Now that the Cincinnati Bearcats have deservedly been named a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, they need an opponent. That’s where the Georgia State Panthers come in. The Sun Belt Conference champions earned the No. 15 seed in the South Region and a bracket pairing with the American Athletic Conference Bearcats.
This puts the Bearcats in a position they have not been in since December: facing a team from outside their own conference. That means there is very little familiarity (if any at all) between these programs. While Mick Cronin and the rest of the squad will undoubtedly be pouring over film and planning for Friday’s 2 p.m. tipoff in Nashville, those of us outside the huddle could use a deeper look into Georgia State basketball.
Record: 24-10 overall, 12-6 Sun Belt Conference
Good Wins: Umm, Tulane? Inside their own conference, the Panthers did beat regular season champion Louisiana and third-place finisher Georgia Southern.
Bad Losses: Prairie View (neutral court), Troy, Louisiana Monroe
KenPom Overall: 96
KenPom Offense: 101
KenPom Defense: 106
Coach: Ron Hunter
D’Marcus Simonds is the star for the Panthers, filling the R.J. Hunter role from the last time they made the NCAA Tournament. Simonds, a 6’3” guard, poured in a game-high 27 points in GSU’s win over Texas-Arlington in the Sun Belt title game. He is averaging 21.1 points per game this season with a PER of 23.9. The Sun Belt Player of the Year isn’t a very effective three-point shooter (28.7 percent from deep), but he has improved as a defender and is an able distributor (4.4 APG) and rebounder (5.8 RPG). He will have the ball in his hands more than anyone else when GSU is on offense.
While Simonds isn’t a major threat from beyond the arc, Devin Mitchell will present a challenge in that area. He averages nearly three threes per game and shoots 45.1 percent from distance, ranking among the top 20 players in the country in that metric. The 6’4” Mitchell is averaging 12.2 points per game, but he is a largely one-dimensional player.
The undersized Panthers also get solid contributions from Jeff Thomas, Malik Benlevi and Jordan Session. Thomas is a 6’5” junior who is averaging 10.7 points per game. Benlevi may be scoring less than Thomas (9.6 PPG), but he leads the team in rebounding (6.5 PG) and can stretch the floor with his shooting range, nailing 42.3 percent from three this season. Session (7.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.2 BPG) is the closest thing the Panthers have to an inside threat, especially considering his ability to block shots.
Style of Play
While they are not in the same galaxy as UC, the Panthers are a pretty solid defensive team. allowing only 67.3 points per game on 39.3 percent shooting, the latter mark ranking sixth in the country. Much like the Bearcats, the Panthers grind games out by playing at a relatively deliberate pace. They are 236th in the nation in adjusted tempo, but do take a lot of shots, ranking 76th in the country in field goal attempts.
With Mitchell and Benlevi making a living from beyond the arc, the Panthers are reliant on the three-point shot, even as Simonds has yet to prove he has consistent touch from distance. They’ve made the 31st most threes in the country this season (315) and have four different players who take at least three threes per game.
All those threes mean they do not create many chances for themselves at the free-throw line, and even when they do, they aren’t particularly great at capitalizing. The Panthers are 300th in the nation in free-throw percentage (.676). Additionally, their let-it-fly mentality does not lend itself to much offensive glass work, as they are a perfectly acceptable defensive rebounding team, but among the 100 worst teams in the land in offensive boards.
Georgia State is a team built on threes and defense. They rely heavily on a few shooters to create their scoring chances and put a lot of faith in their very talented leader D’Marcus Simonds. However, if the threes aren’t falling, they don’t do enough on the offensive glass or at the free throw line to recover.