By: Kenneth Harrison
TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services
The NCAA Tournament starts this week. Everybody loves filling out brackets and watching the upsets take place for March Madness.
We have an unlikely team representing the state of Georgia in the men’s tournament.
Familiar faces like Georgia and Georgia Tech did not make it. Georgia State is the team that made it. The Panthers (18 – 10) won the Sun Belt Conference championship to get there.
Senior Corey Allen led them on this improbable run. He scored 29 points to match his season high for the second straight game in the championship win over Louisiana, 80 – 71 at the Pensacola Bay Center. Allen was named the MVP of the Sun Belt Tournament.
It was the 10th straight win for Georgia State and its 12th win in the last 13 games.
Georgia State won the Sun Belt Tournament for the fourth time and will make its sixth trip to the NCAAs. It also served as redemption for losing to Appalachian State in last year’s title game. This is their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2019.
“It’s special because the experience we had last year I think led to these guys’ desire to return,” Georgia State coach Rob Lanier said. “And they were motivated to be here and do this.”
Allen was one of four seniors who decided to return for a COVID season. The others – Eliel Nsoseme, Kane Williams and Justin Roberts – were each big contributors to the championship and enjoyed the enthusiastic postgame celebrations.
“There’s a lot of adjectives we could use, but it’s a special moment and I wouldn’t want to share it with anybody else,” Williams said.
It was a satisfying finish for Lanier, who was able to hold the team together despite losing five games to COVID and enduring an 0-4 start in conference play.
” All that disruption affected our chemistry, our rotation, and we were one of the worst defensive teams in the country on top of our bad offense,” Lanier said. “We really figured it out defensively, and we felt like we could get back to our old selves offensively and put the two together. It happened the last few nights, as simple as that.”
All of the teams have been selected Sunday so we know who GSU will play. They are the No. 16 seed in the West and they play No. 1 Gonzaga Thursday in Portland. Gonzaga finished the season as the top team in the AP Poll.
The Bulldogs lost the National Championship game last season so they are focused on winning it this season.
This is a David vs. Goliath matchup. In the history of the NCAA Tournament a 16 seed has only beaten a 1 seed once. That happened in 2018 when the top overall seed Virginia lost University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), 74 – 54.
Clearly, the odds are stacked against Georgia State and they are expected to be crushed by Gonzaga. They probably will be blown out but it is impressive that they made it to the tournament. As an underdog, they should have several fans cheering for them.