The biggest loser: What happened to SUU's men's basketball program and how it will try to bounce back
Dennis Montgomery, AP Photo/Standard-Examiner
It’s been a long season for the Southern Utah men’s basketball team.
While Weber State and Utah Valley lead their respective conferences heading into the final weeks of the regular season, and BYU and Utah remain near the NCAA tournament discussion, the Thunderbirds have quietly constructed the longest losing streak in Division I hoops in the midst of a harsh rebuilding season.
SUU has just a few games remaining in what has been the worst season in program history. The T-Birds have lost 24 straight games since winning their season opener over Arizona Christian, an NAIA foe, in November, and SUU has lost 29 straight games against Division I opponents dating back to its last Division I win on Feb. 23, 2013. Many across the country have dubbed SUU as the worst team in college basketball.
But SUU head coach Nick Robinson hopes this season is just a hiccup for the T-Bird basketball program.
“We are building and the process of building sometimes has its ups and downs,” Robinson said. “If we want to continue to work toward building a championship-level program, unfortunately we have to endure some bumps and bruises as we come through this year.”
SUU’s season has been a complete opposite of last year, when the T-Birds were picked to finish 10th in their inaugural Big Sky Conference season but wound up sixth and in the conference tournament.
However, that year ended with four straight losses to close out the regular season, followed by a defeat in the opening round of the Big Sky tournament.
The biggest loss came in the offseason, when the T-Birds lost their top four leading scorers heading into this season. That included two of the Big Sky conference’s top five scorers, Jackson Stevenett and Damon Heuir, who combined to average 33 points per game last year, and other seniors who provided key leadership.
“It’s (been) a challenge to replace those,” Robinson said. “Do we have guys up to that challenge? Sure, but we haven’t been able to produce as nearly as effectively on the court as we would have liked to.”
Instead, SUU entered this year with seven freshmen on its roster and just five upperclassmen.
“I expected that we would have had a better year than what we’re experiencing now,” Robinson said. “I also expected a lot of teaching and a lot of learning for our underclassmen. It’s obviously been a challenging year, but we’ve made considerable progress throughout the course of the year. I definitely expected a little bit more from this basketball team, in terms of wins and losses.”
Ken Pomeroy, one of the nation’s leading basketball sabermetrics (complex statistical analysis) experts and founder of kenpom.com, said youth and inexperience certainly can play a factor in a team’s struggle. Even many of the top high school prospects in the country can struggle with inconsistency in the college game.
However, the T-Birds' struggles have been, at times, beyond that.
“It’s really difficult to win with freshmen, especially as a mid-major,” he said. “I think it’s not difficult to do better than they’re doing now with a young team — you can find young teams out there that have performed better than they have. That’s what has to be concerning.
"Yeah, they will improve next year. They won’t be the worst team in college basketball next year, but how much will they improve? They still have to go a long way just to get into the middle of the Big Sky," he added.
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