To ask the Georgia Southern basketball team what their situation is, things seem pretty cut and dried.
“We’ve just got to focus on the next one,” Senior guard Tookie Brown said of his team’s regular season finale against Georgia State on Saturday. “We know there’s a lot on the line, but we need to go out and play our game and try to get another win.”
A few weeks ago the Eagles (20-10, 12-5) didn’t figure to be in the race for the Sun Belt’s regular season championship. A Feb. 8 loss at UL Monroe dropped the Eagles to 6-5 in league play and right into the middle of the standings. Georgia Southern hasn’t lost since and will enter Saturday’s rivalry showdown in a three-way tie for first place with Texas State and Georgia State.
A regular season title would make for a nice addition to the trophy case and would guarantee a spot in the NIT if the Eagles are unable to make the NCAA tournament field, but there are other pressing issues as well.
Eight teams will make it to next week’s Sun Belt tournament in New Orleans. Two will have to win off-site play-in games earlier in the week. The fifth and sixth place finishers in the regular season will play those winners, with the third and fourth seeds getting byes into the quarterfinals and the top two finishers getting a full week of rest and skipping all the way to the tournament semifinals.
That triple-bye is what will be on everyone’s mind Saturday evening at Hanner Fieldhouse. Even if tiebreakers don’t allow Georgia Southern to win the regular season title, a win over the Panthers will guarantee that their next game will be in the tournament semis. Georgia State is in a bit better position.
The Panthers will win the regular season with a win and no need for other help. There is also a scenario in which Georgia State can lose to the Eagles and still end up in second place. Meanwhile, a loss for the Eagles is guaranteed to cost them the triple-bye and they could slide to as low as the No. 4 seed in the tournament.
The simplest way to a regular season title for Georgia Southern is a win over the Panthers, combined with a Texas State loss at UT Arlington. The Eagles also have the advantage of tipping off two hours after Texas State, meaning they’ll likely know exactly what their situation is before getting started.
Two scenarios exist in which the Eagles can finish atop the standings even with a Texas State win, but those involve as many as eight different game results all going the Eagles’ way on Thursday and Saturday.
To understate it, there will be a lot going on.
In addition to all of the tournament seeding scenarios, it will also be the latest chapter in the heated rivalry between Southern and State, with the Eagles looking to keep up a home winning streak in the series that dates back to 1996. And in a cozy gym that can get loud no matter how full the stands are, rumors are circulating that Hanner will be sold out.
So many different balls in the air, but only one thing that matters.
“We just have to do our job,” GS coach Mark Byington said. “Go play hard, and don’t worry about everything else.”