With less than two weeks to go before tipoff of the 2019-20 season, the Georgia Southern men’s basketball team is already in high gear.
The Eagles have proven to be a consistent winner in the Sun Belt Conference, but have yet to attain the ultimate goal of winning the conference tournament and advancing to the school’s first NCAA tournament since 1992.
All of the pieces seem to be in place for the Eagles to take another crack at things as nearly every preseason poll has them pegged as a favorite to be one of the top two seeds. But the Sun Belt’s NCAA bid won’t be awarded for another five months, and there is a lot of work to be done by Georgia Southern until then if it wants to be the team left standing in March.
“I think that all our guys know that preseason hype means absolutely nothing,” GS coach Mark Byington said. “The goals are bigger than what projections are in October. We’re trying to climb the mountain and everyone is starting at the bottom.”
As preseason practices have started, one trend has clearly emerged. The Eagles are looking for a better defensive showing this time around.
Byington stated that most of his practices lean heavily on shutting down the opposition.
“We’re really getting after it on the defensive end,” guard David Lee Jones Junior said.
“We need to focus on it,” guard Calvin Wishart said. “It’s 30 seconds where we have to be locked in. If we do that, we know we have the talent to score on the other end.”
The players’ assessments of what they’re being coached up on definitely aligns with what Byington is trying to impress upon them.
“We had success last season in getting a lot of steals,” Byington said. “When we were in our half-court defense, we weren’t as good. We know that we have a lot of very talented offensive players. We need to improve defensively and then we trust that the scoring will be there for us.”
While many players will be returning to the court this season, there’s no missing the fact that Georgia Southern’s modern-day leading scorer Tookie Brown has graduated.
There’s likely not a single player that will be able to match Brown’s numbers as a four-time All-Sun Belt performer, but the Eagles project to be as tall and athletic as ever with plenty of bench depth to spare.
But that talent needs an identity and a culture - things that can be damaged when a star and leader like Brown move on.
Luckily, Georgia Southern was able to build up some of that in style. The Eagles travelled to Spain over the summer break, playing some local squads and doing some sightseeing while spending a week overseas.
“I think it was a great experience for them, and important for us that we all experienced it together,” Byington said. “It accomplished what I wanted it to. Seeing different ways to live and different ways to do things, it exposed us to a lot. Doing it together can show our strengths and weaknesses as a group and that’s what we use to grow on.”
Georgia Southern will play a pair of exhibition games in the coming weeks before tipping off its regular season Nov. 5 at Auburn.