First year WAC newcomers meet at last as Dixie State hosts Tarleton State this weekend at the Burns Arena in St. George. The series features a great matchup in the paint between Tarleton’s Jonathan Jackson Jr. and Dixie State’s Hunter Schofield. Both teams have had the up and downs of transitioning to Division I and both look to get a series sweep for the first time this season. The Trailblazers come into the series at 7-10 overall and 3-7 in WAC play, whilst the Texans are 6-8 overall, but only 1-5 in WAC Play.
For Jon Judkins and his Dixie State team, year one in the WAC could be described as a bag of mixed results. A wild rollercoaster ride might be the best description. Simply put, the Trailblazers have struggled to put together a complete series. One game they look strong, the next game they, at times, still look like a Division II team. Series splits against CBU, Seattle U, and Utah Valley exemplify this. In order for the Trailblazers to take the next step, they need to play a complete series before the end of the season. The series matchup with the Texans is a great chance to do that. But Tarleton State is searching for momentum of their own.
Tarleton State is in their first year at the Division I level as well. Comparable to Dixie State first season, the Texans season can be described as the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good includes a narrow loss at Texas A&M, conference win at Utah Valley, and nearly upsetting Grand Canyon twice. The bad includes blowout losses to Weber State and in the West Texas Classic against Abilene Christian.
The ugly is six cancelled non-conference games and a cancelled series against Seattle U due to Covid. Since splitting the series with Utah Valley, Tarleton has only played two games. Both came against non-DI foes in Southwestern Adventist and McMurry College about a week and a half ago. Now Tarleton State comes in having not played Division I competition since January 30th.
For Dixie to finally get a complete series this year against a struggling but feisty Tarleton squad, here’s what they need to do:
KEYS TO THE GAME
Get Schofield Involved
Dixie State has a much more efficient offense and play better as a team when Hunter Schofield is a regular part of the offense. Most recently in their win Saturday in Orem, when Schofield went off for a career high 31 points. Schofield is an ideal inside-out forward that is a luxury in the modern game. He can spread the floor effectively, shooting 33% from beyond the arc, but also has a great inside game with a mid range shot and an effective paint presence. Schofield is establishing himself as a go to scorer.
When Schofield scores in double figures, Dixie State either wins or keeps the game close. Tarleton relies on Jonathon Jackson Jr. for consistent offense, so it will be necessary for Schofield to step up on both sides of the court, limiting Jackson Jr.’s quality looks as well as giving the Tarleton defense a tough matchup down low.
2. Create Open Looks from Distance
Tarleton State’s losses have always come with opponents shooting well from 3, but also getting good looks from mid-range. If Dixie State can spread the floor it will make the Texans help defense struggle to contain all five players, especially when Dixie State has four players on the perimeter. Tarleton State’s defense has often let opponents shoot over 50% from behind the arc in their losses. So, if the Trailblazers can create good ball movement they could possibly have some of their best shooting nights all season.
3. Defensive Consistency
Ironic to suggest this when their last win was a 93-89 offensive shootout against the Wolverines. However, the defensive end of the floor is where Dixie State won the game. The Trailblazers need to keep a level of defensive consistency across both games in order to get their first sweep. Maximum effort, correct scheming, stopping the inside-out game that Tarleton’s offense thrives on. Preventing low post ups, and open 3point looks as much as possible, forcing contested 3 pointers and mid range looks that will keep Tarleton shooting a low % across both games.
My Record So Far: 5-3
I’m above .500 so there’s that at least. Dixie has been typical when I expect them not to be and atypical when I expect typical. This really is a great chance for Dixie to get a series sweep in WAC play for the first time since moving up to Division I. But, the same could also be said of Tarleton. It will all come down to execution. Who can be the most consistent in their game plan? That’s why we play the games after all.
Since covering the Trailblazers I have been pretty pessimistic at times with my expectations for them. You see where that has gotten me so far. But I don’t know if it’s recovery from gallbladder surgery making me appreciate the little things or Valentine’s Day with my amazing wife making me suddenly hopeful, but I expect the Trailblazers to sweep the series. It’s a home series. Tarleton State will be coming in with a little rust. And, Dixie State should be able to get load management figured out. It will be two great games, but a series split nonetheless.