Finding positives in a bad news year for Wyoming Cowboy basketball

Every writing urge I have says to come down hard on the Cowboys.

Watching their sputtering end Wednesday night against New Mexico to a once promising season was harder to sit through than some actionless shot-clockless high school hoops games.

The blame, seen lately in greater frequency, has fallen hard upon Luke Martinez and his legal troubles brought on by a Laramie bar fight.

It’s easy to cast the stones his way. The numbers are clear, and the eye test doesn’t fail. A 13-0 record with him was followed by a sad offense that resulted in just six wins during the final 19 games without him. Wednesday’s loss to New Mexico was a perfectly depressing example of the volatility of a Division 1 college basketball roster.

It seemed as if suddenly Cheyenne Central’s boys basketball team (known for their four-corners slow down offense) was faced with a 24-second shot clock, and like a 1950s grade school nuke drill, short of hiding under a desk, they scrambled to find the basket before they ran out of time. Wyoming had something like four shot clock violations during an 11-minute field goal drought for New Mexico in which the Cowboys had an opportunity to take the lead.

The analysis is there. But the root of the problem was also apparent. Just six Cowboys ran the floor for more than eight minutes in Vegas Wednesday. Even in Martinez’s absence, there were no bench players to fill in and grow during the 19 games since he departed.

Depth was as much to blame as was his now-egregious mishap. For all the ugliness of the incident that departed the JUCO transfer and senior leader, it’s nothing of a surprise when one steps back from the situation.

Fights at the Buckhorn in Laramie are one big-mouthed adolescent alcohol experimenter away from fast fruition.

Martinez is not the first early 20-something to foul-up due to the influences of alcohol, and his heavy-handed condemnation comes with the privilege of playing for a Division 1 basketball team. The point in the Cowboys’ season can be found outside of the entire incident.

Take Kentucky: it’s pure beauty to see last year’s champ struggle so mightily in 2012-13. The small consolation to a Wyoming fan is that the folks in Rupp Arena deal in the same adolescent athlete that was Wyoming’s downfall this year, except at a riskier level.

Kentucky’s risk-reward is based less in possible behavior issues and more in a question of ‘can this kid perform to his highest hoops expectations as a true freshman 18-year-old?’ That doesn’t always happen, and their 2012 title was a combination of car salesman recruiting and a dangerous formula which relied on a cohesion of young talent that came together ever so luckily for Calipari. This year, they’ve struggled to reach their potential as there will always be danger in running five freshman/two sophomores out onto the court.

Kentucky is an extreme example of the dilution college basketball experiences due to it’s one-and-done rule, and I’d rather be a Cowboys fan than a Cats fan in today’s game.
Wyoming played in probably the strongest conference in the country this year. Please Big 10, just shut up already. I can’t wait until seven of your nine tourney teams lose in the first two rounds. Don’t worry, football is in the fall and you can go back to being the overrated mediocrity.

Take solace in the fact that Wyoming has players staying for more than a year, and Shyatt seems to almost have a recruiting base clicking for him in just three years time.

Sure, everyone was locking the Cowboys a long-lost tourney seed in December, but 19 wins in March after an asterisked season? I’ll take that over the 2010 Cowboys any day.

There’s things to come for the Pokes, and while another disappointing end stings right now, just wait until the big boy teams with limited Big Dance experience start falling to Bucknell, Virginia Commonwealth and Valparaiso in the tournament next week, and you’ll forget all about it.

Brad Estes is the sports editor for the Sheridan Press

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Brad Estes

Sheridan Press sports editor

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