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Cedar City • In one of the least surprising results in the history of preseason college basketball polls, Southern Utah was voted to finish last in the Big Sky Conference this season.
Coach Nick Robinson understands.
"It's where we should be picked," he said. "We were one of the worst teams in the country last year, much less the Sky."
It's hard to argue.
In Robinson's second season, the Thunderbirds finished 2-27. They didn't beat a Division I team until their next-to-last game, when SUU defeated North Dakota, 77-71.
The good news?
According to Robinson, the two-win disaster of 2013-14 was buried a long time ago.
"We put it to bed last spring," he said, "and we don't talk about it. Our returning players remember, of course. But our incoming guys have no idea what last year was like ... and that's our approach. This is a new team."
Southern Utah returns eight players, led by sophomore guard Trey Kennedy, junior wing A.J. Hess, junior forward Casey Oliverson and sophomore guard John Marshall.
Kennedy averaged a team-leading 9.5 points per game last season. Hess averaged 9.3 points. Oliverson (7.0) and Marshall (5.3) also made major contributions for a team built on balance. Twelve different players started at least one game. Ten averaged at least 10 minutes.
Robinson believes the experience his underclassmen gained will pay dividends this season.
"The program is moving in the right direction as far as culture is concerned," Robinson said. "... [But[ we still have a lot of strides to make."
Seven newcomers join the program this season, including junior college transfers Travon Langston and Chris Thompson. Langston is a guard from Utah State-Eastern. Thompson is a wing from Tohono O'odham Community College in Arizona.
"We're excited about the offensive and defensive contributions they will be make to our program," Robinson said. "I believe they bring a new dimension to our team, as well as leadership that we need."
Two freshman could make an impact. Tyler Rawson is a 6-foot-9 forward from American Fork. Sherron Wilson is a 6-foot-6 wing from Las Vegas.
"I'm like our talent and our depth, moving forward," said Robinson, whose Thunderbirds open the season Friday at Kansas State.
Southern Utah's basketball schedule
All times Mountain:
Nov. 14 at Kansas State 7 p.m.
Nov. 16 at Miami (Ohio) noon
Nov. 22 Utah Valley 7 p.m.
Nov. 26 Eastern Kentucky 7 p.m.
Nov. 30 at Texas-San Antonio 11 a.m.
Dec. 6 St. Katherine 7 p.m.
Dec. 14 at Boise State 4:30 p.m.
Dec. 19 at Loyola-Chicago 6 p.m.
x-Dec. 22 Arkansas-Pine Bluff 1 p.m.
x-Dec. 23 South Carolina State or Abilene Christian TBA
Dec. 27 UNLV 8 p.m.
Jan. 1 at Portland State 8 p.m.
Jan. 3 at Sacramento State 8 p.m.
Jan. 10 at Northern Arizona 2 p.m.
Jan. 15 Idaho State 7 p.m.
Jan. 17 Weber State 7 p.m.
Jan. 22 at Montana State 7 p.m.
Jan. 24 at Montana 7 p.m.
Jan. 31 Northern Arizona 7 p.m.
Feb. 5 North Dakota 7 p.m.
Feb. 7 Northern Colorado 7 p.m.
Feb. 12 at Weber State 7 p.m.
Feb. 14 at Idaho State 7 p.m.
Feb. 19 Eastern Washington 7 p.m.
Feb. 21 Idaho 7 p.m.
Feb. 26 at Northern Colorado 7 p.m.
Feb. 28 at North Dakota 1 p.m.
March 5 Sacramento State 7 p.m.
March 7 Portland State 7 p.m.
March 12-14 Big Sky Conference tournament
x-Las Vegas Classic