The second era of Larry Shyatt basketball is underway as he looks to transform a program that has fallen on hard times since he left. In the grand scheme of things teams are measured by the basic measuring stick of wins and losses. This season will be about so much more then how the Cowboys place in the standings. Attendance levels dwindled to record lows under Heath Schroyer and it may take some time to get those seats filled again. Larry Shyatt did a great job of building an exciting environment in his first year at Wyoming and wants to rebuild that atmosphere. When a team only wins 20 games over two years it is hard for it's arena to still be called the Dome of Doom.
This team also lost a huge chunk of it's production from last year due to transfer and graduation. F Djibril Thiam completed his eligibility and graduated. With the coaching change brought several transfers including leading scorer Desmar Jackson (Southern Illinois), leading rebounder Amath M'Baye (Oklahoma), Daylen Harrison (Eastern Michigan) and Joe Hudson (Concorda-Irvine). That group accounted for 64.7% of total points, 67.6% of total rebounds, 64.02% of steals and 84.87% of blocks from last season.
The roster is formed basically like a sandwich but with only one slice of meat in the middle with no lettuce or condiments. A set of five seniors comprises one slice of bread: PG JayDee Luster, SG Arthur Bouedo, SG Francisco Cruz, SF Afam Muojeke and C Adam Waddell. Three of those five (Luster, Muojeke and Waddell) have all had major injury concerns the past two years and they will have to be watched very carefully. Their veteran leadership will be a key component to this season and helping to set the tone for the new players.
The second slice consists of four freshmen that represent the future of the program: SF Larry Nance Jr., PG Riley Grabau, F Tyrone Marshall and SG Shakir Smith. Over the season it will be important to watch the development of these players as they adjust to the college game and the new system. It will be exciting to watch their growth because what they learn now will be key as this program rebuilds around them over the next four years.
The meat of the sandwich is small but that doesn't mean it won't be important, that is where the flavor comes from. It is a small group of three players that are juniors and will provide big contributions to this team. The fact there are no sophomores on the team is what makes the meat of the roster so small. All three juniors are transfers but two of them were with the program last year but sat out. F Leonard Washington spent two years at USC before coming to Wyoming and sitting out due to transfer rules. G Luke Martinez transferred from Williston State College for the 2010 season but injured his elbow in the preseason and used a medical redshirt. The newcomer is PG Derrious Gilmore from Jones County CC (Mississippi).
Three Point Shooting
One of the major weaknesses of previous Cowboy teams that Coach Shyatt tried to address is three point shooting. The Pokes have been one of the poorest shooting teams behind the arc the last several years. In 2009- 2010 they made just 26.7% of their three point shots, in 2010-11 that improved slightly to 28.6 last year. That is still a very disappointing figure and was amongst the worst in the nation. Actually it was second worst in the nation to be exact. Only Niagra at 27.5% shooter poorer from behind the arc last year.
Francisco Cruz was really the teams only consistent long range shooter last year hitting 49 threes on 37% shooting. He'll have some help this year from Luke Martinez and Derrious Gilmore. Shyatt basically said Martinez will have the green light to shoot this year if he is open. Gilmore hit 46% of his three pointers last year in the junior college ranks. Riley Grabau and Shakir Smith are also good shooters from behind the arc but they may not see a ton of minutes this year. Afam Muojeke can shoot from anywhere on the court but there is no guarantee on how many games he will be able to play in this year. He's suffered knee injuries the last two years and is still working his way back.
Wyoming will be need to more effective in rebounding and reduce their opponents second chance opportunities. Last year Wyoming averaged 32.5 rebounds per game while their opponents grabbed 35.5. Leonard Washington will certainly be the biggest inside threat for the Cowboys in scoring and rebounding. Adam Waddell will also provide a solid presence inside. After that things drop off quickly for the Cowboys. Their top recruit 6-10 Lekan Ajayi left the team before the season even started. So there are no other true centers on the team besides Waddell. 6'8 F Tyrone Marshall may see some playing time now that Ajayi is gone but originally he appeared to be redshirting this year. Walk on senior Rob Watsabaugh saw 19 minutes of action in the exhibition and he be may forced into action this year. The health of Waddell will be key since their is so little depth up front.
Last year Wyoming gave up 70 points per game and never won if they allowed 68 points or more per game. Shyatt has talked about making sure this team is more disciplined and a big part of that will be on the defensive side. All of the new recruits were brought in because they play hard on both sides of the ball. With the elevation of Laramie playing tough defense will make things even harder for visiting teams. One particular weakness was perimeter defense were the Cowboys were absolutely murdered last year. The length and energy of SF Larry Nance Jr. will certainly help on defense this year. In the exhibition he had three steals but also fouled out in just five minutes. One of those statistics is great while the other is not.
So what will happen this year for the Wyoming Cowboys? The Cowboys are still likely to lose more games then they win this year. This team hasn't won on the road in the last two seasons and that needs to change. The Mountain West is still an excellent conference and no game will be an easy one. Leonard Washington will be the biggest all around weapon for this team and contender for Mountain West Newcomer of the Year. Cruz and Martinez will shoot plenty of threes and the new players will develop and grow as the season progresses.
Enjoy the ride Cowboy fans, this is a journey that starts in November and lasts until March. Don't over analyze one game if the team plays poorly. Come support the Pokes and let them you know you are behind what they are doing. Enjoy a coach who doesn't throw fits on the sidelines and berate his players at every timeout. After this misery of the last two years this season will be a fresh start and will help build the foundation of this team down the road.