Men’s Basketball Takes on Local Rivals Dixie State in Battle for Southern Utah

SUU vs Dixie

Anytime Southern Utah University takes on I-15 neighbors Dixie State University, it’s sure to be a big game.

But with Dixie’s recent ascension to Division I and a reported offer on the table for SUU to join the Trailblazers in the Western Athletic Conference, Thursday’s men’s basketball matchup between the two universities seems to bear even more significance.

Separated by just 51 miles, these programs will battle for recruits and prominence for the foreseeable future. So who will seize the lead in the race? That will be determined on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the America First Events Center.

The Thunderbirds are also slated to face two NAIA opponents to round out non-conference play after they take on DSU. They’re scheduled to host SAGU American Indian College on Friday, Dec. 18, and Bethesda College on Monday, Dec. 21. SAGU had to cancel a scheduled game against Grand Canyon University on Tuesday due to a positive COVID-19 test within the program.

Last Time Out:

Junior Tevian Jones earned Big Sky Men’s Basketball Player of the Week honors after scoring 33 points in SUU’s 81-71 win against Utah Valley on Dec. 9.

Jones shot 10-23 from the field and added eight points on 10 attempts from the free throw line. He also pulled in five rebounds in the contest and played 39 minutes.

Reigning Player of the Week Maizen Fausett scored 19 points on 6-8 shooting with five rebounds and two important blocks down the stretch. 

The Thunderbirds never trailed in the game, and led by as many as 16 points in the first half despite navigating some foul trouble for Dre Marin, Ivan Madunic and Harrison Butler.

Scouting Report: Dixie State

The Trailblazers (3-0, 0-0 WAC) are unbeaten heading to Thursday’s contest, having secured close wins over North Dakota University and Denver University and a blowout victory against St. Katherine’s.

Jon Judkins is at the helm for his 16th season at his alma mater. DSU had one of the strongest teams in Division II last season, being ranked as high as No. 6 in the NABC national poll. Judkins led the Trailblazers to a 23-7 record in 2019-20, tying the record for most wins in a single season in program history and securing the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference regular season title.

DSU has the third highest scoring offense in the WAC (77.7 PPG) and fourth best scoring defense (63.7 PPG), though the 86-48 win over St. Katherine should be taken into account when considering those stats.

They’re a team who can really fill it up offensively, and the 8-19 3PFG first half they had against Denver stands as evidence. Judkins’ squad is willing to play quickly and get a lot of shots up. They scored 50 points in the second half to secure the win against North Dakota, despite shooting just 0-3 on 3-pointers.

While the Trailblazers can definitely put up points, they don’t necessarily live and die with the 3-pointer. Their versatile attack is led by junior guard Cameron Gooden, who is averaging 13.0 PPG and is one of four players averaging double figures for DSU.

Junior forwards Jacob Nicolds (12.7 PPG) and Frank Staine (11.7 PPG) and senior big man Hunter Schofield (10.3 PPG) help round out the offensive attack.

The Trailblazers were projected to finish in seventh place by the media and eighth place by the coaches in the WAC in the program’s debut season.

Keys to the Game vs. Dixie

1. Applying Ball Pressure to Gooden and Staine

Dixie State does a pretty good job of taking care of the ball as their turnover margin is second best in the conference.

The Trailblazers had 14 turnovers in both games against NDU and Denver. Of the 40 turnovers committed by the team this season, a quarter of them have come from Gooden’s hands.

He coughed the ball up six times against NDU, and dealing with pesky perimeter defenders like Marin, Knight and Nick Fleming could give him some trouble on Thursday.

Staine, on the other hand, has been much more stable with the ball. He leads the team with 13 assists and has just three turnovers on the season. 

Gooden stands at 5’11” and seems like a good matchup for Marin, who is listed at 6’0”. Staine is much taller (6’6”) and SUU head coach Todd Simon might stick Jones (6’7”) on him. The T-Birds match up well with Dixie’s primary creators, and Marin and Jones might be able suffocate the offensive attack at its source.

2. Get DSU in foul trouble

Judkins relies heavily on four players (Gooden, Staine, Nicolds and defensive stopper Dason Youngblood) who play more than 20 MPG, partly because his centers have struggled to defend without fouling.

Starting center Jarod Greene picked up four fouls against UND and Denver. His backup, fellow senior Schofield, had four fouls against UND and three against Denver and St. Katherine. Mikey Frazier, a 6’11” community college transfer, performed well in relief against UND, scoring six points and grabbing three rebounds in 19 minutes.

Even Staine, who spends some time in the frontcourt in smaller lineups, picked up four fouls against UND and Denver.

With SUU’s penchant for driving the lane and scoring near the rim, Dixie is going to have quite the task of making life difficult for Knight, Jones, Fausett and Madunic inside without losing players to the bench because of early fouls.

Expect SUU to try and get to the free throw line often, because if the T-Birds can keep Dixie’s big guys off the court, they’ll have open lanes to the basket to exploit all game long.

3. Incorporating Aanen Moody

After playing a few minutes against Loyola Marymount in the season opener, Moody has not seen on court action since being withheld out of an abundance of caution due to coming in contact with someone who had COVID-19.

Southern Utah has been sailing despite Moody’s absence, but his offensive firepower is an asset too valuable for Simon to leave on the bench.

Fleming stepped up as the first guard off the bench in Moody’s absence, hitting a crucial free throw against Montana and playing crucial minutes down the stretch against UVU. Fleming may have done enough already to earn his keep and secure a spot in the rotation, but if Simon thinks Moody needs to play, his minutes will have to cut into someone else’s.

Simon may elect to unleash Moody against the NAIA opponents so he can knock some rust off, but his role in the DSU game will be interesting to watch as Simon shuffles his rotation for the rest of the season.

Simon will surely take things on a game to game basis, but if Moody can get things going against DSU, it will put the coach in a spot most coaches would envy: too many good players and not enough minutes to give them.

It will be interesting to watch Simon navigate that position.

What, Where, and How?

The games will be broadcast live on PlutoTV Channel 1,055 with the game against Dixie State scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. in the America First Events Center. 

Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics Strategic Communication