College basketball is finally here!!! My excitement was through the roof for the games this weekend, but between our games and the endless amount of readings and papers I have to do, I was barely able to watch any games at the dorm. This didn’t stop me from staying as up to date on the action as I possibly could. Duke scored over 200 points in two games, a top 25 team has already fallen (sorry Harvard but your at-large bid campaign might already be over), and there were plenty of blowouts as is typical of early season non-conference basketball. It is still early, so some of this insight could be considered as a prediction, but let’s take a closer look at Georges Niang, Georgia State, and the SEC.
Last year Iowa State was in a prime position heading into the NCAA tournament. They were a 3 seed with a very weak 2 seed, Villanova, and they had three legit options offensively in Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane, and Georges Niang. Then it all fell apart when Niang broke his foot in the Second Round game. Iowa State did their best to rally, but they just couldn’t overcome Niang’s missing presence and lost in the Sweet 16 to the eventual national champion UConn Huskies.
Now Ejim and Kane are gone, and Niang is the lone remaining member of the trio that led Iowa State to one of the best years in school history. Last year Iowa State caught everyone in the Big 12 and the rest of the country off guard, but this year that won’t be the case. Many predict Iowa State to factor into the Big 12 title race, but many of these predictions assume Niang will have a great year. Niang won’t be expected to be the only offensive contributor on this team, but he is expected to be the #1 option and to perform well night in, night out.
Niang had many doubters coming into the year, and I won’t be afraid to admit that I was one of them, but boy did he silence those haters in Iowa State’s first game of the year. The competition may have been weak going against Oakland, but Niang managed to score 30 points, grab 9 rebounds, and dish out 5 assists to lead his team to a 93-82 victory. Niang had arguably the best performance of the weekend (I think Montrezl Harrell may have something to say about that), and if this was any indication of how Niang will play this season, he should be just fine picking up where Ejim and Kane left off. Regardless, he should be someone to pay attention to the rest of this year as someone that could ultimately play a crucial role in determining the champion of the Big 12.
Why would I talk about a Sun Belt team as an important team in the world of college basketball? Sun Belt teams never make it past the Sweet 16 at the very best and typically bow out after the Second Round. There is a team in this conference that could make it to the Sweet 16, except it wouldn’t surprise anyone. Believe it or not there is a team in this conference that has a projected 1st round draft pick, a former starter on Kentucky, and a new transfer that led Louisville to the 2013 national title. This team is Georgia State, and they are led by R.J. Hunter, Ryan Harrow, and Kevin Ware.
R.J. Hunter is the coach’s kid. He reminds me of Doug McDermott as he also played for his dad, led Creighton to an outstanding year, and was a 1st round draft pick after the season. Ron Hunter is the head coach of Georgia State and also R.J.’s father. He was the Sun Belt Coach of the Year last year after the Panthers only had one loss in conference play. On the court the Panthers were led by R.J. who averaged 18.4 PPG. His talents have led many NBA scouts to tab him as a potential 1st round pick. This team will go as far as he can carry them, but he won’t be alone.
Ryan Harrow is a former starter at NC State and Kentucky. He is a 5th-year senior with a ton of experience under his belt against big time competition. He has played in big games in the ACC and SEC, so he will know exactly how to help lead this very talented team in tight games throughout this season. He averaged 17.9 PPG last year for this team, and he with Hunter formed the best backcourt in the Sun Belt, but they got even more help this summer.
You may remember Kevin Ware as the player on Louisville that broke his leg in the NCAA tournament in 2013 in the most gruesome way possible. Everyone has seen images of that awful play, and it indirectly made Kevin Ware a household name. His toughness in such an unfortunate situation helped lead Louisville to the NCAA title. His injury turned Louisville into the team of destiny as they were now playing for their fallen brother. Last year Ware tried to come back, but it just didn’t work out, and he transferred to Georgia State. He received clearance from the NCAA and is eligible to play this season. He aids an already stacked backcourt and makes Georgia State a potential sleeper team in post-season play. If everything goes as planned, and Georgia State makes the NCAA tournament, watch out for this team as a potential Cinderella. When they make it to the Sweet 16 after upsetting multiple teams along the way, just remember that I told you it would happen.
The SEC is one of the most top heavy conferences in the country with Kentucky and Florida head and shoulders above everyone else. As expected those two have taken care of business so far, but for everyone else that has not been the case. On Friday SEC teams that weren’t Kentucky or Florida went a combined 5-4. This doesn’t look like a great record, but if we take a closer look, it is in fact worse than it appears.
Tennessee is expected to have a rough year with several players transferring after Cuonzo Martin left for California, but they were beaten pretty badly by VCU at a neutral site. Ole Miss lost to lowly Charleston Southern at home by 1. Missouri lost at home to UMKC. Georgia is predicted to be a potential tournament team, but they lost to Georgia Tech who isn’t expected to fare too well in the ACC. We knew the SEC had little depth, but after this weekend the SEC may hit a new low this season. It is possible that only two teams from this conference will make the NCAA tournament. Now Arkansas may have something to say about this, but it is highly possible that the SEC won’t even have a team sitting on the bubble outside of Kentucky, Florida, and Arkansas. Now resumes aren’t built in one day of games, but this is a very troubling sign for the SEC that was expected to have a bounce back year after a subpar 2013-2014 season. This is a conference that is trying to shed the thought that it is a football conference. Right now it appears these teams aren’t trying too hard to shake this image by losing games to Charleston Southern and UMKC. The future looks gloomy here, but let’s not forget we are only 3 days into this glorious college basketball season.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Austin Nelson