Southern Utah Men’s Basketball To Play Early-Season Thanksgiving Tournament In Florida – The Spectrum

Chris Kwiecinski, St. George Spectrum & Daily News Published 2:24 p.m. MT June 16, 2021

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Southern Utah men’s basketball will be getting away from the Cedar City winter in late November and taking their talents to south Florida.

The Thunderbirds were invited to the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off Tournament as part of the tournament’s expansion, joining three other teams in the tournament’s Palm Division according to a release Wednesday.

Also joining SUU in the Palm Division field are Bowling Green, Milwaukee and  Yale. These four will play games on November 23 and 24.

Tournament officials will announce the game and television schedules later this summer.

“The combination of top-flight basketball talent and the unmatched sunshine and beaches of Southwest Florida will make for a memorable way to tipoff the 2021-22 college basketball season,” Tournament Director Mark Starsiak said in a written statement. “We look forward to welcoming the teams and their fanbases to during Thanksgiving Week.”

The Tip-Off Tournament games play at Suncoast Credit Union Arena at Florida SouthWestern State College during Thanksgiving Week. The other division in the tournament is the Beach Division, which includes Cal, Florida, Ohio State and Seton Hall.

SUU last played in a non-conference grouped setting in 2019, when it played in the Maui on the Mainland games. The T-Birds played BYU, UCLA, Charleston Southern and East Tennessee State.

SUU went 1-3 in those four games, but came close to upsetting BYU on the Cougars’ home court.

Although the Fort Myers Tip-Off doesn’t look as daunting as the Maui on the Mainland on paper, SUU will still have a chance to get a few non-conference wins under its belt on a neutral site with new-look teams.

Of the four teams in the Palm Division, the T-Birds were the only team to win 20 games last season. Bowling Green finished with a winning record at 14-12, while Milwaukee finished 10-12. Yale didn’t compete during the 2020-21 college basketball season.

Still, each team will provide its own challenges. Milwaukee returns DeAndre Gholston, who averaged 16.8 points per game last year, to add along side top-five recruit Patrick Baldwin Jr. 

Bowling Green returns its second- and third-leading scoring players in Daeqwon Plowden and Trey Diggs, while also adding five transfers to the 2021-2022 roster.

While Yale didn’t compete in the 2020-2021 season, the Bulldogs finished the 2019-2020 season as the Ivy League Conference Champions with a 23-7 record. 

SUU will bring its own experienced core of Dre Marin, John Knight III, Maizen Fausett and Harrison Butler to the table in search of a quick start to the season.

“The evolution of the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off is a reflection of not only the strong appetite for basketball in the area, but also the desire for college basketball’s top programs to compete against premier competition in one of the best vacation destinations in the country,” Starsiak said in a statement.

Chris Kwiecinski covers Region 9, Dixie State and Southern Utah athletics for The Spectrum. Follow him on Twitter @OchoK_, and contact him at CKwiecinsk@thespectrum.com, or (435) 414-3261.