Going into January, Southern Utah University men’s basketball is 8-4 on the season. That record includes a 2-0 record in Big Sky Conference games already but the new year is when conference play fully begins. The Thunderbirds had big expectations for the season coming in and it is now time to step back and assess how this team is performing. So, what are their biggest strengths and weaknesses?
The preseason showed this team’s biggest strength is its depth. Their leading scorers are guards John Knight III (16.2 ppg), Tevian Jones (13.1 ppg) and Dre Marin (11.8 ppg) along with forward Maizen Fausett (11.5 ppg). Guards Harrison Butler and Aanen Moody have been the first players off the bench and have been making their presence felt with just over six ppg each. Of the six leading scorers, each player has had good games and bad games and that is where the depth comes in. They do not need every one of their stars to be dialed in every single game.
Championship-caliber teams at any level need to show that they can overcome adversity. SUU men’s basketball has had their fair share of itover their first 12 games. A 1-3 start to the season included a heartbreaking rivalry loss to Dixie State University, a blowout loss at St. Mary’s College of California and a double overtime loss at Yale University that involved a scoreboard controversy. A weak-willed team would have given up at that point. Instead, this team responded to that rough stretch by winning their division in the Rocket Mortgage Fort Meyers Tip Off Tournament and stomping Dixie in their rematch on Dec. 22.
It should not be a surprise to see Knight III and Jones leading this team in scoring. Both players, along with Fausett, were selected for the Big Sky Preseason All-Conference Team. Jones was also selected as the Big Sky Preseason MVP. In other words, this roster has not one, not two, but three guys who are better than any opponent’s best player at almost any given moment. This has already proven to be important in close games like the 60-56 win over Utah Valley University.
The Thunderbirds are shooting right around 30% from three this season, a drop from 34% last year. Only one player who sees considerable minutes, Moody, is making over 40% of their threes this year. On top of that, big-name players like Fausett and Jones are shooting only 27% and 28% respectively. SUU needs to shoot more consistently from three if they truly wish to win the Big Sky.
Defending the Paint
Time and time again, SUU has struggled to stop opponents if they have a talented post player. Centers Hunter Schofield from Dixie, Fardaws Aimaq from UVU and Hunter Dickinson from the University of Michigan led their teams in scoring against SUU. SUU did shut down Schofield in their rematch, but so far that game is the exception — not the norm. SUU has guarded the perimeter well but their interior defense needs to step up.
At 8-2, it is hard to find a lot about this team that is not going well. One red flag though is their turnover differential. The Thunderbirds have 175 turnovers in 12 games this season, or 14.5 per game. Meanwhile, SUU’s opponents are averaging just under 13 per game. Leading the team is Knight III with 47. SUU will need to take better care of the basketball as to not give their Big Sky opponents any extra possessions.
SUU men’s basketball will resume Big Sky play on Thursday, Dec. 30 at home against the Sacramento State University Hornets. The Thunderbirds are looking to win their 20th home game in a row at the America First Event Center. Tip off is at 7 p.m. and the game can also be live-streamed on ESPN+.
Story By: Christian Esparza
Photo Courtesy of SUU Athletics