There’re two reasons I’ll be a little anxious before tomorrow’s #1 Gonzaga vs. #16 Georgia State matchup. The first is the Wednesday, March 20, 2013 telecast of the ESPN panel show Around the Horn. ESPN journalist Pablo Torre confidently predicted Gonzaga would be the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 when they took on the Southern University Jaguars. Gonzaga pulled out a 64–58 win in a game tied with less than four minutes to play. Torre was wrong, but I spent over 36 minutes thinking he might be right.
The second of course was 1-seed Virginia’s 2018 blowout loss to 16-seed University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Virginia were 21-point favorites but ended up losing 74–54 in a game that was tied at 21 at the half. To his credit, Virginia coach Tony Bennett redeemed himself and his program the following season with a National Championship.
Realistically though, Gonzaga hasn’t lost their first game in the NCAA Tournament since the 2008 loss to a Steph Curry-led Davidson. That’s 12 – 0 in the last dozen years with the past two victories being a 38-point blowout of Fairleigh Dickinson and last year’s 43-point demolition of Norfolk State. I think we’ll be fine.
Meet the Opponent
Georgia State University, 18-10, 9-5 (3rd) in the Sun Belt, KenPom #152
Georgia State University’s main campus is smack in the middle of downtown Atlanta, about three blocks from the Peachtree Center. They’ve been to the NCAA tournament seven times with their most famous victory being an upset of #3 Baylor 57-56 in 2015. That was the game the coach’s son R. J. Hunter made a 35-footer with time expiring causing coach/dad, with his foot in a cast, to fall off his stool.
The Panthers are led by Coach Rob Lanier, cousin of Hall-of-Famer Bob Lanier. Their 18-10 record reflects four games lost to COVID at four different times. They finished the season winning 12 of their last 13 games including the Sun Belt Tournament Championship 80-71 over Louisiana.
The Panther’s metrics are decidedly mediocre. Despite being the highest rated #16 seed, they have KenPom’s 205th ranked offense and the 115th ranked defense. They only shoot .329% from deep good for 236th in the county. Their two-point percentage is even less impressive at .447%, 343rd in the nation. Their pace is 67.1 possessions per game, good for 176th.
This year’s team is led by point guard Corey Allen, a sixth-year senior (shades of Kuhse) transfer from Detroit-Mercy. Allen averages 14.7 points per game, 3.2 assists and 1.9 turnovers per contest. Allen shot a career high of 45% from deep as a freshman in Detroit, but this season he’s only shooting .355% on 7.3 attempts per game.
Their two other double-digit per game scorers are guards Kane Williams and 5’ 10” Justin Roberts. Roberts is the team’s biggest three-point threat at .364% with the athletic 6’ 4” Williams more of a slasher who loves to attack the basket.
They have two bigs getting substantial minutes; 6’ 10”, 230-lb Jalen Thomas who averages 6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game and 6’ 8” 235-lb Eliel Nsoseme averaging 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per contest. Nsoseme is a load. The fifth-year senior and former Cincinnati Bearcat missed the first two months of the season with a knee injury. He loves to mix it up under the basket and is his team’s best offensive rebounder.
The bench is very guard heavy and they often go with a four guard line-up when one of their bigs sits. In fact, their two largest bench players getting decent minutes are 6’ 7” and 6’ 6”.
Georgia State is ranked 159th in the NET with an 0-1 record in Quad 1, 0-1 in Quad 2 and 7-6 in Quad 3. They played one game away from the south this season, a November trip to Kingston, Rhode Island where they lost to Rhode Island 94-59.
What to watch for
Mark Few’s record in early round games, as noted above, is absolutely amazing. Given time to prepare, Gonzaga is essentially unbeatable. In their six losses in the past three seasons (that’s right, six losses in three seasons), one has been on zero days rest, three on one day rest, one with two days rest and the Alabama loss this season came after four days rest.
Gonzaga will be playing in front of an overwhelmingly friendly crowd and relatively close to home. Realistically, the only suspense should be if they’ll be able to return to triple digits scoring and will Joe Few get into the game.
Hey wait a minute, let me check what Pablo Torre predicted.
Here’s airline pilot Roger Murdoch mentioning Georgia State’s Coach Rob Lanier’s cousin Bob: