Southern Utah Men’s Basketball has outpaced expectations this season. The team was predicted to finish ninth by the media and sixth by the coaches before the season started.
With seven games left to play, SUU sits in fifth place, one game back of fourth place Montana State and two games back of first-place Weber State. Their 7-6 conference and 12-10 overall record is impressive considering the program’s recent history.
The T-Birds are one win away from matching the 2017-2018 season. They’re only five years removed from the worst team in program history, a team that went 2-27. This season is the result of one hell of a five-year plan.
It’s easy to get caught up in the glory of this season, but 2019 isn’t the ceiling for the T-birds. In fact, it may be the floor.
This run has come without two Thunderbird starters that haven’t played since conference play began due to injury.
Assuming Dwayne Morgan qualifies for a medical redshirt, the T-Birds will add one of the Big Sky’s most versatile big men. Morgan can get to the basket against smaller defenders and excels at stretching the floor against slow-footed bigs.
Jason Richardson will be back next season whether he lands a medical redshirt or not. Richardson was an important playmaker at the start of the year, and having another solid ball handler that can shoot with confidence is a plus.
There are also three talented redshirts who will be available next season. Jakolby Long arrived from Iowa State at the start of this year. In practice he has looked absolutely unstoppable. He is marksman from distance, but can get to the basket with his speed. He’ll be a large part of head coach Todd Simon’s outlook for next season.
David N’Diaye is also sitting out this season. Next year he will add depth behind foul trouble-prone center Andre Adams. N’Diaye is very tall and light on his feet. He’ll be catching lobs from Long and Dre Marin all season.
Utah State transfer John Knight III is another skilled guard who will be joining the T-Birds. Knight will only be available during conference play but will add another huge spark.
Brandon Better is the only major contributor whose eligibility is up after this season. His scoring will be missed, but there will be plenty of experience still in Cedar City.
That means that if everyone sticks around, there will be ten upperclassmen in the rotation before adding freshman standouts Harrison Butler and Maizen Fausett.
Next year SUU also adds 6-foot-9-inch forward Jarryd Hoppo from South Adelaide, Australia. Hoppo is very versatile and could see playing time right away.
The Thunderbirds have March Madness potential next season. They’re talented enough to win the conference and to be upset threats come tournament time. What could possibly go wrong?
Just look at the Boston Celtics.
The T-Birds could have a case of too many good players and not enough minutes to go around. Players will have to accept new roles, and it may not be easy for players like Jacob Calloway and Ivan Madunic who have been integral parts of the program’s turnaround to just accept a smaller role.
Coach Simon finds himself in an interesting position. If he manages rotations right and keeps everyone happy, he could have the best season in program history. If not, things may blow up in his face.
Those are issues that Simon can worry about next season. Right now, SUU is setting the groundwork for something special. They will likely end the season with their first winning record since 2006-07.
The dreary seasons of six wins are in the past. 2019 is year one of the future for the Thunderbirds.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics Strategic Communication