The Mark Byington era at Georgia Southern is off to an interesting start.
It was no secret going into the season that the two best post players on the team — Eric Ferguson and Trent Wiedeman — weren't going to be a factor; the former out with injury and the latter sitting out due to NCAA transfer rules.
That meant that the tallest player on the team, 6-foot-8 Kameron Dunnican, would have his work cut out for him.
Well, about a week ago, Dunnican decided to transfer.
To pile on top of that, point guard Brian Holmes missed four and a half games with a wrist injury (the Eagles went 2-3 during the stretch) and still isn't 100 percent.
The Eagles (5-5) have been relying on the guards to do most of the scoring and four undersized forwards — Marvin Baynham, Sam Mike, Kyle Doyle and Angel Matias — to handle the frontcourt.
So, what's the good news?
The Eagles have managed to stay in ballgames. Of the five losses, three were by one possession. Of those, two — Miami and Campbell — were in overtime. The two ugly losses came against West Virginia and Old Dominion.
The most encouraging stat on the team is rebounding. GSU is just about even with its opponents despite the massive size disparity. The Eagles are led by Matias, who at 6-foot-4 pulls in 7.1 per game.
The backcourt talent, on the other hand, matches up with anyone and may be second to none in the Southern Conference.
Holmes is as good as anyone at running the point, and Jelani Hewitt (23 points per game) is the leading scorer in the SoCon. Tre Bussey is third in the league with 20.
All of these factors boil down to a few key points.
Anyone with elite size in the paint will be favored against GSU. If Hewitt or Bussey has an off night shooting the ball, the Eagles will have an off night. If the role players — guys like Baynham, Matias, Mike, Doyle, Curtis Diamond and Torlof Thomas — are not rebounding and scoring when the opportunity arises, Hewitt and Bussey won't be able to carry the team night-in and night-out.
Matias, a junior-college transfer, has become more of a factor lately as he becomes accustomed to division-I basketball.
Finally, and most importantly, if the Eagles, all of them, play smart and focused, they'll be able to do something they've done only once in the last seven years. Win more conference games than they lose.
This season, Byington's first full season as a head coach and GSU's last year in the SoCon, is about one thing more than anything else — building for the future.
It's about being ready for Ferguson's return, Wiedeman's debut and the inaugural season in the Sun Belt in 2014.
But, with all their deficiencies, that doesn't mean that GSU isn't built to be a factor in the Southern Conference right now.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.