2-3 Matchup Zone: Georgia Southern
With the most important game of the season for Georgia State on the horizon this Saturday, let’s take a moment to reflect on the state of the top of the Sun Belt standings. Currently, 3 teams sit atop the standings tied with a 12-5 conference record: Texas State, Georgia Southern and Georgia State. To further complicate the top of the standings, Texas-Arlington sits one game behind the tie for first with an 11-6 conference record. This scrum at the top of the standings sets the stage for a very interesting Saturday of Sun Belt men’s basketball. Georgia State plays a pivotal away game in Statesboro for a shot at the Sun Belt regular season title. Let’s step into the 2-3 Matchup Zone to break down the key parts of this in-state showdown:
2 Points for Georgia Southern
Georgia Southern is shooting just over 33% from this arc this season, making 6.3 3-pointers per game. A major point of emphasis in Saturday’s game will be perimeter defense for Ron Hunter’s squad. Georgia State is holding opponents to 34% shooting from beyond the arc, and Georgia Southern has been a pedestrian 3-point shooting team at 33% to date. But if their shooters are able to knock down a few shots early, it may be hard to stop Southern’s momentum.
Georgia Southern is a team with some question marks on defense, but their hallmark has been forcing turnovers – to the tune of 14.7 a game. Georgia State themselves take good care of the ball, only committing 11.7 turnovers a game. But Saturday is a big game and Southern is at home, in what should be a hectic environment. If the Eagles can force primary Panther ball-handlers D’Marcus Simonds and Kane Williams into committing unnecessary turnovers, they will possess more of the ball and be able to run in transition more, both of which strengthen their chances of a win. Simonds and Williams are averaging 3.8 and 2.1 turnovers this season respectively. If past matchups are any indication, points will be hard to come by and every possession is going to matter. This places an even bigger emphasis on ball security and makes every turnover that much more costly.
3 Points for the Panthers
Control the Tempo
The biggest key to Saturday’s game for Georgia State will be controlling the tempo of the game. Ron Hunter’s squad likes to play in high tempo games in which they can force turnovers and get into transition in the open court. We’ve also seen the Panthers slow the game down and play more in their half-court offense at times. The key against a team like Georgia Southern will be to remain in the driver’s seat on tempo. If Georgia Southern starts to dictate the speed of the game, transition dunks and easy three pointers could start falling for the Eagles, a recipe for disaster for the Panthers. Controlling the speed of the game will be a paramount part of a successful Saturday in Statesboro.
As mentioned above, Georgia Southern is a team that thrives by creating offense in the paint. Georgia Southern Senior Guard Tookie Brown is averaging 17.8 points while only taking 1.3 three-point shots per game. Brown’s game relies on his ability to use his speed and size to get to the paint and either finish himself, or set one of his bigs up with an easy bucket. The Panthers will have their hands full down low against this Georgia Southern offense, so a big part of the defensive game plan will be focused on keeping a tight lid on the interior and forcing the Eagles to settle for less-than-ideal outside shots. The blueprint is there for Georgia State, having won the first matchup in Atlanta by a score of 82-71 early in February. Senior forwards Malik Benlevi and Jordan Tyson will have their hands full with their interior defensive assignments down low. However, if they can hold down the paint and crash the boards to prevent the Eagles from scoring second chance points off of offensive rebounds, Georgia State should be able to control the Eagles offense enough to be able to come out on top.
Play Your Game and Stay Composed
Georgia State is a very emotional team, for better or for worse. When the Panthers are controlling the pace of the game, there’s arguably no better team in the Sun Belt Conference. However, that door swings both ways. We’ve seen this team get punched in the mouth early on, let a hostile crowd affect the game and suffer for it. Remaining composed in the face of an incredibly hostile environment will be arguably the biggest key to a Panthers win on Saturday. A huge aspect of staying composed will entail staying consistent at the free throw line. Free throws have too often been the Achilles’ heel for this team this season. Converting from the charity stripe is going to play an instrumental part in Georgia State’s success in Statesboro. The physical nature of the game, coupled with the rivalry implications, could get the Panthers off of their game should they choose to get caught up in the moment instead of remaining above the fray.
Tip is set for 5:00 in Hanner Fieldhouse on Saturday, and the game can be found on ESPN+.