Editor’s note: This is one of 12 team capsules breaking down the men’s basketball teams in the Big Sky Conference. League play opens on Thursday, December 29. For the other available capsules, click here.
Like most Big Sky teams this non-conference season, Sacramento State’s wins and losses have shared a common denominator: location. The Hornets, a talented, but inconsistent team a season ago, are 3-1 at home and 0-7 away from California’s capital city. Sac State opened with losses in six of its first seven games and didn’t earn a win against a Division I opponent until a double-overtime thriller over Abilene Christian on Dec. 17.
With four starters back from a team that beset by injuries last year, the Hornets return a nucleus that helped them upset Montana at home and pick up a win in the tournament over Montana State before bowing at in the second round after a 17-point loss to the Grizzlies.
With a familiarity and experience throughout the roster, don’t be surprised if Sac State makes a surprise run similar to the season the Hornets put together in 2014-15, a campaign that saw Sac win 21 games.
Current record — 3-8
2015-2016 record: 6-12 in Big Sky play, 14-17 overall.
Big Sky Tournament finish: Sacramento State downed Montana State 79-75 in an exciting first-round game before falling to Montana, 70-53 in the second round.
Head Coach: Brian Katz is in his ninth season at his alma mater after a long tenure as a junior college coach. The 2015 collegeinsider.com National Mid-Major Coach of the Year, Katz is 94-155 in his nine season with the Hornets and had improved their record in each season up until 2015-16 when they were plagued by injuries.
Katz on the upcoming conference campaign: “Often times, the preseason is a complete scramble, games are on different days and times, and you are competing against opponents you’ve never played before. During league play, it kind of all comes together, you are playing like teams and we are excited to jump back into that competitive nature of the Big Sky. Similar to years past, I’m confident that it will be another competitive year in the league.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Marcus Graves — A heady court general who is the second-leading assist man in the conference, Graves has started 42 straight games dating back to last season. Entering conference play, Graves, at an even 6 feet, has scored 21 points in each of the Hornets’ last two games and on better than 50-percent shooting.
Justin Strings — A versatile 6-7 junior who can score in the paint and pop out along the 3-point line, Strings has scored in double figures in 21 of his last 23 games. An honorable mention All-Big Sky selection last season, Strings is averaging 14 points and seven rebounds per game and is a deadly combination with Graves in Sacramento State’s pick-and-roll game.
Nick Hornsby — Hornsby, along with Eric Stuteville and Strings, gives Sacramento State a post presence that not many teams in the Big Sky can claim. One of two seniors in the lineup — the 6-11 Stuteville is also in his last season — Hornsby, at 6-7, is averaging 10.5 points and eight boards and become Sacramento State’s Division I era leader in rebounds.
Eric Stuteville — The 6-11 senior is one of the only true centers in the Big Sky. He is averaging 10.2 points on 65.2 percent shooting. He chips in 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. He has come on strong as of late, leading Sac in scoring in three of the last four and in rebounding in two of those games, posting a pair of double-doubles before conference play.
Cody Demps — Though he missed time with injuries last season, Demps was an immediate shot to the arm for the Sacramento State offense last season. He averaged 12 points per game — 10 during his nine conference games — and was a tough matchup for most Big Sky teams. At 6-4 and athletic enough to play receiver for the football team, Demps finished his four years with Sac State with 914 career points.
Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa — The only freshman in the lineup and the only reserve receiving double-digit minutes per game, Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa hasn’t provided much of a scoring punch, but has gained the trust of Katz. A native of New Zealand, Mauriohooho-Le’Afa has already started eight games and is averaging 2.1 points and two rebounds per game.
Preseason polls finish: Sacramento State was picked to finish eighth by the media and ninth by the coaches.