Season preview: Men’s basketball

SUU’s men’s basketball team has their sights set on a different post-season tournament this year.

The Southern Utah University men’s basketball team is coming off of their most successful season to date, going 20-4 on the season and 12-2 in conference play. Picked to finish as low as seventh in preseason polls, head coach Todd Simon and his team put the conference on notice and surged to the top of the conference standings, ultimately resulting in a regular season conference championship and an undefeated home record. The Thunderbirds fell short in the conference tournament, losing to Montana State University 77-80 in the tournament semifinals. 

Notable Departures:

Ivan Madunic, 6-10, F/C, 4 PPG, 4 RPG, 18.5 MPG

Ivan Madunic was one of the players who Simon built his program around. A hard-working, high-character, silent leader on the team, his locker room presence will be missed more than his on-court production. Madunic started all 23 of the games he played for the T-Birds last year, but his usage dwindled as the season wore on, averaging just 2 PPG and 2.5 RPG in 12 MPG during the Big Sky Tournament. Over the last six games of the season, Madunic averaged just 1.5 PPG and 2.8 RPG in 13.7 MPG. SUU’s centers should not have a hard time posting better numbers this year.

Returning Starters:

The Thunderbirds will return four of their five starters from last season’s deep playoff run. 

Tevian Jones, 6-7, G/F, 16.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 35% 3PT, 28.1 MPG
Tevian Jones received SUU’s first ever Big Sky First Team All-Conference award last year with season averages of 17 points per game and 4.5 rebounds per game. Jones was voted as Big Sky Conference Preseason MVP and is hoping to have an even better year than last. Jones is long and versatile–listed at 6’7” and with a wing span even longer, he will be a nightmare for every team in the conference. Shooting 35% from three means that he can attack in whatever way he chooses, and we can expect to see a lot of big performances from Jones this season. 

John Knight III, 6-3, G, 14.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 5.2 APG, 31.7 MPG
Knight comes into his third year at SUU after transferring from Utah State University. Knight played the most minutes for the T-birds last year as well as led the team in assists per game, averaging just over five. Knight was named to the All-Conference Second Team last year and was named to the All-Conference Preseason Team this year. Knight is another one of the toughest in the conference–listed at 6’3” with the ability to out-leap everybody on the opposing team, Knight is as good of a finisher at the rim as there is in the conference.

Maizen Fausett, 6-6, F, 13.5 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 41.4% 3PT, 28.2 MPG
Maizen Faussett is every coach’s favorite player, doing all of the little things necessary to help win games. Faussett was named Second Team All-Conference last season, finishing with 13.5 ppg, 7 rpg, and shot over 40% from three on the year. He looks to continue his meteoric rise in his senior season, having been named to the All-Conference Preseason Team alongside teammates Jones and Knight.

Dre Marin, 6-0, G, 12 PPG, 4 RPG, 2.8 APG, 44.2% 3PT, 29 MPG
One of Simon’s first recruits, Marin has been starting for the T-Birds since he was a freshman. By the end of this season, Marin will have started and played in more games than anybody in the history of SUU. Marin was an All-Conference Honorable Mention last season, and though he lacks some accolades, he may well prove to be the most important player on the team this season. 

Notable Contributors:

The man that Simon hopes to replace Madunic with is Jason Spurgin. Spurgin, who was Madunic’s understudy last year, is coming into his second season as a T-Bird and is going to be seeing a much increased role. After only seeing five minutes a game last year, Simon is hoping Spurgin can be the starter and the main center on the team.

 “[Spurgin] added 20-30 pounds and has really emerged as a core player this offseason,” said Simon. “His development has been as big as anything for our team because he gives us that 6’10” presence. We think he is going to be terrific.”  

Spurgin’s main backup will be Malik Muhammed, a 6’9” transfer from Central Michigan University who averaged 5 PPG and 6 RPG in just 14 starts and 20 mpg at CMU.  

First off the bench will presumably be another long time Thunderbird, Harrison Butler. Butler has started 24 games over his career at SUU and has played in 89. It was Butler who was usually playing “crunch time” at the end of last season. With his amount of experience, it is almost like having another returning starter. 

The “second unit” is overflowing with talent that will be hard for coach Simon to keep off of the floor. 

Aanen Moody was one of the best three point shooters in the nation when he got to SUU and has been playing really well throughout the early practices and scrimmages. Dee Barnes is another great shooter who has made real strides in the off season and will be seeing an increased role this year. Nick Fleming, who averaged just over 12 minutes a game last season, is the main backup point guard to Marin and has really adapted nicely to Simon’s style of offense, poised to see an increase in playing time throughout the season. 

In other words, there is no shortage of personnel for the 2021-22 team.

“We’ve got 10 or 11 starters,” said Simon. “I’ve got options. That is where having a lot of players really helps, you don’t get stuck in a situation where you can only win one way. We have made a roster where we can win a lot of ways.” 

Expect to see a lot of players making a difference as the Thunderbirds look to win the Big Sky Conference Tournament and claim a spot in the NCAA March Madness Tournament. 

The Thunderbirds open their season at home against Bethesda University on Tuesday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. in the America First Event Center. 

SUU women’s basketball opens their season away at California State Fullerton on Nov. 9 as well. For a preview of their season, click here.

Article By: Parker Haynie

Photo Courtesy of SUU Athletics