WYOMING BASKETBALL: Top 25 Votes, Projected March Madness Games and an Anticipated Conference Player of the Year for Wyoming Men’s Basketball Entering the 2022-23 Season

Cowboy basketball begins season with high hopes and eyes set on NCAA tournament

Junior guard Ethan Anderson, who transferred to Wyoming from USC, has started as the Cowboys' point guard in the first four games of the season. (Courtesy photo from University of Wyoming Athletics)

By Kaycee Clark-Mellott

Special to the Wyoming Truth

LARAMIE, Wyo.—In  a season filled with surprises, the 2021-22 University of Wyoming men’s basketball team competed in the NCAA tournament—a feat not many expected the Cowboys to achieve. Now, the team is hoping for a repeat with the addition of three transfers from California.  

Head coach Jeff Linder made big splash by bringing in guard Ethan Anderson (USC), forward Max Agbonkpolo (USC) and forward Jake Kyman (UCLA) after UW guard Drake Jeffries declined his extra year of eligibility.

Linder also signed a contract extension through the 2027 season.

During the summer, the team gained a valuable bonding experience while traveling together in Greece, and playing three games against local teams.  

Nov 13, 2022; Laramie, WY, USA; Wyoming Cowboys forward Jeremiah Oden (25) against the Southeastern Louisiana Lions at Arena-Auditorium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-UW Media-Athletics

Inching closer to the new season, the MWC media’s predicted order of finish saw the Cowboys ranked second in their poll, with four first-place votes. The media also selected the MWC Preseason All-Conference team which includes two Pokes: guard and sixth-year senior Hunter Maldonado and junior forward Graham Ike, who also was named the MWC Preseason Player of the Year.

With UW looking like a powerful contender in the conference and eyes set on reappearing in the NCAA tournament, bad news shocked the Pokes’ fanbase.  

Three days before the team’s first regular season game on Nov. 7, Wyoming announced that Ike had sustained a lower leg injury that would sideline him for six to eight weeks.

However, the team still received 25 votes to be ranked in the AP Top 25, which  put the Cowboys at No. 34 in the country according to AP, and No. 38 on the Coaches Poll.  

The team opened its new season against Colorado Christian on Nov. 7. After a 15-point lead at halftime without Ike, the Cowboys scored triple digits against the Cougars, winning 102-69. Six players scored double digits, with junior forward Jeremiah Oden leading the way with 17 points, four rebounds and two blocks.

“In our program, the culture is next man up, no matter what happens,” Maldonado said. “We all have put in a bunch of work over the summer together, so, I know there is a great chemistry. Any guy that comes in is going to be ready to play.”

Next, Wyoming hosted Nicholls State on Nov. 10. This contest quickly became one that both teams would like to forget. Wyoming committed 20 turnovers while Nichols had 17. A spark off the bench was Brenden Wenzel, who scored 20 points with 15 of them coming from 3-pointers. The Cowboys led nearly the entire game to win 79-68.

“Everyone that either starts or comes off the bench has a significant impact on how we play,” Wenzel said.

Linder thought many of the turnovers were the reason why it wasn’t a more convincing victory

“As the game went on… and we always had that lead, but we could never stretch it, from the fact that we would turn it over or they would make the tough shots,” Linder said.

Wyoming hosted its third game in six days in Laramie against Southeast Louisiana. The team shot 31.3% from the field, and a late comeback by the Cowboys was halted, contributing to the team’s 76-72 loss.  

“We’re a work-in-progress… I’ve told the guys, ‘Nobody cares, but how are we going to respond?’” Linder asked. “That’s what I’m looking forward to see in our tournament in the [U.S.] Virgin Islands.”

This weekend, the Cowboys are competing in the Paradise Jam tournament ion St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands featuring teams from, Buffalo, Drake, Howard, Tarleton State, Belmont, Boston College and George Mason. On Friday, Wyoming prevailed in a back-and-forth close game against Howard that ended in a Cowboy win, 78-71. Wyoming and Maldonado had a bounce back game, limiting turnovers to 11 and shooting 61% from the field. While Maldonado scored 28 points and had three steals, the Pokes still continued to struggle defensively, allowing 12 offensive rebounds.  

Following the team’s first victory in the tournament, the Cowboys will face Drake on Nov. 20 at 3:45 p.m. MST. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3 and on the radio through the Cowboy Sports Network and its 25 affiliate stations.

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