Georgia Southern Men’s Basketball team has already proven to be worthy of the preseason hype after they followed up their opening night upset of Wake Forest on Friday with a curbstomping of Cal State Bakersfield 77-53 at home Monday night. The game wasn’t even as close as the scoreline suggests, CSUB scored only 19 points in the 1st half.
That’s two quality wins to start the season out. The win over Wake Forest was only the 2nd time ever the Eagles have beaten an ACC opponent; the other time was a 2012 win over Virginia Tech. Cal-State Bakersfield won the WAC regular season and made the NIT Final Four in 2017, no slouches themselves.
This is a much needed gift from the sports gods after Georgia Southern’s miserable football season. This season might be their best shot at making the NCAA tournament since 1991-92. Five years into his tenure, Mark Byington has built the foundation of a Sun Belt Conference contender for the next two seasons, at the very least.
The Eagles bring back 96% of their scoring from last season. The roster is virtually intact from last season’s team, and they’ve added a few guys. Transfer from Jacksonville State 6-4 Jared Hamilton and Juco transfer David-Lee Jones have added depth off the bench. They have a solid 9-man rotation as it stands; it will be a 10-man rotation if BJ Gladden gets reinstated after an early season suspension.
Forward/Center Montae Glenn followed up his 14 point-13 rebound opening night with a 9-7 statline against CSUB. It’s clear that Glenn put in extra work in the offseason, he won SBC player of the week. He looked physically stronger than he did last season and dominated the glass vs. Wake. He could be the inside threat that the Eagles need to take the pressure off of perimeter guys like Smith, Brown, Hughes, Allsmiller, and Hamilton.
Mark Byington likes to spread the floor on offense. He rarely uses more than one big on the floor at a time, a trend that’s become popular in the NBA. Instead, choosing to rotate Montae Glenn or Coye Simmons in as the lone big with guards/wings spreading the floor around them. Last year occasionally BJ Gladden at 6’6 would serve as sort of a combo forward playing PF.
But Monday night I saw stretches where the 6’7 Shawn O’Connell shared the floor with Glenn/Simmons, a more traditional high-post/pick ‘n’ pop forward. For the first time since 2013-14, the Eagles have options in the frontcourt. If Gladden comes back, watch out.
In front of a good-sized crowd on opening night in Hanner Fieldhouse, the Eagles jumped out to an early lead on the Roadrunners behind scoring from Ike Smith and Tookie Brown, as usual. Tookie had 24 points, Ike had 21. They’re virtual locks for All-Sun Belt.
Georgia Southern showcased some spiffy home uniforms that incorporated the “GS” baseball logo on the shorts. The Hanner court design was different as well (no more volleyball lines). There’s a fresh vibe around the team that finished last year 18-15 with a trip to the CBI.
The weird home and home with CSUB this season was the subject of pregame comments from former-Georgia State-current-CSUB head coach Rod Barnes:
“I didn’t want to go to Georgia,” CSUB head coach Rod Barnes said. “I mean crap, do you know how hard it is to get to Statesboro, Georgia? I don’t want to go there. But we got to fill the schedule and we needed a home game. That was the only way we could get it.”
Considering the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport is 50 miles away from campus he may or may not have a point. Regardless, I’d much rather spend my time in and around Savannah, Georgia than be caught dead in Bakersfield, California; the air pollution capital of the United States. Rightly so, Georgia Southern Twitter let him have it:
Georgia Southern returns the favor and visits Bakersfield on December 16. Meanwhile, the Eagles take on Division II Bluefield State on Thursday in the opening round of the Gulf Coast Showcase tournament. They continue to Estero, Florida to play Missouri State next Monday. This preseason tournament is a chance to rack up a few wins vs. other decent mid-majors.
The Sun Belt is a one-bid league and UTA, Troy, Louisiana, and Georgia State are all expected to be in the conference title discussion. The most impressive part of the win vs. Wake Forest to me was the fact that they never backed down. Despite only leading for less than 20 total seconds in the game, the kept battling and made clutch shots.
The veterans on this team: Hughes, Brown, Smith, Glenn, Allsmiller, Simmons, and even O’Connell have been through the wars together. After the veteran-laden roster of 2013-14 led by Jelani Hewitt, Trent Wiedeman, and Eric Ferguson graduated; Byington had no choice but to invest in youth.
In 2015-16, the team went 14-17, 10-10 in the conference; in 2016-17 they improved to 18-15, 11-7 in the conference; now is the time to make the final leap and make the NCAA tournament. Hughes, Allsmiller, and Simmons are all seniors now. Smith and Brown are juniors and the most dynamic scoring duo in the conference. The future has arrived.