Wyoming not the only team falling victim to the upset
LARAMIE -- Ready to give up on these Cowboys after just six games?
Feel free, but that could come back to haunt you in March.
The college basketball landscape has been littered with early upsets this fall. Tennessee fell to Colorado 78-66 in Nashville. That same CU team got drilled by Grambling two days prior.
North Carolina was the No. 1 team in the nation last week. That is until the Tar Heels fell to an unranked Iowa State team. TCU was a preseason AP Top 15 team. Northwestern State took care of that with a 64-53 victory in Fort Worth. Villanova was also listed in the preseason rankings. The Wildcats are now 2-5 overall with losses to Temple and Portland. Oregon sat in the No. 21 spot prior to the season. That was short lived. Florida A&M hammered the Ducks 80-45 in the opener.
Mountain West foe and defending conference champion, Boise State, dropped its home opener to a 3-4 South Dakota State squad, 68-66.
Some of the big names on Wyoming's non-conference slate have also taken some early body blows.
Santa Clara, the Pokes' next opponent, has lost to unranked Utah State and UCF. Grand Canyon, which visits Laramie on Saturday, has lost to Nevada and Wichita State. Louisiana Tech dropped a 94-88 decision to in-state rival Louisiana and Saint Mary's fell to Washington 68-64 in overtime in the Wooden Classic.
That brings us to the Cowboys.
Yes, there have been some ugly losses early on, none more so than a 76-72 letdown against Southeastern Louisiana inside the Arena-Auditorium. The Lions are 4-3 and have beaten the likes of Loyola (LA), Campbell and William Carey. Ever hear of those schools? Aside from Campbell, ESPN doesn't even have logos for the other two.
Southeastern Louisiana sits at No. 306 in the KenPom ratings. In layman's terms, that's a bad loss.
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There are many reasons why Wyoming is off to a pedestrian 3-3 start.
Not having the Mountain West Preseason Player of the Year, Graham Ike, is a major one. The 6-foot-9, 255-junior suffered a lower-leg injury before the season opener. UW head coach Jeff Linder said Monday Ike will be sidelined until "sometime in January."
That's potentially 20 points and 10 rebounds missing from the lineup, not to mention the double teams and attention the big man draws on a nightly basis. His presence is sorely missed.
Linder said all the movement around college basketball via the NCAA Transfer Portal could be to blame for some of these early upsets around the country. Wyoming has three newcomers of its own in Ethan Anderson and Max Agbonkpolo from USC and former UCLA guard Jake Kyman.
"We're in a new day and age where roster makeup, roster management is a lot different with more teams with transfers," Linder said. "Every team is really starting from scratch. I think you see that a lot of the games where maybe the team that's supposed to win doesn't win ... Last year, at this time, we had our roster set, we had our rotation set. I think we're still trying to figure that out. Part of that, too, is the players trying to make that job easy for me to decide whether or not they play more or they don't. I think that's where we've had a lot of inconsistency."
The stats also tell a tale.
Wyoming is ranked seventh in the Mountain West in scoring, averaging 72.5 points per game. On the flipside, the Cowboys defense is allowing opponents to net 67.3. That's eighth in the 11-team conference.
Linder's team is near the bottom in plenty of critical categories:
* No. 9: field-goal percentage, .441
* No. 10: opponent field-goal percentage, .436
* No. 7: 3-point field-goal percentage, .337
* No. 9: 3-point field-goal percentage defense, .341
* No. 7: Free-throws percentage, .685
* No. 9: Combined rebounding, 35
* No. 9: Defensive rebounding, 25.7
* No. 9: Assist/ turnover ratio, 0.94
Ike's return will help. Consistency in the lineup, Linder said, could, too.
"I think as we move forward, we're trying to really kind of tighten the rotation down to probably eight guys," he said. "I think from there, let those guys figure it out. And if they don't figure it out, then maybe we have somebody else, but in the meantime, we're not going to be playing nine or 10 guys."
Hunter Maldonado, Wyoming's other First Team All-Mountain West Preseason selection, suffered a head injury in the first half of the Cowboys' 59-48 loss to Boston College in the finale of the Paradise Jam Nov. 21 in St. Thomas. Linder said he's in hopes the guard can suit up Tuesday afternoon against Santa Clara in Salt Lake City.
Maldonado leads the team, averaging 14.7 points, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals per outing.
Linder said he is also looking for more contribution from guards Noah Reynolds and Brendan Wenzel. Agbonkpolo, he said, will play more with a daunting schedule ahead.
Can this team hang on until Ike returns to the lineup?
Linder dropped a comparison that might just hit home.
"Look at Fresno State football, I mean, they started out the season 1-4," he said. "I'm sure there were a lot of people thinking that they couldn't win a game and they weren't very good. Then, lo and behold, guess what happened? The starting quarterback came back. And what did they win, seven games in a row? They are one of the hottest teams in the country.
"So, you know, in the meantime, I said until Graham comes back, you know, guys have to figure it out because no one's going to feel sorry for them. No one is going to feel sorry for the coaches. We need more from these guys and they know that. Hopefully they can figure that out."
Wyoming (3-3) and Santa Clara (5-2) are scheduled to tipoff at 2 p.m. Mountain Time Wednesday in Salt Lake City. The game will be streamed on FLOSports.
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