Wyoming beat Utah Valley 76-70 in a 59-possession game on Tuesday night. I was there. This is what I saw.
A (Mountain/Great) West showdown
Why was I at the Utah Community Credit Union Center last night? For one, I can now say that I’ve seen a game in a Great West Arena, and I’m guessing you can’t. But also, I felt a little guilty for missing out on a chance to see surprising Georgia State play here two weeks ago. Besides, Wyoming actually has a non-zero chance of getting an at-large bid at this point and that’s saying something for a team that started out in the 270’s in my ratings.
Oh, those points!
In a clash between the Wolverines’ sluggish offense and the Cowboys’ formidable defense, the predictor said this would be a 61-53 Wyoming win in 61 possessions. That would have been a nice improvement for a UVU team that managed just 41 points against the Cowboys in Laramie on November 30. In two fewer possessions, the real game produced 32 more points than expected. After a 33-point Wyoming win in the first game, this one nearly came down to the final possession providing a nice exhibit on the variance possible in college hoops.
(If you want real hoops-style variance, though, check out the North Dakota/South Dakota State series this year. On December 10, South Dakota State beat the nicknameless team by 38. In the rematch five days later, UND won by 19.)
Luke Martinez is the best D-I player from North Dakota
The competition is kind of limited here, as there are just five North Dakotans on D-I rosters. But it’s a close call for statewide honors between the Wyoming shooting guard and Colorado’s Austin Dufault. Martinez has gone from a guy for whom message board-types once speculated about which North Dakota NAIA school he would attend, to a major cog on a team that should put up a respectable record in the Mountain West. One in every eight shots attempted in this game was a Martinez three-pointer, and while he went an unspectacular 4-for-12, he’s 39-for-99 on the season for a team that was second-to-last nationally in three-point percentage last season.
Luck and coaching
Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt is performing his second single-season turnaround as a coach of the Cowboys. Last season, Wyoming went 10-21 under Heath Schroyer. This season, they’re 13-2. In 1997, Wyoming went 12-16 under Joby Wright, and the following season they went 19-9 under Shyatt. In between, Shyatt was on the bench for back-to-back national titles under Billy Donovan. Yet Clemson fans think he’s a moron because during his five-season stint there, the Tigers won just 20 conference games.
Larry Shyatt is probably neither an elite mastermind nor a bumbling idiot, but which one is he closest to? I don’t know how to determine that, but I think this is another illustration that for most coaches, there are a bunch of external factors that influence their perceived success or failure.
Luck and basketball
Of course, I’m much more appreciative of luck that occurs on the court and forces beyond the control of either team influenced the outcome of this one. If you’re on board with the theory that the charge circle has actually caused more charges to be whistled this season, a call with ten seconds to go would have been fuel for your conspiratorial fire. Wyoming’s Leonard Washington took a charge that you’d like to think would be called a block at least 90% of the time.
Were it Mason Plumlee benefiting from the call, it would be talked about for decades, but alas this was a game with a limited TV footprint involving teams of little national interest. It was a brutal call, and it caused UVU head coach Dick Hunsaker to entertain the crowd of 6500 with a decent Mike Davis impression with 0.7 seconds left that made the final margin deceptively large.