The Southern Utah Men’s Basketball team is off to their first 4-1 start since 2000, when the team won 25 games and played in the NCAA Tournament. What has lead to head coach Todd Simon’s fast start?
The Emergence of Harrison Butler
“Scary Harry” has been phenomenal for the T-Birds. The freshman is averaging 9.8 PPG, 6 RPG, but more importantly, has a plus/minus of +64.
Butler is a great athlete and competitive defender. He has supplied energy off the bench and provides great rebounding for a wing player.
SUU has used four different lineups for more than eight consecutive minutes this season, and Butler is part of the two most efficient lineups. The lineup of SUU’s starters (Dre Marin, Cameron Oluyitan, Dwayne Morgan and Andre Adams) plus Harrison Butler is +14 in 13 minutes of action.
The Transfers are Worth the Wait
Oluyitan and Adams both had to sit out last year after transferring from Boise State and Arizona State, respectively. Their arrivals were highly anticipated and there was a lot of hype surrounding them as the season started.
Through five games, the duo has lived up to the hype. Oluyitan has been prolific and has really embraced the role as the team’s primary playmaker. Oluyitan leads the team in scoring with 13.6 points per game. If he can limit turnovers going forward, he could have All-Big Sky buzz before the season ends.
Adams has been a beastly rebounder. He leads the team with 29 boards, and adds an attitude that the team sorely lacked last year. “Andre the Giant” has a swaggering confidence to him that infects the rest of the team. The T-Birds aren’t intimidated by anyone and it’s because of Adams’ intensity.
Jason Richardson is another transfer who has stepped in and been a key contributor from the start. Richardson is a hard worker and has established himself as a vocal leader of this team. He sets the tone in practice and is a great athlete.
Last Year’s Contributors Continue to Shine
At the start of the season, one of the questions surrounding the team was if this collection of talent would work cohesively. Last year, Dwayne Morgan looked like one of the Big Sky’s most talented big men, Dre Marin had a breakout freshman year, Jacob Calloway was the team’s best shooter and Brandon Better offered a much-needed offensive spark.
With the new transfers and freshmen coming in, how would roles emerge and how would the team embrace them? Up to this point, last year’s biggest contributors have done exactly what’s been asked of them.
Morgan is the perfect compliment to Adams. He’s a versatile big that can guard the post and also get out and defend on the perimeter. If he’s scoring the ball, SUU will be in every game this season.
Marin has picked up where he left off last year and has been getting the bulk of the minutes at point guard. His shooting and playmaking will be important going forward.
Calloway adds much-needed floor spacing and has been a clutch shooter in crunch time. He can defend multiple positions and is a reliable catch-and-shoot option.
Better’s role seems perfect for his skill set. Coming off the bench, he adds instant offense to the second unit. Better is also one of the best on the team in getting his own shot late in the shot clock.
The T-Birds are the Deepest Team in the Big Sky
SUU has a slew of freshmen that have looked great in limited court time that might never see the floor once conference play starts. Josh Cornish, Kenton Eskridge and Dato Aphkhaza have each had bright moments in garbage time, including a 15-point performance by Eskridge in their last game against San Diego Christian.
Ivan Madunic and Maizen Fausett can also be relied on to come in and give quality minutes if foul trouble or injuries arise. Madunic has seen significant playing time in his first two years at SUU, while Fausett has been a steady contributor during home games as a freshman this year.
Simon could run an eleven-deep rotation if he really wanted to, but he can also run a prolific eight- or nine-man rotation that is versatile enough to keep opponents guessing.
The fast start looks sustainable. SUU has big wins at San Jose State and Seattle, and only lost by five in Vegas against the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. The Big Sky is loaded with talent. Weber just thumped BYU, Montana is always good and Northern Colorado just won at Wyoming, but SUU has as good of a chance as any to top the conference and has the right kind of squad that could make some noise in the Big Sky Tournament.
SUU continues their regular season campaign Wednesday night as they travel to Long Beach to take on the 49ers.