Gear up for game day: Mississippi Valley State
LARAMIE -- Jeff Linder said last Tuesday that feeling is finally starting to set in.
Wyoming's new men's basketball coach stood high above the Arena-Auditorium in the concourse, watching as event-day staff prepared the court, advertising signage and padded chairs on the base lines.
It's basketball season.
Finally, it's basketball season.
"It's good to be in an big time college basketball environment," he said. "Guys are excited to be in that environment. We haven't been in there in a long time."
Linder, who was hired March 17 after spending the previous four seasons at Northern Colorado, came to Laramie at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were plenty of unknowns.
There was also plenty of work to get done.
The first thing on his to-do list was to re-recruit Hunter Maldonado, Kenny Foster, Kwane Marble and Hunter Thompson. Those four players from the previous staff helped vault the Cowboys into a surprise run to the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament in an otherwise forgettable 2019-20 campaign.
He did just that.
Then he went to work assembling the top class in the league. A Top-50 class in the country.
Three-star players like Marcus Williams, Jeremiah Oden and Xavier DuSell bought in. So did a pair of the top three-point shooters at the junior college level, Drake Jeffries and Drew LaMont.
Linder landed a pair of coveted big men, too. Eoin Nelson (6' 10") will play today. Graham Ike (6' 9") is still working his way back from an ACL tear.
He accomplished all of that over Zoom calls.
Mississippi Valley State doesn't just mark the first game of the Linder era, it's a benchmark this team has been working toward since unofficial practices began in late July.
The name on the opposing teams' jersey is all but irrelevant.
The Cowboys made it to opening day. That's the real testament.
It's not lost on this group.
"It's going to feel pretty good just to be able to play basketball again," Thompson said. "That was the ultimate goal. It's been a rollercoaster ride, still, hopefully we're toward the end of this and can get back to somewhat normal competition again."
That all starts today.
Delta Devils sing the blues
MVSU has already played two games this season.
Neither was exactly pretty.
The Delta Devils traveled to Arkansas in the opener and left Fayetteville with a 142-62 loss. Yes, you read that right. The Razorbacks hit 20 three-pointers in the rout.
You read that right, too.
Next came a trip to Denton and a meeting with the 2019-20 Conference USA champions, North Texas. Once again, MVSU scored just 62 points. This time, they gave up 116 points and 21 threes.
They have one returner, the coach's son (Caleb Hunter)," Linder said of MVSU. "... They have a brand-new roster. It will be good for us to see a couple games and see what new guys can do."
Hunter is averaging nine points per game from the guard spot. Treylan Smith leads the way for the Devils, averaging 13 per outing, followed by Terry Collins (12) and Devin Gordon (11). All three are guards.
Here is all you need to know about Saturday's tilt in Laramie:
WHO: Mississippi Valley State (0-2) at Wyoming (0-0)
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 2 p.m. MST
WEATHER: High of 44, low 12 degrees, sunny, winds at 10-15 mph
WHERE: Arena-Auditorium, Laramie, Wyo.
RADIO: Wyoming affiliates
TICKETS: UW Ticket office
BOX SCORE: gowyo.com
ROSTERS: Wyoming / Mississippi Valley State
VEGAS ODDS: Wyoming -28.5, O/U 110
HISTORY: Wyoming is 1-0 in the all-time series (Last meeting: 121-62 Wyoming win in 1979)
HEAD COACHES: Jeff Linder / Lindsey Hunter