Can Cowboys win now? Linder sure thinks so
LARAMIE -- If you want to see the potential product Jeff Linder is bringing to Laramie, look no further than a Bears' road game last December.
Four Northern Colorado players scored in double figures that night. The guys from Greeley hit 47.3 percent of the 55 shots they took. The Bears were deadly from beyond the arc, netting 11-of-31 attempts.
That's a whopping 35.5 percent from three. Three percentage points behind their season average.
That was just a mediocre outing for Linder's squad. They averaged 10 3-pointers per outing and shot nearly 50 percent from the field on a nightly basis.
Back to that particular game.
UNC turned the ball over just six times. They finished with 34 rebounds and 10 assists. You can tack on four steals, too. One opposing player reached double figures on the score sheet. The Bears held their opponent to a lowly 18-percent shooting from three.
That is typical. UNC is No. 4 in the nation when it comes to that category.
That all equated to a dominating 74-53 victory for the visitors. The team on the opposite side of that beating -- the Wyoming Cowboys.
Tuesday afternoon, Linder was hired by the University of Wyoming, becoming the 22nd head men's basketball coach in program history.
So, why on earth would Linder want this job? It's simple really.
"We have all the things necessary from resources, coaching and players to win a championship," he said. "It's been done here before. There's no reason it shouldn't be again."
UW Athletic Director Tom Burman had a front-row seat to that lopsided loss, the fifth straight for the floundering Pokes. He also saw Linder come into Laramie the two previous seasons and walk out of the Arena-Auditorium with a win. UNC became the first non-conference team in history to come into Laramie and win in back-to-back seasons.
They made it three straight for good measure.
Linder went 80-50 during his four seasons in Greeley.
The Bears have won 20-plus games in three consecutive seasons. Before Linder strolled onto Campus in 2016, UNC had won 20 games in its history just twice.
That's in 44 seasons of hoops in Weld County.
And that's not to mention the dumpster fire he waltzed into. UNC was reeling after a 10-win season and a number of self-imposed sanctions thanks to the previous regime overlooking improper benefits and overseeing an academic scandal.
The rookie head coach won just 11 games the first year. The next, the Bears were CIT Champions after racking up a program record 26 wins.
How did he turn it around so fast?
Can he do that here? He sure thinks so.
"Having played against these guys the last three years, I think I have a pretty good feel for what the strengths and weaknesses are," Linder said. "We have a core group of guys. I do believe we can keep that group together and we can do some special things sooner than later."
Wyoming won nine games during the 2019-20 campaign. Two of those victories came in the Mountain West Tournament where Allen Edwards' group stunned Border War rival Colorado State on night and took down the No. 3 -seed Nevada the next.
The improbable ride came to an end in the last four minutes of the Cowboys semifinal tilt with eventual league champion Utah State. Edwards was fired just three days later after compiling a 60-75 record in his four-year tenure in Laramie.
Enter Linder. And he thinks his new team can carry that momentum from Las Vegas right into the offseason and beyond.
That's the main reason Linder spent his Tuesday afternoon in the car, driving straight to Denver. He wanted to meet with Hunter Maldonado, Kwane Marble, Kenny Foster and others. He thinks this team has plenty of pieces to "make noise" in the conference next season.
Yes, next season.
“I said, ‘hey, we aren’t going to lose. We are going to win next year,'” Linder told those players in their homes Tuesday. “You have to believe that — I believe that. I wouldn’t have left my situation at UNC if we couldn’t win from day one. They got experience last year, and if we add a few pieces, it’s not unrealistic to do some great things."