From SUU ATHLETICS STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION
CEDAR CITY–With a winning record and an eye on a much improved campaign, the Thunderbird men’s basketball team will kick off Big Sky Conference play this week as they host the Bobcats of Montana State and the Grizzlies of Montana.
After taking on a difficult non-conference slate packed with Big Ten, Pac-12 and Mountain West teams among others, the Thunderbirds are making final preparations for conference play with a 6-5 record. The last time the Thunderbird men’s basketball program finished non-conference play above .500 before this season was the 2006-07 season, when the team jumped out to a 10-5 start. This year’s team was only the fourth since the year 2000 at SUU to finish non-conference play with a winning record.
After falling to Oregon State and Boise State to start the season, SUU quickly found some positives with a two straight home victories against San Jose State and Benedictine at Mesa. After a solid effort in Las Vegas against UNLV, the Thunderbirds went on a three game winning streak with victories against Pepperdine, San Diego Christian and Long Beach State.
SUU’s final three non-conference matchups were a loss at No. 3 Michigan State, despite a strong performance, a victory against Central Michigan at home and a loss on the road to the Big Ten’s Iowa.
Jadon Cohee led the offensive effort for the T-Birds during non-conference play, averaging 16.4 points per game. That also puts him 12th in the Big Sky Conference in scoring. Cohee is also second in the Big Sky Conference in assists, with 48 for an average of 4.4 per contest.
Brandon Better has averaged 13.6 ppg coming off the bench for Southern Utah, and leads the team in three pointers made with 26. He is ninth in the Big Sky in that category.
Ivan Madunic is ninth in the Big Sky in rebounding with an average of 6.1 rebounds per game. He’s also third in the Big Sky in three point field goal percentage (47 percent) and fourth in blocked shots (11).
Southern Utah is second in the conference in scoring offense, averaging over 80 points a game. They’re also second in the league in free throw percentage at 73 percent, and turnover margin with a +3.27. The team is third when it comes to assist/turnover ratio at 1.2.
Opponent Preview: Montana State Bobcats
The Bobcats will head to Cedar City with a 7-6 record, after finishing non-conference play 4-1 at home, 1-5 on the road and 2-0 at neutral sites.
Tyler Hall was named Preseason MVP of the Big Sky Conference, and currently sits ninth in the Big Sky Conference in terms of scoring with a 17.3 ppg average. He is the top player in the Big Sky Conference when it comes to three pointers made, sinking 42 so far this year for an average of 3.5 per game.
Herald Frey averages 14.8 ppg, and leads the team in assists (43) and steals (11). Frey is also second in the Big Sky in terms of free throw percentage.
Opponent Preview: Montana Grizzlies
After making a trip to Flagstaff to take on Northern Arizona, the Montana Grizzlies will make their way to Cedar City for a matchup with the T-Birds.
The Grizzlies sit with a 7-5 record after Big Sky Conference play, winning three of their last five heading into the Big Sky.
Ahmaad Rorie is sixth in the Big Sky when it comes to scoring, with an average of 17.9 ppg. He’s also fourth in the conference in assists (3.7 per game) and seventh in steals (1.7 per game).
Michael Oguine is the top player in the Big Sky in terms of offensive rebounding, with a total of 32 so far this season.
Big Sky At A Glance
The Thunderbirds were one of seven teams in the Big Sky to come away with a winning record. Portland State sits on top of the Big Sky with a record of 10-3. The Vikings picked up big wins over Utah State, Stanford and California, giving them two victories against teams from the Pac-12 Conference.
Northern Colorado will enter Big Sky play with a 9-4 record, closely followed by Idaho with an 8-4 mark. Montana and Weber State sit at 7-5, with SUU close behind with a 6-5 record. Montana State was the seventh team in the Big Sky to escape non-conference play with a winning record at 7-6.
Words From Coach Simon
On the biggest improvements he’d like to see from the team heading into conference play…
“We’ve got to be better on the glass,” SUU head coach Todd Simon said. “We’ve got to work on not fouling in the post, and not trying to get everything back on one shot or one possession. We take those lessons and apply them to the league games we think we can have some success.”
On the strength of the Big Sky Conference…
“I think with all the non-conference wins we’ve posted against a number of leagues shows that the Big Sky is very good this year,” Simon said. “There’s not going to be any easy games. Every game is going to be high level basketball, and we’ve got to be ready and prepared to play clean basketball against all of our opponents.”
Tip off on Thursday will be be at 6:30 p.m., with tip time on Saturday set for 12:30 p.m.