Men’s basketball to enter Big Sky Tournament as No. 2 seed

Before the 2021-22 college basketball season started, Southern Utah University was picked as the favorite to win the Big Sky Conference in both the coaches and media preseason polls. Four and a half months later, the Thunderbirds finished No. 2 in the conference with a 20-10 overall record and 14-6 in the Big Sky. 

Southern Utah is loaded with talent from top to bottom with three players earning Big Sky All-Conference honors. Senior guard John Knight III was named First Team All-Big Sky after he averaged 14.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game in the regular season. Knight III also led the conference in steals per game with 2.1. 

Guard Tevian Jones and forward Maizen Fausett were both named Third Team All-Big Sky. Jones led the Thunderbirds in scoring on the season with 14.6 points per game and the Preseason MVP enjoyed a career night in the team’s win over Portland State University as he scored 36 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Fausett was fourth in the conference in rebounds per game with 8.2 to go along with 12.1 points. 

Tournament preview

Unfortunately for Southern Utah, Jones will not play the Conference Tournament after fracturing his wrist against Montana State University on Feb. 24. The Thunderbirds face a tall task trying to stamp their ticket to March Madness without their leading scorer but they have plenty of firepower left. In place of Jones, look for either sharpshooter Aanen Moody or sixth-man Harrison Butler to start. 

Finishing as the No. 2 seed, the Thunderbirds are placed behind only Montana State and will have a bye in the first round of the tournament. Their first game will be on Thursday, March 10, at 5:30 p.m. against No. 7 Portland State. Following the women’s team’s loss on Tuesday night to the University of Idaho, the pressure is on the men to not go one-and-done. 

A look at Portland State

The Vikings finished the season below .500 at 12-15 overall and 10-10 in the Big Sky. They played their first tournament game against Idaho State University on Wednesday, March 9, where they escaped with a 66-52 victory. The game was neck-and-neck until midway through the second half where back-to-back dunks from the Vikings completely stole any momentum the Bengals may have had. 

Their leading scorer this season has been forward Khalid Thomas. Thomas, who had 17 points against Idaho State, averaged 12.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. As a senior, he is the clear leader of this team both on and off the court. 

The Thunderbirds won both games against the Vikings this season — first winning 86-76 in Cedar City before winning an 85-82 overtime thriller in Portland, Oregon. That was the game that saw Jones score 36 points on 57%. If this matchup comes down to the wire, the Thunderbirds will not have Jones to rely on this time. 

Looking ahead

If the Thunderbirds make it past the Vikings on Thursday night, they will play the winner of the University of Northern Colorado and Eastern Washington University in the semifinals. UNC finished as the No. 3 seed so they earned a first-round bye as well. The No. 6 seeded Eagles scraped past No. 11 Northern Arizona University 78-75 to make it to the quarterfinals.

Southern Utah’s quarterfinals matchup is scheduled for Thursday, March 10 at 5:30 p.m. All games will be played at the Idaho Central Arena and can be streamed on ESPN+.

Article by: Christian Esparza

Photo Courtesy of SUU Athletics