Sunday, September 12, 2010

Summit League Schedule Scrutinization: Southern Utah

For the next few weeks, we'll be scrutinizing over the schedules announced by the various Summit League schools. Generally, they'll appear in alphabetical order with an array of thoughts on the teams and their opponents. The general idea behind this comes from a similar feature on, where writer Zach Hayes kindly encouraged us to adopt some pieces of the format for use here, though you'll find plenty of Summit League flair in the words below.

Southern Utah University

General Theme: If there is one thing that sticks out about the Southern Utah men's basketball schedule in 2010-11, it's that the Thunderbirds will not be taking any guaranteed beatings at the hands of BCS powers. Instead, the team has put together a cavalcade of games against teams largely operating at the same level. The T-Birds play a few games against Big West competition and will see a pair of in-state teams - Weber State and Utah State - come to Cedar City. UNLV on the road stands out as the only game where SUU will be supremely over-matched. The team will also travel to Alaska for the Great Alaska Shootout where they'll face Drake in the first round and either Ball State or St. John's in the second. From there, they'll either have Houston Baptist, Arizona State, Weber State, or Alaska Anchorage.

Travel At A Glance: The SUU non-conference schedule plays to SUU's region, with games in Nevada, California, and Alaska. Truly, the Summit League portion of the team's schedule is just further proof that they're wasting a lot of money on travel by sticking in this league.

Easiest Game: There are no easy games for SUU, aside from the teams they play outside of Division I. Hopefully they'll take care of Centenary this year, proving that their much more talented than a team reclassifying to Division III.

Toughest Game: This one definitely goes to UNLV on the road. There aren't too many incredibly tough games on the SUU schedule (well, without knowing their other opponents in Alaska) so there shouldn't be too many non-conference thrashings. This will be positive for the team's confidence heading into conference play.

Most Likely Upset: Southern Utah will have to play forty great minutes of basketball on November 20th if they want to take down Utah State when that team visits Cedar City. It's nearly impossible to win at USU, so the Thunderbirds should be glad to get them at home. A win over a quality in-state team would do wonders for SUU's profile.

Most Challenging Non-Conference Stretch: Utah State, even if the game is on SUU's home court, will be a very tough game for Roger Reid's players. They follow that game with a trip to Alaska where they'll have to plan for an unknown opponent twice in two days. This could be a particularly gloomy stretch if things are not jiving for the T-Birds.

Most Challenging Conference Stretch: Perhaps I'm overestimating the toll of the Alaskan trip, but to go from Alaska all the way to the Midwest for games against Oakland (12/2) and IPFW (12/3) on just four days rest sounds brutal to me. Oakland and IPFW will be doing everything they can to avoid a letdown in these matches, which is why it will extremely tough for SUU to come away from here with anything other than an 0-2 conference start.

Best Individual Match-Up: With Davis Baker gone, it's difficult picking any one player who stands out for Southern Utah. They'll have quite a few new faces this season, but my best guess is that junior Matt Massey will begin to fill the roll of team-leader, at least in the paint. I remember Massey as a frail post-player last season, but if he was able to add some muscle during the off-season to go along with natural progression, he could jump up a bit from the 8 points and 4 rebounds he averaged last season. Seeing him play against some of the better bigs in the conference will tell us a lot about his role for Coach Reid.

Most Anticipated Home Game: Basketball has been fairly solid in the state of Utah lately, and a big reason why is because of the success of Utah State. Stew Morrill's team is unbeatable at home and has been able to receive at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament out of the WAC. Morrill has a pretty firm scheduling philosophy (he rarely takes "guarantee games" without some kind of return game in Logan, Utah) which has brought a lot of excitement to the program during his tenure. Southern Utah should look to the Aggies for both how to build a winning program and avid fanbase. They can start by showing up to play for the game at Centrum Arena on November 20th.

Concluding Thoughts: This is a sound schedule for Southern Utah. The team hasn't taken on more than it can handle and was able to secure a number of intriguing home matches in the process. Hopefully the Thunderbirds can put together a decent season built around the opponents seen here.

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