Much going right for Georgia State

Georgia State is riding a school-record 12-game win streak and is atop the Sun Belt Conference.

Coach Ron Hunter and son R.J. Hunter are making strong cases to be named coach of the year and player of the year in the league.

Many things – but not everything – are going right for the Panthers (15-6, 8-0) as they prepare to host South Alabama on Monday at the GSU Sports Arena. It will be the ninth of 18 conference games before the Sun Belt tournament begins March 13 in New Orleans. The top two seeds receive byes to the semifinals. The Panthers have a two-game lead is the loss column over Western Kentucky.

MVP so far: R.J. Hunter. When he gets hot, coach and father Ron Hunter said the only way to stop him is to deny him receiving the ball. R.J. Hunter is averaging 20 points per game this year and is hitting 40.7 percent of his 3-pointers. But it's not just his offense, Hunter is averaging 4.3 rebounds per game despite often playing at the top of the zone defense, far away from the basket, leads the team in steals (41) and is second in blocks (19).

Best win: This is a tie beween Saturday's 101-91 overtime thriller over Texas-Arlington and the 77-54 win over Western Kentucky. The win over the Mavs was outstanding because of the 16-point second-half rally. The win against Western Kentucky was impressive because the Hilltoppers were the preseason pick to win the Sun Belt (Georgia State was fourth). The Panthers handed Western Kentucky its worst conference loss at home in 15 years.

Worst loss: The 75-58 loss to Alabama could go here because the Panthers were never in the game and seemed intimidated. But the 61-60 loss to Florida International is the choice because those Panthers made these Panthers look bad. FIU outrebounded Georgia State 49-27. Georgia State couldn't shoot (37.9 percent) and converted FIU's 21 turnovers into just 27 points.

Second-half player to watch: Devonta White. The senior point guard is the engine that makes the Panthers' high-scoring offense work. He leads the team and is second in the Sun Belt with 4.5 assists per game. His experience will be invaluable heading into the season's second half, especially if the win streak continues and the pressure increases. Though he doesn't need to, White can still score. He drained the long 3-pointer that sent Saturday's game to overtime. R.J. Hunter said Saturday that it will be "blasphemous" if White's jersey doesn't one day hang in the rafters of the Sports Arena, an honor reserved for the school's best players.

Player who needs to step up: Curtis Washington. That he hadn't played competitive basketball in more than two years was understandable in the season's first few weeks. Washington, a 6-9 center, was coming off shoulder surgery that sidelined him for more than a year and then the NCAA's transfer rules sidelined him for another. But Georgia State needs him to turn some of the flashes he's shown against Vanderbilt (13 points, nine rebounds, four blocks), Canisius (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Western Kentucky (16 points, 10 rebounds) into consistent performances. He's averaging 8.3 points and 5.9 rebounds this season. Georgia State doesn't need him to score, but they do need him to rebound.

Biggest surprise: Free-throw shooting. Led by Hunter, they are one of the best free-throw shooting teams in Division I this year, hitting 77.3 percent. The ability helped them recently to rally to defeat Louisiana-Monroe on the road and ice the overtime win over Texas-Arlington.

What needs to be fixed: Defensive rebounding. Georgia State is being outrebounded by 5.9 per game, but has overcome the deficiency by hitting free throws and creating 131 more turnovers than their opponents. Ron Hunter cites that formula when asked about the team's issues grabbing missed shots. But opponents are pulling down 12.4 offensive rebounds per game, which is a lot of second-chance points. Georgia State is last in the Sun Belt in defensive rebounds (22 per game).

Toughest stretch of games left: The Panthers will face a three-game road trip at Texas-Arlington, Texas State and Arkansas State from Feb. 27-March 4. None of those teams are pushing for one of the top two seeds in the Sun Belt tournament, but that's just a part of the challenge when facing three consecutive road games. Plus, there's the regular-season finale against Western Kentucky at the Sports Arena on March 8. The second meeting could decide the conference's regular-season title.

Can they win the Sun Belt tournament and secure a trip to the NCAA tournament? Yes, as long as they don't get complacent. Even though they have won 12 consecutive games, they have still yet to play a complete game on offense and defense, which shows why they were picked in the preseason as a team to watch in the NCAA tournament.