State Champs?

By: JJ Lanier news services

While both the Georgia and Georgia Tech basketball programs seem to be in a race back to mediocrity- one that neither team looks to be in a hurry to achieve- Georgia State has made a strong argument to carry the mantle of “best college basketball program in Georgia”.

It’s easy to dismiss what the Panthers have accomplished over the last five years. Including this season, since they play in the Sun Belt conference, but that would be a mistake.

Over that five years span, Georgia State has had more appearances in the NCAA than both Georgia and Georgia Tech combined (two to one) and is the only school with a tournament win, advancing to the Round of 32 in 2015 and 2018.

As a point of reference, the last time Tech won a NCAA tournament game was 2010. Georgia’s last tournament victory came in 2002, which technically has been vacated, so it’s actually 1996.

This year the Panthers have the most dynamic and arguably the best player of the three schools in D’Marcus Simonds, as well as Ron Hunter, whom I believe is the second-best coach of the three, behind Tom Crean.

(I’ve always thought Josh Pastner was overrated, and to be completely honest with you, I’d be surprised if he’s still coaching the Yellow Jackets after next season. Crean, I think, is a good coach that was in a little over his head in Indiana, but is a good fit in Athens.)

Georgia State was also crowned the de facto winners of the completely made up title “Intrastate champions of the sport most Georgia fans only watch when their remote is broken and they don’t want to walk over to the TV to change the channel”.

They were awarded this absolutely ridiculous title after Georgia defeated Georgia Tech, courtesy of Georgia State’s 91-67 victory over the Bulldogs. Basically, they’re state champions, in the loosest sense of the word.

There’s also a good chance when you include Georgia State’s victory over Alabama, that even though they aren’t in the SEC they will enter February with as many SEC conference wins as the Bulldogs-two.

Again, while they play in a lesser conference, they have more than proven they can compete when going up against a team from a major conference. Sure, they may not be able to hang with the Duke’s and Kentucky’s of the world, but there aren’t a lot of teams that can.

Even though their entire season and whether they’ll be back in the NCAA tournament will basically come down to the Sun Belt Conference tournament, they are still the state’s best shot at making the big dance.

Barring some unforeseen miracle occurring with either the Yellow Jackets or Bulldogs, both of their tournament hopes will rest on winning their respective conference tournaments, too. I don’t know about you, but if I have to choose between those three, I’m going with the Panthers.

As I mentioned, given the chance I think Tom Crean will have the Georgia program back to respectability within the next years. And given the law of averages, Georgia Tech is bound to trip up and bring in someone that can lead them back to the tournament with some semblance of consistency.

Until that time arrives, when it comes to basketball in the state of Georgia, the Georgia State Panthers are the team to beat.

Add another trip to the tournament this year and the rest of country may find out just how good they are, too.