There’s always a few times in the NCAA calendar that has some overlap, and boy is it fun. These two months are some prime time for multiple sports, which means I will be running around campus trying to catch a few games in one day. With basketball moving into the back stretch of the Sun Belt Conference slate of games, and baseball gearing up, there are times during which a weekend in Statesboro can be filled with sports!
Normally, some folks think that baseball doesn’t really get rolling until conference play, which though the Sun Belt is one of the better mid-major conferences for the sport, being in the South has its advantages for scheduling. A lot of the schools up north of say, Tennessee, will spend the majority of the first month of the season on the road avoiding the cold weather. That being said, the Eagles get to host some fantastic teams in non-conference play. Aside from the opening series, in which the Eagles will make a trip to the Plains to face the Auburn Tigers/War Eagles, Georgia Southern plays all of their non-conference weekend series in the friendly confines of J.I. Clements Stadium. Georgia, West Virginia, and UNC-Asheville highlight the home series before Sun Belt play, including the annual home-and-home matchups with Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State, Mercer, Citadel, and Charleston Southern in mid-week matchups. On top of that, the Eagles and College of Charleston usually play three games during the course of the season, spread out over the course of a few months, with two games being at one school, and one game at the other. Last year, College of Charleston hosted two games in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, with one game in Statesboro. This year, with Georgia Southern now having a nice addition in the Armstrong campus and this year being Georgia Southern’s year to host two games, one game will be played at College of Charleston, one game will be played at J.I. Clements Stadium, and one game will be played at the Historic Grayson Stadium in Savannah. I think this is a wonderful move, as mid-week games are never easy to travel to and prepare for. By doing this, this series between the two SoCon foes can continue to play each other with less headaches from logistics, all while providing a great experience in Savannah for folks to come watch some really good baseball. It also encourages more fans to travel to watch this game. In previous years it would be hard to convince some folks to drive over two hours from either school to see a game, all to drive back late at night during the middle of the week. I believe that attendance will be up, and the overall excitement of playing in the home of the Savannah Bananas may add to the experience.
For basketball, the back half of the conference slate runs through the state of Georgia and the Carolinas, mostly. For the months of February and March, all the basketball games will either be in Hanner or within a five-hour drive, save the trip to Louisiana with matchups between Louisiana and Louisiana-Monroe. It will be a very exciting two months, with the Alabama teams in Troy and South Alabama making the commute to Hanner, two battles with the Georgia State Panthers, one here in Statesboro and one in Atlanta, and the Arkansas schools in Little Rock and Arkansas State also coming to Statesboro. It will be a crucial time for Sun Belt basketball, as the seeding for the conference tournament in New Orleans is vital in making a run to the championship, so the need to fill Hanner is imperative. This will be the last year of the current format of the Sun Belt Tournament, with teams 7-10 having to play and win five games to win the Sun Belt Championship, where as the top 2 seeds only have to play and win two games to win the Championship. Needless to say, the conference rewards strong regular season play, so those last games down the stretch are pivotal to a team’s chances.
Now I grew up a Georgia Tech basketball fan before my days here at Southern, and I have fond memories of the Alexander Memorial Coliseum, and how loud and wild it would get when teams like Duke and UNC came to town, so I know a good basketball environment when I see one. Bearing that in mind, Hanner Fieldhouse is one of the best environments I have seen in mid-major play in the South when it is filled. It has the potential to bring the heat and make anyone that steps onto the court simply crumble, which will be needed when these schools come to town.
Now I mentioned earlier there are weekends filled with Eagle athletics, and that is true. On March 1-3, the Georgia Bulldogs come to Statesboro for a three-game slate on the diamond. That Saturday, March 2, first pitch will be at 1 p.m. at J.I. Clements. Following that, Arkansas State tips off against men’s basketball just a foul ball away inside Hanner Fieldhouse at 5 p.m. The very next weekend, March 9, UNC Asheville will be in town for baseball with first pitch at 3 p.m., and the penultimate regular season finale of men’s basketball taking on the Georgia State Panthers in Hanner at 5 p.m. This overlay of scheduling provides locals, alumni, visitors, or anyone who simply loves mid-major athletics the opportunity to take in multiple sporting events over the course of the day or even the whole weekend.
Statesboro has a lot of reasons to visit, and Georgia Southern athletics only adds to the draw of folks to town, so come for a day, come for a weekend, because like Statesboro, Georgia Southern baseball and basketball are both fun, entertaining, and family-friendly. After all, a normal day in Statesboro is better than a great day elsewhere!