3 thoughts ahead of Georgia State vs. Georgia Southern

Markus Crider scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Saturday’s win over Arkansas State. (Photo courtesy of Randy Wilson and Georgia State)

Georgia State defeated Arkansas State 74-43 on Saturday at the GSU Sports Arena.

The win kept the Panthers (15-7, 10-2) in second place in the Sun Belt and sets up Thursday’s showdown for first place at Georgia Southern. The Eagles lead Georgia State by one-half game.

Here are three thoughts about Saturday’s win and the upcoming game:

The officiating. If you missed my blog about how to fix Sun Belt men's basketball, I hit on non-conference scheduling, facilities and the conference membership. There's probably one more element that needs to be added: the officiating.

In yesterday’s game there were 13 fouls called in the first half. That total was matched in the first four minutes of the second half. One of the fouls was a hard foul on R.J. Hunter that didn’t lead to a technical or intentional foul. There were two fouls called in the next two minutes. One was the technical on Ryan Harrow. It seemed a mysterious call because no one is sure what Harrow did. He was on defense. A Georgia State videographer had his camera trained on Harrow and later said it didn’t look like he said anything.

If the Sun Belt wants to improve the quality of its basketball, it has to improve the quality/consistency of its officiating so that the players can play knowing exactly what they can and can’t do. Frankly, better officials also protect the better teams from the those that may not be as skilled and rely on different tactics to compete.

It was obvious from just before the tip that this game had the potential to get out of hand. As the players lined up for the opening tip, jump man Kelvin Downs wasn’t looking at the ball at all. Instead, he was eyeing T.J. Shipes. The ball went up, and Downs’ forearm, instead of going up for the ball, went right across Shipes’ face. Downs tried to provoke Shipes again a few minutes later, but Shipes wouldn’t take the bait. Of course, Shipes later fouled out with 12-plus minutes still left in the game.

Ron Hunter wouldn't comment on the officiating after the game. But he said that is he aggravated with something/someone. I tried to get him to talk after the post-game interview, but again he wouldn't, which is rare for him.

I presume that the people he refers to in the video are the Sun Belt’s head of officiating and commissioner Karl Benson.

Those who follow Georgia State know that the team has been in its share of really chippy games.

I’m not absolving the Panthers of responsibility for these games escalating.

If the players would quit talking, emotions might not get out of hand. But talking isn’t the same as hard fouls or forearms into the face.

An investment needs to be made in officiating to improve the quality of the games.

Frankly, if the Sun Belt wants to improve its brand in college athletics, basketball, not football may be the route. With the advent of the college football playoff, something no Sun Belt team will likely ever get into, there is no avenue other than winning a non-conference game during the season or in a meaningless bowl to get people’s attention. But it takes a string of those over a couple of years to occur for the conference, and not the individual school, to benefit. And then, no power team will want to schedule them again.

In short, Sun Belt football is likely in stasis for a long, long time.

Basketball is different.

As Benson said in the “fixing” blog, one team making the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament has a huge impact because of the rarity of the occurrence. If the conference can get more than one team into the tournament and both can win, then the conference’s brand becomes instantly known and can start to develop.

Markus Crider. Crider doesn't get the same attention that others on the Panthers get, but he and T.J. Shipes are the glue of the team. It was Crider who get the Panthers to calm down after the hard foul against R.J. Hunter. It was Crider who gathered the team together time after time. Plus, he can hoop. He has developed a nice 10-12 foot jumper and when he's in the low post he has such good body control he can usually get a shot up.

And, he doesn’t mind sharing his thoughts. At one point in the first half, when Crider had the ball in the high post, he screamed to Curt Washington, “Curt, quit (messing) around.” Washington got into the post, got the ball from Crider and scored.

Crider finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

“He’s a warhorse,” Ron Hunter said.

The big game. Ron Hunter said the team won't treat Thursday's game against the Eagles any differently than any other. There are still eight more to play after it may be one reason.

Crider said it will be exciting and is looking forward to all of the Georgia State fans who are expected to travel south.

The Eagles have been the surprise of the Sun Belt this year. The Eagles were picked to finish in a tie for ninth in the preseason poll, but are outscoring conference opponents by 8.5 points per game, largely because they have the best defense in allowing just 58 points per game.

The Eagles are partially benefiting from the Sun Belt schedule. Unlike the other teams, they don’t have to play a five games in 11 days, something Arkansas State just completed. Instead, they get the typical Thursday-Saturday schedule. However, they also don’t get a long bye, which the other teams received.

The Eagles’ offense has been rolling its past few games, hitting 83 against Appalachian State and 76 against Arkansas-Little Rock.

Georgia State’s defense seems to have finally tightened up. Arkansas State hit just 20.4 percent of its shots. Only one of the Panthers’ past five opponents have shot better than 40 percent.