2-3 Matchup Zone: 14-Seed Georgia State vs. 3-Seed Houston
Georgia State University’s men’s basketball team is dancing for the second consecutive year for the first time in school history. The bracket is drawn and the 14th seeded Panthers are set to take the floor against the 3rd seeded Houston Cougars this Friday at 7:20pm on TBS. Kelvin Sampson’s squad are entering the tournament with a 31-3 record, making the Cougars a formidable first round opponent for Georgia State. Ron Hunter’s team will have their hands full if they want to contend with the Houston Cougars. Let’s jump into the 2-3 Matchup Zone and break down some of the key points for both teams entering this Friday’s first round game:
2 Points for Houston:
The Houston Cougars turned the ball over 11.4 times per game on average this season. However, regular season games and NCAA tournament games are a completely different environment. A perfect example of this would be the Panthers’ first round upset over Baylor in the 2015 tournament. Baylor entered the NCAA tournament averaging 12.5 turnovers per game, but found themselves on the wrong side of 21 turnovers by the time RJ Hunter hit his now-famous shot to complete the upset. This Georgia State team plays an uncommon variant of the 2-3 zone which can be confusing for teams not used to playing against Coach Hunter’s system. If the Cougars are put off their game by the Panther’s defense and are forced into unnecessarily turning the ball over, Kelvin Sampson will have a hard time keeping his tie on. Limiting their own turnovers will be a key to Houston’s success in Tulsa, OK come friday night.
Houston is a great rebounding team, averaging 40.9 per game this season, and are out-rebounding opponents by 7.3 per game. Ron Hunter has famously said he believes that rebounds are the most overrated stat in the entire game. While that may be true, it hasn’t stopped the Cougars from crushing opponents on the boards this season. Coach Hunter’s defensive system banks on a calculated risk that the team’s deficit in the rebounding column will be made up in other areas – most importantly 3-point shooting. Specifically, offensive rebounding will be a key part of their game-plan if Houston wants to avoid the upset and handle the Panthers on Friday. The Cougars have four solid big men that Kelvin Sampson uses in a rotation to try to find the best fit against each opponent. Fabian White Jr., Breaon Brady, Brison Gresham, and Chris Harris Jr. all thrive down low with cleaning up rebounds and giving the Houston offense second and third chances at scoring. Whether they take the ball up to the rim themselves and try to score inside or kick it out to one of their many knockdown shooters, Houston’s offense will thrive if they’re able to generate multiple opportunities to score each possession. If the Panthers aren’t able to contain the Cougars’ big men and secure defensive rebounds, it’s going to be a long night for Georgia State.
3 Points for Georgia State
Tournament games are physical. With physical games, come fouls and free throws. Georgia State has struggled at times this season from the charity stripe, shooting just 66.3% as a team on the season. As of late, the Panthers have started trending upward in the free throw department, as seen in the Sun Belt Championship against Texas-Arlington where the team made 11 out of 11 shots in the first half and finished the game 25/34 from the line. Removing Georgia State guard D’Marcus Simonds, who performed poorly from the line, from that figure puts the Panthers at 23/25 from the free throw line in the Sun Belt Championship. The Panthers know that Houston is going to play physical defense and have to make. It’s up to the team to take advantage of those opportunities in a game where points are likely going to be hard to come by.
Here’s a stat: Georgia State is the only team in the country to have four players on its roster that have knocked down 50 or more three-pointers this season: Devin Mitchell (82) Malik Benlevi (74), Jeff Thomas (70) and D’Marcus Simonds (56). The Panthers are shooting 38.4% from the three-point arc this season, good enough for 17th in the country entering the NCAA tournament. With an overload of shooters this year, the Panthers have a real chance to hang with Houston if their shooters can get hot from the arc. At any given time, Ron Hunter has at least two or three guys on the floor that can space the defense and knock down a three-pointer. Seniors like Devin Mitchell and Jeff Thomas who can knock down outside shots are an invaluable tool in Coach Hunter’s arsenal as they prepare for Friday’s game. Georgia State and Houston are some of the best defensive teams in the country, which will make every offensive possession critical. If Georgia State can get their outside shot going early against Houston and keep the game close going into the last five minutes of game time, the Panthers will be in a great position to pull off another first-round upset in Tulsa.
Georgia State’s offensive centerpiece D’Marcus Simonds has struggled down the stretch this season. Simonds is 19-64 over his last five games, which isn’t ideal for a guard with NBA aspirations. He also went 2 of 9 from the free throw line in the Sun Belt Championship this past Sunday. In last year’s first round game against Cincinnati, Simonds was often the only source of offense the Panthers had for multiple stretches of the game. This year however, other players on Georgia State have stepped up and taken bigger roles in the offense, which lightens the load off of Simonds’ shoulders a bit. Simonds’ offensive slump of late has been made up slightly by his intensity on the defensive end, but ultimately Georgia State will need Simonds to step up in the clutch if they want a chance against a defensively stout Houston team.
14-seed Georgia State tips vs 3-seed Houston at 7:20pm EST on Friday, March 22nd and the game can be found nationally on TBS.
Photo courtesy GSU Athletics.