The Wyoming Cowboys’ men’s basketball program had a remarkably successful 2022-23 season.
They ended up as one of four Mountain West programs to make the NCAA Tournament, their first since 2014-15, winning 25 for the second time since the turn of the century and the third time since 1986-87, including winning double-digit MMW games for the fifth time since the conference formed before the 1999-00 season.
Though the season ended on a poor note, losing two straight to Boise State in the conference tournament — which wasn’t considered very “disappointing” at the time, since Boise was the eventual MW champions — and Indiana in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament, 66-58.
Nevertheless, Jeff Linder re-loaded in the offseason. Returning seven of his top-eight scorers, he added three Pac-12 transfers: Ethan Anderson and Max Agbonkpolo (USC) and Jake Kyman (UCLA), none of whom were incredibly productive (at their former schools), but were still rotation players in their team’s respective NCAA Tournament runs.
Thus, Wyoming was expected to be one of the top teams in the Mountain West heading into the season. Their star forward and arguably the MW’s top player — Graham Ike — suffered a knee injury before the season, which was expected to hold him out for at least the majority of the season at the time.
Never fear, a combination of Hunter Maldonado, Noah Reynolds, Xavier DuSell, Jeremiah Oden along with Anderson, Agbonkpolo and Kyman were expected to provide supplementary production in lieu of Ike’s injury?
The team began the season 3-1 but had a four-point loss to Southeastern Louisiana, a five-point loss to Drake, a four-point loss to Santa Clara and an eight-point loss to Grand Canyon all in non-conference play alone. MW play didn’t suit them kindly, either, losing their first six conference games before picking up their first MW win on Jan. 21 against Colorado State.
On the season, Oden or Thompson, who’s missed time with injury throughout the season, haven’t played poorly. Maldonado is still one of the top players in the conference, averaging 14.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists — using his 6-foot-7, 200-pound frame to back down every undersized guard/wings to headline one of the more unnatural, atypical offensive attacks in modern day 2023 basketball!
Reynolds, the team’s leading scorer, got off to a slow start, but had an 11-game stretch where he averaged 19.9 points on 49.4 percent shooting. But it was reported he was ruled out for the remainder of the season due to a concussion on Tuesday.
Wait, there’s more!
It reached a new low on Wednesday. According to 7220 Sports, Agbonkpolo, Anderson and Kyman — all three of their Pac-12 transfers — reportedly left the team, leaving eight active players against UNLV hours ahead of its contest against UNLV. They ultimately lost by 10, dropping to 7-16 on the season with a 2-9 conference record.
That begs the question: Can this season get any worse?
In a year where the Mountain West is having its best season in nearly a decade, Wyoming’s sunk. Their offense ranks just outside the top-100, but their defense has been swiss cheese after it was arguably a top-3 defense in the conference last year. It’s amazing how one player — Ike — could affect so much on that end; and, to his credit, he’s a very good individual and positional defender — one of the very best in the conference. So it’s understandable that they received a slight hit on that end, which have led to plenty of close losses.
The floor for the Mountain West is higher than it’s been in the past; but any negative outcome you could’ve imagined at the beginning of the year for Wyoming was nowhere near what the overall product could’ve spewed out.
It’s not common knowledge what the reasons were for the departures, and we may never know, but those on-top of the injuries only encapsulate how bad of a season it’s been for a program who was projected to be one of the best, bar none.
Wyoming is 0-10 in Quad 1 and 2 games, with six of its wins coming against Quad 3 and 4 opponents. Plus, six of their final seven games will be Quad 1 or 2 moves.
But Wednesday’s slippery slope felt unprecedented, at least in the modern-day era of the transfer portal. It’s inevitable for rosters to shift from season-to-season, but to have the unfortunate luck of injuries and three players — one of whom was a top-4 scorer in Anderson — abruptly depart ultimately meant something deeper happened behind the scenes.
For Wyoming’s sake, let’s hope the rest of the roster stays in-tact throughout the rest of the season — health-wise — because there might not be another team in the Mountain West, let alone in college basketball, who can take another body blow to their roster.