In preparation for the start of the 2011-2012 regular season on November 7, we’re running a series here on Busting Brackets where we talk with other writers about their team or conference. You can check out all of the pieces in our preview series by clicking here. Our series continues with a discussion with Chad Smith of 7220 Report, who talks about the expectations for Larry Shyatt in his return to Wyoming.
BustingBrackets.com: Larry Shyatt returns to Laramie for his second go-around as head coach of this team. How excited are Wyoming fans to see him back at the helm?
Chad: Wyoming fans have a very high level of excitement about Shyatt’s second go-round in charge of the program. There was a huge fan turnout for his introductory press conference and he has done a good job in reconnecting with the state giving countless interviews via radio and newspaper. The state of Wyoming is hungry for a winner and they know Shyatt can get the job done because he has done it before.
BB: A coach in a new position is usually measured by wins and how he recruits. Talk a little about the freshmen class that Shyatt brings in this season.
Chad: There are a total of five recruits in this year’s class and Shyatt did a good job in bringing in such quality players on such short notice. Shyatt was not hired until after the Final Four due to Florida’s long run in the tournament last year. The player with the most upside seems to be 6-10 245 pound center Lekan Ajayi who was recruited by Auburn, Wake Forest and Tennessee. He has the size to play right away and could be an excellent rebounder. The other player that will pique people’s interest is Larry Nance Junior. Yes, the son of that Larry Nance former NBA star and slam dunk champion. Shyatt likes the upside of the 6-7 forward from Ohio and he is one to watch for the future.
BB: What does Francisco Cruz need to do to take his game to the next level this year?
Chad: Cruz had a solid season in his first action at the Division 1 level averaging 10 points per game. He is a sharp shooter who hit 38% of his three point shots last season but more than half of his field goal attempts last season were from three point range. To take his game to the next level Cruz needs to show the ability to drive to the basket more and not rely so much on the three point shot. This will keep defenders more honest and should allow him to get some more open looks and score a few more points in the paint and at the line.
BB: The Cowboys also bring in transfer forward Leonard Washington from USC. How much production is he expected to bring in his first season in Laramie?
Chad: No one is expecting Washington to come in and work miracles after taking a redshirt year but he is expected to start and be somewhat productive. While at USC Washington averaged about 6 points and 4 rebounds a game in 20 minutes of playing time. Washington is a good bet to see 20-30 minutes a game at Wyoming once he settles in and I would look for him to average around 8 points and 8 rebounds a game. On the surface those numbers aren’t earth shattering but would be very key for a team who lacks big bodies down low. It wouldn’t surprise me though if he came out and averaged a double-double because word is he is very motivated to prove people wrong after his fallout with the Trojans.
BB: Wyoming probably isn’t on a lot of people’s radar on a national scale. What type of style on the court should we expect to see from this year’s squad?
Chad: Right now the style of play is up in the air. Shyatt is on record in saying he wants to play at a fast and “chaotic” pace to take advantage of Laramie’s 7,220 foot altitude, but every coach who comes to Wyoming says this when they first come on board. I do believe though Shyatt will try it if he feels he has the depth to do so. It will really rely on the health of Afam Muojeke and Adam Waddell who have been very injury prone the last two years. If those two can contribute a fair amount of minutes throughout the season the Cowboys should have the man power to run a fast break offense. The athletes Shyatt signed in his first recruiting class certainly fit the mold of a team that would like to run.
BB: For the first time in a while, Steve Fisher’s San Diego State team isn’t the prohibitive favorite heading into the season. Where does Wyoming fit into the mix in terms of where they finish in the conference?
Chad: The Cowboys were predicted to finish 6th in the pre-season media poll. That is probably a fair projection considering all the changes and questions that remain with the team. In a best case scenario I could see Wyoming finishing as high as fourth behind New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State. While on the other hand the worse I could see Wyoming finishing is 6th as Shyatt should be able to beat out both TCU and Boise State with the talent he has on the roster.
BB: Alright, it’s time to make your predictions for the season. How many wins do you see for this team? Is an NIT berth a realistic expectation?
Chad: This year’s schedule for the Pokes is not very strong and that was largely by design. This program lacks confidence right now and coach Shyatt needs to get these guys to learn how to win again. I could easily see this team get 10 wins or more in the non-conference portion if the schedule and if they can win about half of their Mountain West games a NIT birth is possible with a record somewhere around 18-13. I don’t know how realistic it is with only 6 players on the roster having played in a Wyoming uniform before but with Shyatt back in the fold and seeing what he did in 1997-1998 I will go out on a limb and say they will get to 18 wins and see some type of post season play (NIT or CBI).