that he didn’t inherit a bad team, he inherited a team that didn’t know how to win.
Well, the Panthers are very good at home, a perfect 10-0. They have lost their last three on the road, to George Mason, Northeastern and Delaware. Each of those games came down to the final seconds, providing some fodder that Georgia State is the best team in the CAA.
But you can’t be considered the best team until you can beat a hot team on their floor.
Doing so tonight, against the best defensive team in the CAA (54.8 ppg), may provide the Panthers a jolt of confidence they can use on Saturday when they host VCU, and carry them all the way through the CAA tournament in Richmond in early March.
The Dragons feature four players who have hit at least 20 3-pointers this season. Defending the 3-point line has been a short-term sore spot for Georgia State in the past three games. The Huskies and Blue Hens combined to hit 24 3-pointers. It appeared that James Madison was going to have a hot hand when it hit three quick 3-pointers on Monday. Curiously, each was from the same spot on the floor: its left wing or the right side of Georgia State’s defense, right in a crease in the 1-3-1 zone. But then Georgia State’s defense tightened up and JMU went cold.
To win the Panthers will need to get more from James Fields and Josh Micheaux. Hunter said last week that he took Micheaux out of the starting lineup against Delaware, and inserted Brandon McGee, because defenses simply sagged back whenever Fields or Micheaux had the ball, daring them to shoot, while clogging the free-throw lane.
Fields and Micheaux let fly in the win over James Madison. The duo combined to score 12 points in a key run, with Micheaux hitting a 3-pointer. I would guess that even if Micheaux isn’t feeling a hot hand, Hunter would still like to see him shoot just to make the defense come out a little bit, which would give Eric Buckner some more room to move inside.
Speaking of Buckner, he bounced back against the Dukes in a big way. I was curious to see how he would play after what happened against Delaware. For those who don’t read regularly (shame on you, if you don’t ), Buckner missed a free throw at the end of regulation that would have won the game. He also missed a layup — miss isn’t the right word, the ball went in and just came out, I’m told — that would have won the game in overtime. This came after he missed free throws in the final minute at Northeastern that might have changed that outcome.
Instead of turning inward, Buckner showed his senior experience by hitting 7 of 8 free throws against the Dukes, blocking six shots and scoring 13 points.
So, what do you think about tonight’s game?
Do you agree or disagree that it’s the biggest game of the year. Let me hear from you. Traffic has been light since the losing streak.
Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu