Jacksonville, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of teams with identical overall records get the ball rolling in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament on Thursday afternoon, as the Georgia State Panthers clash with the Baylor Bears at Memorial Arena.
The Panthers are the 14th seed in the West Region and made the tournament by virtue of a victory in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship game last Sunday, downing Georgia Southern by a mere 38-36 score. The outcome was a far cry from GSU's 83-79 victory against Louisiana in the semifinals the day before.
Georgia State, which has a record of 1-2 in this event over the years, beating sixth-seeded Wisconsin, 50-49, in the 2001 edition of the tourney, finished the regular season with a mark of 24-9 overall and was an impressive 15-5 in league play.
As for the Bears, they were one of several teams in the ultra-competitive Big 12 to make the Big Dance. Nationally ranked for much of the 2014-15 campaign, Baylor managed to score a series of wins over other teams in the Top-25, with three of those victories coming against West Virginia, the latest such meeting coming in the conference tournament a week ago, 80-70. Unfortunately, the Bears ran into Kansas in the following round last Friday and came up short in a 62-52 decision.
Baylor is 11-10 in this tournament dating back to 1946, making it to the Final Four twice and falling to Kentucky in the finals back in 1948 by a score of 58-42. The latest appearance for the Bears was last year when they defeated both Nebraska and Creighton by double figures, before bowing with Wisconsin in the round of 16 by a final of 69-52.
The winner of this first-ever meeting will take on the winner of the Ole Miss/Xavier battle in the third round of the event on Saturday.
Georgia State generates 72.0 ppg, and much of that comes from two primary sources in R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow. Hunter, who was named the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year for the second time, puts up 19.8 ppg and was also first on the team with 120 assists and 72 steals. Perhaps not the greatest shooter ever to win the award, having knocked down only 39.4 percent of his field goal tries, Hunter has been a mainstay at the free-throw line where he has converted 193-of-221.
Harrow, who like Hunter was an All-Sun Belt First Team selection this season, checks in with another 18.7 ppg, but in his case field goal shooting (.504) and accuracy from behind the 3-point line (.390) doesn't seem to be an issue. He also handed out 103 assists in his 28 appearances. Kevin Ware, who might be most well known for his gruesome leg injury during Louisville's run to the national title a few years back, was recently named the MVP of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, so that proves there is more talent than just Harrow and Hunter on the roster.
In this, the seventh 20-win season in the last eight campaigns for the Bears, something that happened only three times in program history prior to the arrival of head coach Scott Drew, the team produced three players with at least 100 assists for the first time in history (Kenny Chery, Royce O'Neale and Lester Medford). Chery, who paced the squad with 113 dishes, against 72 turnovers, also dropped in 11.4 ppg thanks to 51 3-pointers, second only to Taurean Prince who used his 58 triples, almost exclusively off the bench, to generate a team-best 13.8 ppg.
Rico Gathers was one of only a handful of performers in college basketball this season to average a double-double as he posted 11.7 ppg and 11.6 rpg, but in his case assists were few and far between, numbering just 16 in his 33 starts. O'Neale (10.1 ppg) and his 43.4 percent effort out on the perimeter helped to lift the Bears to 37.7 percent accuracy on their 3-point tries as they scored 69.5 ppg, but held opponents to just 60.3 ppg.