The Panthers of Georgia State seemingly had their tournament elimination intact at the hands of the Baylor Bears. Down 10 with 2:46 to go, GSU coach Ron Hunter needed a miracle. His son RJ would answer the call. After being named the Sun Belt POY in 2014, RJ Hunter endured a cold spell in his junior year. The microwave ability the marksman possessed turn on late, but in the ideal scenario.
Hunter was 1-9 from the field, but his two makes from the charity stripe fueled his 9-0 personal run against the Bears. Down two with the final possession, Hunter curled off a screen on the perimeter and pulled up well behind the arc. The smooth release of the ball, unaltered by defenders, ascended on a linear trajectory to sink through and give the Panthers the 57-56 victory.
Following the tournament spectacle, Xavier blitzed the Ole Miss Rebels early and never looked back. The Musketeers justified their No. 6 seeding in the tournament, going up double digits just midway through the first half en route to a, 76-57, throttling.
The Big East upstarts had only two double digit scorers, but the scoring output wasn't the deciding factor that vaulted the Musketeers.
1. Will Xavier Maintain New Look Defense?
Many viewers were surprised to see the Musketeers utilize various zone looks on defense. Even one of the announcers acknowledged the rare sight stating how man-heavy the X-Men usually are on that end. The 3-2 and 1-3-1 zones stymied the Rebels to a 32 percent shooting clip. Their top two scorers in Stefan Moody and Jarvis Summers combined to go 5-26 from the field.
Georgia State couldn't buy a bucket from deep before Hunter's masterpiece late in the upset. It will be enticing to see if Xavier goes back to their 3-2 zone defense, locking in on Hunter and Kevin Ware around the perimeter. Placing the production on big men Markus Crider and Curtis Washington could allow Xavier to focus on GSU's lack of interior scoring.
2. How Will the Hunter's Handle the Muskies?
Matt Stainbrook is the most polarizing talent on the floor in Saturday's matchup. The Rebels had no answer for the senior in the second round, as the hulking big man went for 20 points on 8-10 shooting from the field. Similarly to Seth Tuttle of Northern Iowa, Stainbrook acts as a facilitating center. Ron Hunter has a bevy of ways to handle the paint, and sending multiple looks at Stainbrook is another option to playing man defense.
While Xavier is no stalwart on defense, Hunter needs to continue his torrid play into Saturday for the upset to ensue. The absence of Ryan Harrow places additional pressure on RJ to carry the offensive load for the Panthers. The Musketeers don't offer the same athleticism as Baylor on the perimeter, but their mystique provides questions on how they will attempt to stop the marksman.
3. Who Emerges as Second Option for Both Teams?
While both Hunter and Stainbrook will get plenty of opportunities to showcase their abilities, Xavier's supporting cast far surpasses GSU's sans Ryan Harrow. Dee Davis put up 17 points against Ole Miss and freshman Trevon Bluiett has been a force his freshman year at Xavier.
On the other hand, the collective effort of GSU's supplementary workforce is headlined by a facilitator that desired a new environment, and a limited but efficient post presence. Kevin Ware, infamous for the gruesome leg injury suffered in the 2013 NCAA Tournament Elite Eight, and Markus Crider both excel in areas other than offensive production. Any double digit scoring output from either player would be crucial for Georgia State.