As the Georgia State’s men’s basketball team gears up for the 2017-2018 season, expectations are pretty high after finishing the 2016-17 regular season behind UT Arlington with a 12-6 record. But despite heading into the Sun Belt Championship in the No. 2 spot, the Panthers fell short in the semifinals to Troy after beating Louisiana. However, they have chosen to leave that in the past and are determined to finish stronger this season. Head coach Ron Hunter, returning players and the newcomers all have similar goals in mind, which are to finish the regular season in a top spot, win the Sun Belt Championship and return to the NCAA tournament in March.

“For the most part, we don’t really look back on previous seasons as this is a different team with different players. What I do hope is that our returners have learned lessons from previous years. We know we didn’t finish games the way we wanted to last year and I think that is something our guys worked hard on in the off-season,” Hunter said. “But our goals never change. We feel as though we have a talented team, which is capable of our goals and we will not step down from that challenge.”

Talent has not been a question of Georgia State’s team and although last year’s captains Jeremy Hollowell, Isaiah Dennis, and Willie Clayton graduated, returning Panthers D’Marcus Simonds, Jordan Session, Malik Benlevi, Devin Mitchell and Isaiah Williams are expected to step up and prove themselves as leaders on the team.

Simonds, who was named the 2017 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year and Cancun Challenge Tournament MVP, averaged 13.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists, in just his first season of college basketball. Session, who has a lot of experience with what is expected of him and the team, finished the season averaging 4.1 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.

Benlevi, who started in 27 games last season, averaged 8.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game, while Williams, in his second season, averaged 7.7 points, 1.9 assists, and 1.6 rebounds a game.

This season Damon Wilson, who played two seasons at Pitt University, along with four true freshmen: Kane Williams, Josh Linder, Matt Chism and Denis Alibegovic are joining an already talented roster which includes Chris Clerkely and Jeff Thomas, as well as Jordan Tyson who redshirted at Georgia State after transferring from St. Bonaventure.

Tyson is excited to get some playing time this season, as he has two years of eligibility remaining and is expected to bring a strong defensive presence to the team.

“I’ve always been good at blocking and challenging shots. I’m a natural shot blocker,” Tyson said. “I’m very excited because I had to sit out last year and the chemistry in practice has been really good. The new guys are very humble and are able to take in information well from coaches and older players.”

As the team works to meet their goals, Hunter wants them to be playing their best basketball in February and March but also understands that it begins in practice every day. The team’s positive chemistry is a major factor on and off the court.  Hunter says that they have a tough non-conference schedule that they hope will prepare them for Sun Belt play and of course, post-season.

The regular season gets underway against Carver Bible College on Nov. 10. Then the Panthers will be on the road for four games to play Rice (Nov. 14), Ole Miss (Nov. 17), Eastern Washington (Nov. 20) and Eastern Kentucky/Prairie View A&M (Nov. 22) in the MGM Grand Main Event before returning home on Nov. 26.

The first conference matchup at South Alabama on Dec. 29, before facing Troy on Dec. 31, for the first time since the conference tournament Other exciting matchups will be when Georgia State plays Arkansas State (Jan. 6), Georgia Southern (Jan. 20), Texas State (Jan. 27), Louisiana (Feb. 8) and UT Arlington (Feb. 10).

While returning nine players and welcoming five, this Georgia State team is hopeful as their focus is on themselves and how they play together in each game.