It’s time to find out just how good Georgia Southern’s men’s basketball team can be.
Life on the road has been good to the Eagles (10-3, 3-1 Sun Belt Conference), who are coming off back-to-back road wins over Arkansas State and South Alabama, and who have won six of their last seven overall.
ASU and USA have ranged from being average to flat-out bad this season, and while any road win is big, all those wins proved was that GSU is capable of being competitive in the Sun Belt — that, in itself, a refreshing and somewhat surprising fact.
The two biggest home wins — Florida International and Texas State — proved that not only are the Eagles capable of outplaying somebody on GSU’s terms, but they also can beat somebody at their own game.
With the opponents in GSU’s three losses — Illinois, Central Florida and Texas-Arlington — holding a combined 28-19 overall record, the Eagles haven’t suffered a really bad loss, either.
Louisiana-Lafayette (10-5, 4-0) comes to town Thursday, setting up a game that will leave one team in first place, either alone (ULL) or holding the tiebreaker (GSU).
The defending Sun Belt champions will visit Hanner Fieldhouse for the first time.
Here are some thoughts leading up to the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m.
• There have been precious few marquee games in Hanner Fieldhouse, well, ever, and even fewer marquee players. Kevin Martin dropped 34 for Western Carolina in Hanner in a 68-65 GSU win back in 2004, but that was before he was Kevin Martin. Stephen Curry was already a rock star when Davidson came to Hanner in 2009, and he scored 28 in a blowout win for the Wildcats.
That was the last time Hanner was packed. And it wasn’t packed for the Eagles.
UL-Lafayette doesn’t have a Steph Curry and didn’t make a run to the Elite Eight last season, but has a possible future NBAer in Shawn Long, who leads the Ragin’ Cajuns in scoring average (15.4) and rebounds (nine). Trent Wiedeman and Eric Ferguson had better bring their lunch pails to the block.
• The Eagles’ 10-3 start is the best since the 2003-04 season, which they started 17-3. But like most cases in collegiate athletics, it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish.
• Georgia Southern isn’t a very good shooting team. The Eagles rank 220th in the nation in shooting percentage (43 percent). But shooting is fickle, and though they’ve lacked in shooting, especially from 3-point distance (32 percent), they’ve scored plenty of points. Thank what can only be described as a “culture of rebounding” for that. The Eagles are No. 16 in the nation in cleaning up misses with 40.5 rebounds per game.
• Curtis Diamond is quietly becoming Georgia Southern’s biggest key to success. When he’s having an off night, there are a lot of wasted trips up the floor, but when he’s on, the Eagles are practically impossible to defend. If he hits a cold streak, he has to play with restraint and find an open shooter.