In a way, this is what everyone was hoping for from SUU men’s basketball this season. The T-birds sit in fourth place in the Big Sky with a 13-8 overall record and a 6-4 record through conference play.
The team had higher expectations for itself, and home losses to Northern Arizona and Weber State certainly stung, but all in all, SUU has been mostly great this season.
As of February 4, the T-Birds lead the conference in defensive field goal percentage, blocks per game and rebounding margin. All of the length and athleticism the team has makes it so tough for opponents to get open looks.
SUU’s offense has been good too, ranking fourth in points per game, third in team FG%, third in 3FG%. They’ve been one of the best four teams in the conference thus far, and have already cemented their place in program history.
With 10 games remaining before the conference tournament, the T-Birds need just five wins to surpass last season’s win total (17). No matter how the season ends, the 2019-20 T-Birds are one of the two greatest teams since 2000, but making the NCAA tournament is the only way they’ll snatch that spot from the 2000-01 team.
If head coach Todd Simon and his squad want to go dancing in March, they’ll have to win the conference tournament. Every Big Sky conference tournament winner since the tournament expanded to include all 11 teams has had a first round bye. That makes finishing in the top five of the conference standings paramount.
The T-Birds are heading into a very difficult stretch, but let’s slow down and take a closer look at how SUU can finish the season strong.
Home Court Advantage? More of a Mixed Bag.
While the team has a solid overall home record (7-3), conference play has been a different beast for the T-Birds when they’ve played at the America First Event Center.
The high point of this season thus far was the rollercoaster 73-72 win over Utah Valley in December. The crowd was roaring their approval, and the players went to celebrate with the student section post game. It feels like the T-Birds have been chasing that magical feeling since.
Against Weber State the T-Birds looked too charged up. They wanted to win with such ferocity that they might have psyched themselves out. Northern Arizona and Montana forced the T-Birds out of their usual run-and-gun rhythm, and they couldn’t get enough going out of the halfcourt sets to win.
There’s only four home games left on the schedule, and two of those games come against teams ahead of SUU in the standings.
On Thursday, Feb. 6, third place Northern Colorado will come to town, and on Thursday, Feb. 27, the T-Birds will face conference leaders Eastern Washington.
Six of SUU’s last eight games will come on the road, so SUU needs to get these games right if they want to avoid sliding in the standings during the long road trips.
Cameron Oluyitan’s Chance to Make First Team All-Conference
Oluyitan was named the co-newcomer of the year last season, and made the Big Sky all-conference third team.
The redshirt senior has built on last season’s performance, and is averaging 13.9 PPG, up from 13.1 as a junior. Oluyitan ranks no. 11 in PPG during conference play, and has scored 20 points or more six times this season.
His competition for the first team will be tough. Weber’s Jerrick Harding, Montana’s Sayeed Pridgett and Eastern Washington’s Mason Peatling seem like locks to make the team, but there’s a couple of spots up in the air.
If Oluyitan can find a groove and lead SUU to a top three finish in conference, then he might power his way onto the first team. Oluyitan is shooting 38% from 3-point range on 4.9 tries per game.
Oluyitan accounts for more than a quarter of the entire team’s attempts, and he’s the only player outside of specialist Jarryd Hoppo on the team shooting better than 35% from behind the arc.
He also leads the team in minutes played, and is third on the team in rebounding.
There are a lot of really solid players fighting for that final spot, but there’s a path to the first team if Oluyitan can play more aggressively.
John Knight III (12.3 PPG, 2.9 APG, 3.8 RPG) could also make a case for himself, but would also need to heat things up over the next 10 games to get into the conversation.
Getting Andre Adams back Could be Season-defining
Andre Adams has missed nine games this season due to some nagging injuries, but has looked solid since returning to the starting lineup against Eastern Washington Jan. 13.
He scored 11 points on 5-10 from the field and 8 rebounds. Adams looked like the best player on the floor against the University of Idaho, making 7 of his 8 shots, good for 14 points. The redshirt senior also hauled in 10 rebounds in 27 minutes, tying his season high.
In last week’s loss to Weber State, Adams was the lone bright spot, scoring 17 points on 8-11 shooting. Over those three games he averaged 14 points and 8.7 rebounds on 69% shooting. That’s absurd efficiency, and Adams presence as a post scorer could swing close games.
Adams still struggles with foul trouble. He only played eight minutes against Idaho State, and with David N’Diaye out injured, the T-Birds need consistent, effective minutes from Adams on the offensive end.
It seems like his body is starting to feel right after missing substantial time with his own injuries, and having Adams at full strength will give the offense another element when the game slows down.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by: Mitchell Quartz