Hopes high as Dixie State hoops begins final season in PacWest

File photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – The Dixie State men’s basketball team will begin its season Friday night on the road against Cal Poly Pomona in the CCAA/PacWest Challenge on the Broncos’ home court.

The game begins a stretch of seven road games over a 15-day period to open the season. The Trailblazers will not have their first home game until they open conference play on Dec. 2 against Academy of Art.

“That is unusual for us to not have any pre-conference home games,” Dixie State head coach Jon Judkins said. “Participating in early-season invitationals has teams rotating as hosts in different years. Next year, we will host two in the early season.”

Dixie State will face top programs early in the season. After their initial game against Cal Poly-Pomona, the Blazers will play UC-San Diego the following night. The Tritons were 27-6 last year and were the team that eliminated Dixie State from the NCAA tournament.

Dixie State’s Brandon Simister (10) is back to pilot the Trailblazers | File photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

The following weekend, the Blazers travel to Western Oregon. The Wolves are two years removed from reaching the Division II final four. The following weekend, DSU will face perennial GNAC contender Seattle Pacific and a top NSAA program in Dickinson State.

“We try to schedule tough competition early,” Judkins said. “We like to play several of our guys in the early part of the year. We want to see who plays well together. We usually have a settled rotation by the time conference season arrives.”

The Trailblazers trail only California Baptist in the PacWest preseason poll. Both teams are playing their last year in the PacWest Conference. Dixie State will move to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference next year while the Lancers will move up to NCAA Division I classification.

Following Dixie State and rounding out the top half of the conference are perennial contenders Point Loma, Concordia, Azusa Pacific, Chaminade and Hawaii Pacific.

“Cal Baptist has a lot coming back and picked up a couple of good transfers,” Judkins said. “But the difference in talent between the top seven teams is nominal.”

Dixie State lost post players Marcus Bradley and Josh Fuller.

“We really only lost two guys,” Judkins said. “And Marcus filled Josh’s role when he went down early. But this year, we don’t really have the physicality those two guys brought. We think that Julien Decree (CSU-Monterey Bay transfer) can provide that for us. He is out with injury right now, but should be back soon.”

BACKCOURT

Dixie State returns most of its production in the backcourt. Preseason all-PacWest selection Trevor Hill (14.4 ppg) along with Brandon Simister (11.3 ppg, 3.5 apg) and Kyler Nielsen form a complementary three-guard combo. Hill is a slasher that gets to the rim, but has also added a respectable 3-point shot. Simister is a speedy point guard that can also hit from distance. Nielson joined the trio later in the season last year.

Trevor Hill (24) is the top returning scorer for Dixie State | File photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

“We started Quincy Matthews to start the year,” Judkins said. “He went down with injury. Kyler stepped up and kept his starting spot with his continued great play.” Nielson averaged 10.8 points per game in the starting role.

Matthews (6.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg) could start along the three in the frontcourt if the Blazers play a smaller lineup but should also see significant time on the wing. Pushing Simister for time at the point are Daylor Youngblood and Tarik Cool.

“Daylor (Youngblood) will be a regular in the rotation,” Judkins said. “Tarik (Cool) did not have a particularly good redshirt season last year. It is hard to go through that though, practicing when you don’t get to play in the games. But he showed up this year ready to play. He has impressed us quite a bit in the exhibition games.”

Two other players likely to start or see significant action is Wade “Bubba” Miller and Utah transfer Brandon Miller (11.8 ppg).

“Brandon tore his ACL last year,” Judkins said. “He is still not 100 percent. Last year we just scratched the surface seeing what Bubba can do. He is a great shooter.”

FRONTCOURT

Dixie State’s Zac Hunter (34) | File photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

In the frontcourt, the Blazers return Zac Hunter (8.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg), Austin Montgomery (4.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg), Dub Price (4.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Isaiah Clark.

“Zac is a steady player and a threat at the offensive end,” Judkins said. “Austin has also shown some good offensive play. Isaiah is more of a defensive player and with Dub, we always know we are going to get a good solid defender that rebounds well and makes the extra pass.

“We have a deep roster. That will be key for us in the early going with so many games on the road. I expect our six seniors will lead us on the court in production and playing time. But we can go 10-12 deep if necessary.”

COACHING

Head coach Jon Judkins begins his 13th season as the DSU head coach, where he has compiled a 221-110 record. For his career, Judkins has amassed a 505-238 record. Judkins has led the Trailblazers to nine straight winning seasons, including six 20-win seasons. In that time, DSU has won five PacWest championships and seven trips to the NCAA Tournament.

Dixie State head coach Jon Judkins | File photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Judkins is joined on the bench by former DSU players Kasey Winters and Jeremiah Barnes. Also assisting voluntarily will be former Ute basketball player David Foster.

With the exception of Dixie State’s first trip this weekend to Southern California, all games will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio 97.7 FM, with Keric Seegmiller and Devin Dixon calling the games. In addition, live streaming video of all home games can be found on DSU Athletics’ official YouTube channel at youtube.com/DixieStateAthletics.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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