Georgia State to the Sun Belt looks like a done deal. In football terms, it’s a completely logical move. Basketball-wise, it’s pretty much a step backward.
It’s almost business as usual for Ron Hunter, who coached IUPUI through the now-defunct Mid-Con conference and into the sprawling Summit League, and will spend his second season at GSU as a lame-duck member of the CAA. Thanks to his new employer’s football jones, his move up to the CAA has magically turned into a moonwalk off a short stage in terms of competition and prestige.
The Sun Belt is firmly entrenched in the land of the one-bid league, though a second bid came in 2008, when 26-6 Southern Alabama got an at-large despite losing the auto-bid to Darrin Horn’s Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. That was the year of Ty Rogers’ miracle shot to beat Drake, and the Sweet 16 run that got Horn a shot at turning South Carolina around.
The Hilltoppers have been the Sun Belt’s most consistent performer over the past decade or so, but even that magic has begun to fade a bit. WKU was the victim of the six-on-five game, and Ken McDonald was fired from a job that had once jump-started the high-major careers of coaches like Gene Keady, Clem Haskins, Dennis Felton and Ralph Willard. With the ‘Toppers in disarray, the league will struggle to find an identity on the hardwood.
That leaves plenty of room for Georgia State to come in and become the central pillar of the league, which is nice. But Ron Hunter has had the experience of being the big fish in the Summit’s wide but shallow pond, and it seems unlikely that he’ll be happy to go back to that state of being. He may start looking around for the next job sooner rather than later.
The Panthers have made it clear that football is the priority, and it may just end up costing them a great shot at basketball relevance.