Two of the better mid-major programs in college basketball do battle on Friday when Montana welcomes Georgia State to Missoula on Friday night. Which team will walk out with a key non-conference victory?
TV Schedule: Friday, November 9, 9:00p.m. ET, check local listings
Location: Dahlberg Arena, Missoula, Montana
There are a lot of good mid-major teams this season and two of them will face off in Missoula, Montana Friday night. Big Sky favorite, the Montana Grizzlies play host to the favorite in the Sun Belt Conference Georgia State Panthers. Defending Big Sky champion Montana returns the conference’s best and most experienced backcourt with seniors Ahmaad Rorie and Michael Oguine. Like Montana, Georgia State boasts the Sun Belt’s best player and reigning Player of the Year in junior guard D’Marcus Simonds.
The home tilt is the Grizzlies season opener and excitement should be at an all-time high. Rorie and Oguine combined for 33 points, 9.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 2.7 steals last season. Also returning are senior forwards Jamar Akoh and Bobby Moorehead. The duo combined for 20.2 points and 11.7 rebounds per contest last season. Another key returnee is junior guard Sayeed Pridgett, the 6-5 California native averaged over eight points and four rebounds last season and should see an increased role as a junior. Head coach Travis DeCuire must replace big man Fabijan Krslovic who graduated, but a fellow Australian, 6-10 282lb. Ben Carter could be ready to step in as a freshman.
Georgia State (1-0)
Simonds is one of the best players in the country, at any level. The 6-3 Georgia native led the team in points (21.2), assists (4.4), and was second on the team in rebounding (5.7). Simonds and coach Ron Hunter have plenty of help returning. Senior forwards Malik Benlevi and Jeff Thomas and their 20.3 points and 10.9 rebounds also return giving the Panthers a trio of scorers that can give any team in the country fits. Add to that, senior guard Devin Mitchell and Georgia State have potentially four double-figure scorers in their starting lineup. The biggest new addition for the Panthers could be a former Panther, 6-5 swingman Damon Wilson, a redshirt-junior, joins Georgia State after beginning his career at Pittsburgh.
The Panthers won their opener 74-68 over East Tennessee State on Tuesday. Thomas led the team with 26 points, five rebounds, three assists, and four blocks and Simonds had 21 points with a team-high four three-pointers. Benlevi netted a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and the newcomer Wilson led the team with 11 rebounds to go along with his six points. The Panthers held ETSU to just 4-23 shooting from three-point range. With the game tied at 56 and just 5:30 left, Thomas hit a three to give Georgia State the lead for good.
The key position battle in this game will be in the backcourt. Simonds and Mitchell going tete-a-tete with Rorie and Oguine is the kind of matchup that college hoop fiends soak up, and two games into the season, this game and these backcourts this early in the season, could be one of the better under-the-radar games all season long.
Prediction: I see this as a back-and-forth game with the home team squeaking out a victory. Montana over Georgia State by less than five points.