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Georgia State Basketball: Assessing The Panthers Halfway Through The Season

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The Panthers currently sit at 8-6 overall and 3-1 in Colonial Athletic Association play.  They are looking for their first winning record in seven seasons and avoid a 20-loss season for the fourth year in a row.

Mid Season MVP: Eric Buckner - The heralded 6-foot-10 transfer from Gulf Coast CC has paid instant dividends for the Panthers and has long time fans believing that he may be one of the best ever at the center position.  He's averaged 11.5 points, 7.1 rebounds  and 2.23 blocks per game thus far.  He's a front runner for CAA Newcomer of the Year and potentially an All-CAA 1st Team birth (which would be a first since GSU joined the conference for the 2006-07).
 
Impact Freshman: Devonta White - The former Centennial HS and Rivals.com three-star recruit has been electric since being inserted into the starting lineup.  The Panthers have responded with a 4-1 record and in those five games White is averaging 8.8 points, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steal per contest as a starter.  Even more impressively, the team has scored 11 points per game more with White in the starting lineup than before.  White has had his typical freshman PG ups and down but seems to be adapting to the speed of Division 1 college basketball.  White injured his ankle vs. VCU and is expected to miss an additional 2-3 games.

Biggest Suprise: Dante Curry - Without question, the biggest question mark leading into the season was the ability of Curry to lead this team.  He was coming off a disastrous junior season in which he showed up to fall practices out of shape and lacking serious confidence in his shot.  The glimpses were there: In his first game at GSU, Curry dropped 21 points on Georgia Tech in only 28 minutes.  It seems like Curry has realized that his college career is winding down and has picked the perfect time to put the team on his back.  On the season, Curry is averaging 10.7 points per game and has knocked down a team high 36 three point baskets. To add some icing to his first half, he took MVP honors at the Dr. Pepper Classic Multi-Team Event in Chattanooga after scoring a combined 39 points, including 13 threes over two days vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and UT-Chattanooga.

Coaching: While many Panther fans are not exactly thrilled with Coach Rod Barnes' win/loss record (41-67 in his fourth season at the helm) there is a growing minority that are beginning to see what he is capable of doing with the proper administrative support.  He is recruiting better than any other previous coaching staff and landed perhaps the biggest coup to date when EE Waddell HS (Charlotte, N.C.) PF Jervon Pressley spurned offers from South Carolina, Charlotte and other mid-majors to join the Panthers for the 2011-12 campaign.

Director of Athletics Cheryl Levick demands three core things from all of her coaches:
a) Run a Clean Program - Barnes has overhauled the programs class attendance, increased study hall requirements and team GPA, and involved them in hours of community service projects.
b) Graduate Your Players - Barnes has graduated every senior since arriving.
c) Win Championships - The Panthers have only advanced to the 2nd round of the CAA Tournament to this point.
With 2/3 accomplished thus far, Barnes is on more solid footing than some believe.  He will likely approach (if he hasn't already) GSU athletic administrators at the conclusion of this season for a contract extension. I believe he deserves it based on the history of our program.  He has not accomplished what Lefty Driesell did in the late '90s into the early 2000s but he's changed the culture and attitude of Georgia State basketball.
 
Highlights
Dr. Pepper Classic - The Panthers arrived in Chattanooga on Dec. 28, they came, the saw, they conquered.  Bringing home victories over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and host Tennessee-Chattanooga created some much needed momentum entering conference play.  This was the first mid season tournament victory since Dec. 21-23, 2000.
 
Victory over VCU - Easily the most impressive CAA win this year and the first victory over the Rams since 1998 (14 games).  Eric Buckner was simply unstoppable scoring 28 points on 12-16 from the field, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked three Ram shot attempts.
 
Victory over Towson - Normally a win over a 4-10 team would not raise an eyebrow on the college basketball landscape but this was the last home game for the Panthers until Jan. 22.  It also moved the Panthers to 3-1 in conference play for the first time since joining the CAA for the 2006-07 season.  The Panthers may have found a capable back up center after 6-foot-10 sophomore James Vincent, in his first career start, scored a career high 11 points and snatched seven boards.
 
Lowlights
Losing at Georgia Southern - After blasting Fake GSU (as Georgia State refers to the school in Statesboro) by 20 points in the 2009-10 season, the Panthers took an OT loss three days before Christmas.  Really tough to swallow as the Eagles sit at 1-12 and are one of the worst team in Division 1 basketball.
 
Losing vs. Samford - The former TAAC rival tripped the Panthers in OT on the Day after Thanksgiving.  Maybe Turkey redux is to blame but the Panthers only managed 61 points on less than 35% shooting.
 
Free Throw Shooting - This has been one of the most disturbing things to Panther fans this season as GSU has shot a league worst 55.5% from the charity stripe.  Missing FTs could be pointed to at least three losses this season in which the Panthers led in the second half only to collapse down the stretch. 
 
Scouting the Second Half
The Panthers face a murderer's row as their next six opponents are in the RPI Top 130.  Eke out a win or two and the schedule breaks slightly with three out of the next five are at the friendly confines of the GSU Sports Arena where GSU is 6-2 this season.  The Panthers will receive a big boost when Devonta White returns from injury as well.  I expect the Panthers to finish 8-10 in CAA play heading into the conference tournament in Richmond.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.