Upgraded in the paint

Colin Ritsick

Off to its best start since the 2003-2004 season, Georgia Southern basketball (10-3, 3-1 SBC) is experiencing success thanks to a balanced scoring attack and a legitimate post presence, something that is a noticeable change from last year.

Trent Wiedeman, 6-foot-8, 255-pound redshirt senior, is playing his first and last season at GSU. Wiedeman came to Statesboro from the College of Charleston with head coach Mark Byington, but he had to sit out a year due to NCAA regulations. He is a forward that can bang down low but also has a good mid-range jumper. His ability to score from anywhere on the court creates a more balanced attack for the Eagle offense.

“The biggest thing is that it opens up our offense for other guys, especially me. A lot of teams are going to key in on me, but it’s hard to key in on me and a big presence down low,” senior guard Jelani Hewitt said.

Hewitt is the second leading scorer in the Sun Belt with 20.2 points per game.“So basically you’re going to have to pick your poison – either double up on me or double up on Trent. And that opens it up for other guys to make plays,” Hewitt said.

Wiedeman averages 13.6 points per game and leads the team in rebounds with 6.8 per game. He took over big-man duties this year after Marvin Baynham graduated.

“Marvin had to play a little bit out of position for us. He was a little undersized,” Byington said.

Baynham was a plus defender and shot-blocker, but only scored 5.4 points per game and was never a go-to threat on offense. With Wiedeman, the Eagles can work from the inside out which creates more driving lanes and open three’s.

“I’m a little more polished offensively, so now we can move the ball around more. Last year we had so many possessions where it was one pass then a shot. That has changed a lot this year,” Wiedeman said.

Having someone who can score on the inside also means that the team hopefully doesn’t repeat empty possessions, Byington said. The Eagles score73.2 points per game, third in the conference behind Georgia State and Louisiana-Lafayette. Scoring efficiently is also much easier when you get more rebounds.

With Wiedeman on the floor in addition to a slimmer, more athletic Angel Matias and 6-foot-8 Eric Ferguson returning to action, the Eagles are dominating the boards. GSU is in the top-20 in the nation in rebounding with 40.4 per game.

Size, both directly and indirectly, makes an impact on all sides of the ball for GSU.

“I think our length bothers people, we’re able to really get after teams defensively,” Wiedeman said.

Byington’s defense only allows 60 points per game and leads the conference in scoring margin. They also block nearly twice as many shots as last year.

Not being able to play last season was frustrating for Wiedeman. But looking back on it, both he and Hewitt think it has made the team better.

“It was definitely weird, not being able to help the team out on the court. But, I think it helped me from a leadership perspective…impacting the game without actually playing,” Wiedeman said.

Hewitt said that the team getting to know Wiedeman for a year helped the chemistry going into this season. But even if the transfer rule that forced him to sit out hadn’t been in effect, Wiedeman still would have been sidelined.

“He had ankle surgery and wasn’t able to practice most of the year. So he’s still kind of rounding into shape,” Byington said. “I think he is going to continue to get better than he’s playing right now.”

Wiedeman and Hewitt were both given pre-season all-Sun Belt honors. If Wiedeman continues to improve like his coach thinks he will, this team could make some noise in March. Byington says the team isn’t where they need to be yet, but, “if we keep getting better week by week, we’re going to have a chance to win a championship.”

“I’m not going to lie, the ceiling is very high…we just have to remain focused and take it one game at a time,” Hewitt said.