2019 Season Preview:
Southern Utah University men’s basketball is going to be scary good this season. This is the most talented team head coach Todd Simon has had at SUU, and it’s among the most skilled teams in school history.
Simon is entering his fourth season at Southern Utah, and the players among his initial recruiting classes are all upperclassmen now. That means they’ve been soaking up Simon’s lessons and system for two or three seasons and now is their chance to put them into practice.
The T-Birds finished at .500 for the first time since 06-07. For the first time ever they played and won a home basketball postseason match. They appeared in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament and beat Drake University 80-73 before falling to Cal State Bakersfield 70-67.
According to KenPom.com, 77.6% of their shots are coming back, and the only key contributors who moved on were Brandon Better and Jacob Calloway. Better and Calloway will be missed as they had the highest effective field goal percentage on the team, but the talent coming into their place has enticing potential.
Three of the team’s four leading scorers return for 2019-20. Cameron Oluyitan (13.1 PPG) and Andre Adams (9.8 PPG) return for their senior seasons after solid 2018-2019 campaigns.
Dre Marin (8.9 PPG) will play his third season under Simon and has established himself as a team leader. Marin is one of the best defensive guards in the conference and is the team’s best returning three point shooter (41%). He also led the team in Assist Rate.
Harrison Butler seemed to get better with every game he played. Butler led the team in RPG (6.5) and was third on the team in PPG (10.3). Only one player in the conference got to the line at a higher rate than Butler. If he improves on shooting percentage at the line (he shot 60% last season), then he’ll be an even more reliable offensive option.
The most exciting part of the team is the slew of newcomers set to make their debuts or returns from injury.
Sixth year senior Dwayne Morgan is back after a shoulder injury sidelined him for all but four games last season. Morgan is the team’s most skilled post player and has extended range.
Three transfers are ready to play after sitting out last season. Juniors John Knight III and Jakolby Long will fight for starting minutes alongside Dre Marin in the backcourt, and Daodua N’Diaye will provide depth behind Adams and Morgan.
Knight III averaged 7.8 PPG in 10 appearances at Utah State University last season.
Long played in 22 games for Iowa State University in the 2017-18 season and shot 43% from three.
Redshirt senior N’Diaye adds depth behind Adams and Morgan. The seven footer averaged 1.4 BPG in three seasons at Illinois State University.
That group of eight players would make for one of the most talented and experienced rotations in the Big Sky, but it’s only scratching the surface of the team’s depth.
Senior Ivan Madunic returns for his fourth season under Simon. Madunic is a solid defender and rebounder who can shoot the three a little bit. If the frontcourt is too crowded, then Madunic might redshirt and start after Adams, Morgan and N’Diaye graduate.
Role players Maizen Fausett and Josh Cornish return as well. Fausett saw a lot of action as the season went on and averaged 4.5 PPG and 3.2 RPG in just 13.1 MPG. Cornish played well in three preseason contests but redshirted after being sidelined with a wrist injury.
How many teams in the Big Sky have a tenth man better than Fausett? SUU will have a lot of versatility in lineup usage and won’t buckle as easily when confronted with injuries or foul trouble.
The downside of pooling this much talent is that there are only 40 minutes per game. Some talented players will have to accept minor roles but still be ready to perform when called upon.
If one player has a hot hand, Simon can feed him more minutes. How will the player that has to make way feel about that? Will there be arguments over who takes the last shot in close games? How much competition for minutes is too much?
Chemistry and ego management will be essential for this team. This an experienced group. Many have transferred from universities where they didn’t see enough minutes or connect with their coaches. They should be well equipped for those challenges because they’ve been through them before.
This team’s ceiling is higher than ever before. They’ve got the NCAA Tournament on their mind, and many key players from top Big Sky teams graduated before this season. Montana and Weber State will be strong as ever, but this is the first time since Simon arrived that the Thunderbirds have been serious preseason contenders to win the conference tournament.
They have tough preseason contests (at Nebraska, at BYU, at UCLA, at Long Beach State and vs Utah Valley) that will help prepare them for Big Sky play. Simon is optimistic about their potential.
“I think everything is on the table for this group,” Simon said. “We want to compete for a League Title and make to the NCAA Tournament. We want to win games in the NCAA Tournament. We don’t want to settle and that’s our overlying theme with this group. We want to do everything.”
The T-Birds begin their season Tuesday, Nov. 5 against Bethesda College at the America First Event Center. Tip off is set for 7 p.m. MT.
Projected starting 5:
Dre Marin – Junior – 18-19 Stats: 30.3 MPG, 8.9 PPG, 3.0 APG, 3.2 APG, 3.2 RPG
John Knight III – Junior – 18-19 (1) Stats: 17.7 MPG, 7.8 PPG, 1.2 APG, 3.9 RPG
Cameron Oluyitan – R Senior – 18-19 Stats: 32.4 MPG, 13.1 PPG, 2.3 APG, 4.2 RPG
Dwayne Morgan – R Senior – 18-19 (2) Stats: 22.5 MPG, 13.0 PPG, 1.0 APG, 4.8 RPG
Andre Adams – Senior – 18-19 Stats: 22.4 MPG, 9.8 PPG, 1.1 APG, 6.3 RPG
Harrison Butler – Sophomore – 18-19 Stats: 22.3 MPG, 10.3 PPG, 1.1 APG, 6.5 RPG
Jakolby Long – Junior – 17-18 Stats (3): 9.5 MPG, 1.9 PPG, 0.59 APG, 1.3 RPG
David N’Diaye – R Senior – 17-18 Stats (4): 18.05 MPG, 4.3 PPG, 0.40 APG, 4.0 RPG
Maizen Fausett – Sophomore – 18-19 Stats: 13.1 MPG, 4.5 PPG, 0.4 APG, 3.2 RPG
Ivan Madunic – Senior – 18-19 Stats: 11.7 MPG, 2.7 PPG, 0.4 APG, 2.9 RPG
Other reserves: Jarryd Hoppo (Fr.), Josh Cornish (RFr.), Damani McEntire (Fr.), Chase Verdugo (Fr.)
1: Knight played 11 games at Utah State University before sitting out the rest of the season to transfer.
2: Morgan appeared in 4 games before sitting out with an injury.
3: Long’s stats at Iowa State. Sat out 18-19 due to transfer rules
4: N’Daiye’s stats at Illinois State. Sat out 18-19 due to transfer rules
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photos by: Mitchell Quartz