Does Wyoming need to win in Las Vegas to punch ticket to Big Dance?
LARAMIE -- Unless the Cowboys go on a run inside the Thomas & Mack Center and win the Mountain West Tournament, their NCAA Tournament fate will rest in the hands of a 12-person committee.
That selection committee will look at a few key factors when determining whether Wyoming has the goods to go dancing in mid-March as one of 36 at-large bids or its bubble is about to burst: NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET ranking), quality wins and damaging losses, road wins, strength of schedule.
Here's what Scott Gleeson of USA Today had to say about UW's chances in his Saturday column "Bubble Watch winners and losers."
"The Cowboys (24-7, 13-5) avoided a loss to Fresno State that would've put them into the danger zone, escaping 68-64 at home in overtime. Wyoming has four Quad 1 wins on the profile and a NET score in the 40s, keeping it in the No. 10 or No. 11 seed range – for now."
Those last two words are the most worrisome.
Let's take a deeper dive into the Pokes' résumé:
UW currently ranks No. 48 in this category, behind only Mountain West foes Colorado State (27), San Diego State (29) and Boise State (30).
The Cowboys have four wins against Quad 1 opponents: CSU, Utah State, Boise State and Fresno State. The 61-59 win over the Bulldogs inside the SaveMart Center was a quality win, at the time.
Arizona, CSU, Boise State and San Diego State accounted for Wyoming's Quad 1 setbacks.
Speaking of Quad 2, UW finished the regular season with a 5-1 record, beating Washington, Grand Canyon, Nevada, Utah State and Fresno State. UNLV, the Cowboys first opponent in the Mountain West Tournament, handed Wyoming its lone Quad 2 loss.
Quad 3 wins came against Cal State Fullerton, Utah Valley, Northern Iowa and New Mexico. There are also a pair of glaring losses against the Lobos and Stanford.
Wyoming was a perfect 9-0 against Quad 4 teams: Detroit Mercy, Arkansas Pine Bluffs, Denver, McNeese State, South Florida, San Jose State (x2) and Air Force (x2).
The Cowboys finished 8-5 in true road games this season, including non-conference victories over Washington (16-14, 11-6 at home) Grand Canyon (22-7, 15-2 at home) and Cal State Fullerton (16-10, 11-2 at home). UW also knocked off Utah State (9-6 at home), Nevada (7-7 at home), Air Force (7-6 at home), Fresno State (11-4 at home) and San Jose State (7-6 at home) away from Laramie.
To put that into perspective, CSU, for instance, didn't play a true road game in the non-conference slate. The Rams did knock off Bradley, Creighton, Northeastern and Mississippi State at neutral sites.
SDSU played two true road games, falling to both BYU and Michigan. Boise State played three non-conference games away from ExtraMile Arena, knocking off Washington State, Cal State Northridge and falling at UC Irvine.
Wyoming beat Northern Iowa -- the Missouri Valley regular season champions -- and South Florida in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE:
Wyoming ranks 101st in the nation out of 358 Division-I programs as far as schedule strength goes.
The Cowboys sit behind Mountain West foes SDSU (74), Boise State (84), Utah State (87), CSU (93), Nevada (94) and UNLV (98). It doesn't help UW's cause that it played the Aztecs and Rebels just once during the regular season.
Jeff Linder's squad is 6-4 overall against those squads listed above.
THE EYE TEST:
This is where things get tricky.
Wyoming got off to an 8-0 start before running into a buzz saw in Tucson. The Pokes followed that loss, winning seven of their next eight. A 10-1 start to league play gave UW an overall record of 21-3 and a No. 22 ranking in the nation.
Then came the late-season swoon.
The Cowboys dropped four of seven to close out the year, including a bad Quad-3 loss Feb. 15 in Albuquerque. The other three setbacks -- at CSU and UNLV and at home against the Aztecs -- were all Quad-1 losses.
ESPN's Joe Lunardi Monday slated the Cowboys on the "Last four in" column alongside Xavier, Rutgers and SMU. That's not exactly a list you want to land on. That would mean an early trip to Dayton, Ohio, to play your way into the March Madness field.
Jerry Palm, CBS Sports "Bracketologist" has Wyoming as a No. 9 seed in the West Region.
OTHER TEAMS WITH 'WORK TO DO":
Here's a cheat sheet of who you hope falls out of the conversation this week, according to Lunardi, clearing a path for the Pokes:
Davidson – 5-2
North Texas – 6-1
VCU – 6-1
Dayton – 6-1
SMU – 5-2
All of those teams above have played seven games in 21 days.
North Carolina ruining Coach K's farewell in Cameron Indoor last Saturday didn't do Wyoming any favors, either.
TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION:
Will these 12 people, made up of athletic directors, commissioners and vice presidents -- mostly stationed east of the Mississippi River -- believe in the Cowboys come Sunday afternoon?
Here are some issues you hope come up in that meeting:
Wyoming played seven games in 18 days to close out the regular season, including four in seven days.
* SDSU (6-1) played seven games in 19 days
* CSU (6-1) played seven games in 23 days
* Boise State (5-2) played seven games in 21 days
* UNLV (4-3) played seven games in 23 days
San Diego State, Fresno State, Air Force and New Mexico also competed in just 17 conference games, while the other seven played all 18 on the schedule.
COVID-19, like it did to so many teams this winter, derailed the Cowboys season for 21 days. They played just three games between Dec. 11 and Jan. 15.
What if Wyoming and Boise State would've met on New Year's Day in Laramie like originally planned?
What if the Aztecs came to the high plains on Jan. 12 like they were supposed to?
Four of the Cowboys' starting five -- Graham Ike, Drake Jeffries, Jeremiah Oden and Xavier DuSell -- just wrapped up their first real season of Division-I basketball. Sure, they played last year, 25 outings in front of mostly empty arenas. Ike, UW's leading scorer, suited up in just 12 of those.
So, does Wyoming need to win a game in Las Vegas? Two? Get to the title game? We'll leave that up to the experts. What we do know is Linder believes his team deserves to be there and their destiny is in their own hands.
"They knew their backs were against the wall and they knew that this game was a must," Linder said after the Cowboys' outlasted Orlando Robinson and Fresno State 68-64 in overtime last Saturday night in Laramie. "We had to win this game to just make sure that we put ourselves in the right position. That still doesn't guarantee you anything, but it sure doesn't hurt your cause when it comes to Selection Sunday.
"That's not the culmination of the season, our goal is to go to Vegas and win the tournament."