Wyoming college hoops rant (Dec. 27-Jan.8)
BY WADE MCMILLIN, Couchsideshow.com editor
The world of National Junior College Athletic Association men’s basketball is on hiatus right now with the long college break.
I figured this would be the opportune time to start my newest weekly blog that will highlight and rank Wyoming’s eight NJCAA Division I men’s basketball teams. The hardwood has been full of excitement through about the first third of the Wyoming college hoops season and this week’s rankings indicate just how close a handful of teams are at the top. There are currently five (more than half) teams in the Cowboy State’s junior college ranks that have already hit double-digits in the win column. And if those teams can stay hot, this may just be one of the most exiting years in Wyoming junior college basketball.
Now without further holdup, here’s how Wyoming’s eight junior college teams stack up as of Tuesday, Dec. 27. These rankings will hold until at least Jan. 8 because of the holiday break. Records and stats are compiled from Njcaa.org and are upheld believed to be accurate information for this blog.
• Top spot, top scorer: The Trappers may not have the best record of Wyoming’s eight teams, but they do have the NJCAA’s ninth best scorer in freshman Chris Hansen. The Fort Collins, Colo., native is tearing up the junior college hardwood this season, scoring 20.9 points per game and hitting a jaw dropping 52 3-pointers in NWC’s 16 games this season. For having such a dynamic player who only seems like he’ll climb up the scoring leader’s board, it’s the Trappers who get the No. 1 ranking in the premiere of the Wyoming college hoops rant.
• Taking down the Generals: NWC has also shown that it’s one of the top JUCO teams in the Cowboy State by sticking it to perennial powerhouse, the Sheridan Generals. The Trappers defeated the formerly ranked NJCAA top-25 ranked team 79-69 in their last game Dec. 10 in Powell. Any matchup against the Generals should be considered a statement game and the Trappers made theirs in early December. NWC has shown it can beat the state’s toughest teams and at least hang with some of the best in the nation. The only two losses the Trappers have suffered came to No. 5 Salt Lake Community College and the always respectable Western Nebraska Community College. And the NJCAA top-25 poll voters must gave noticed, casting NWC a few votes for the top 25.
• Snubbed for top billing?: I must apologize to the Mustangs for not picking them as Couchside’s No. 1 team. After all, the NJCAA does have Western ranked No. 11 in its latest poll Dec. 13. But since the distinguished ranking, the Mustangs lost to Snow College 69-64 in their final final game before the holiday break. The loss was Western’s first of the season and just Snow’s second, proving that the Mustangs’ only defeat must have been a tough pill to swallow. Although perfection has surpassed the Mustangs, I expect big things from the squad and perhaps the matchup of the year when Western travels to Powell for a clash against the Northwest College Trappers.
• It must be chemistry: It seems Western’s power comes from more than just one player. Actually, it comes from every single athlete in the starting five. Led by D.J. Stennis, who averages 12.1 pointers per game, the Mustangs’ other four starters also average double-digit scoring figures. Greg Meacham is one of those threats and lights up the scoreboard from downtown, hitting 33 3-pointers this in 14 games.
• Upset: Like Western Wyoming, it might seem like I have cheated Sheridan in the premiere of this blog. However, my reasons are warranted solely because Northwest was the team to hand the Generals their only loss of the season. Sheridan could be back in the driver’s seat as early as the first game after break, but for now, the No. 3 spot seems fitting because of Western’s top-25 ranking and Northwest’s upset victory.
• Holy offense: Sheridan’s offense has been staggering this season. The Generals have already hit at least the century mark for points three times this season and have scored above 80 in six other match ups. Points are never really at a premium for Sheridan and this season is certainly no different. It’s also not just one player getting it done for the Generals. Four of the squad’s five starters average double-digit scoring numbers and three other players score at least nine points per game. With any player being able to create on any given play, Sheridan may me the long-term favorite to finish as Wyoming’s best JUCO team yet again.
• Still hot: I think Central’s success this season sort of defines just how even it is at the top of Wyoming junior college basketball. After finishing last season at 17-15, the Rustlers are roaring back this year to make some noise in Wyoming. The squad’s only losses came to Northwest and against a four-year school team at an earlier tourney at Western Wyoming Community College. The Rustlers also have an upset victory, kocking off Casper College, which was ranked in the NJCAA’s preseason top-25 poll. Central’s success shouldn’t be too surprising, though. The team has five player averaging double figures for scoring despite not attempting that many 3-pointers.
• Dominant defense: While some of Wyoming’s JUCO teams are winning in scoring battles, the Rustlers are earning victories with hard nosed defense. Earlier in the season, Central ranked No. 2 in the nation for team defense by allowing just 51.2 points per game. That mark trailed only nationally renowned Chipola College of Florida, which owned the nation’s top defense by a extremely slim tenth of a point over Central.
• Still hot: The Pronghorns of Gillette are in just their third year as an established program, but the team always seems to perform otherwise. Gillette has once again started the season off hot with 10 wins to start the 2011-2012 campaign. The Pronghorns would also be 11-3 if Williston (N.D.) hadn’t drained a 35-foot heave at the buzzer, handing Gillette a tough loss before the holiday break. I expect Gillette to jump back into the win column quickly, though. The team is currently 7-1 at home and will host Miles Community College when school gets back into session Jan. 7. The Pronghorns will face perhaps their toughest challenge of the year right after that with a matchup against Western Wyoming on Jan. 11.
• Shoes filled: Former Pronghorn Ryan Aaron certainly left a legacy at Gillette College last year after claiming the NJCAA Division I scoring crown. It seemed like Gillette might have a tough time replacing the young program’s brightest star. I thought it would take time. However, coach Shawn Neary and his crew proved me wrong. Last season, the Pronghorns lived and died by whether or not Aaron was successful on any given night. If he wasn’t, the team would usually lose. If he was, victory was almost inevitable. A one man-scoring machine can be dangerous, but the 2010-2011 version of the Gillette College men’s basketball team won;t be calling itself a one-man team. Freshman Kashaune McKinney leads the squad with an impressive average of 17.35 pointer per game, but he is closely followed by fellow freshman George Edwards, who is scoring 16.35 points per game and leads the team in rebounding with 6.9 boards per outing. Australian natives James Hunter and Reece Maxwell also average double digits, scoring 12.42 and 10.46 points per game, respectively.
• Early-season panic?: The Thunderbirds have been back and forth between the win and loss column for about the entire season. After receiving the No. 14 spot in the NJCAA preseason poll, Casper proved worthy by winning its first two games. Then the wheels came off — slightly. The T-Birds lost their following two games to two tough teams, Salt Lake Community College and Snow College. The T-Birds answered the skid with a six-game win streak, but a pair of losses just before the holiday break leaves the team with a lot of questions during the time off.
• Big three: The T-Birds have mustered a respectable eight wins on the backs of three players with contracting experience levels. Freshman Remi Dibo leads the team in scoring with 14.3 points per game and is closely followed by sophomore Tyler Larson and redshirt freshman Darrious Curry, who average 13.3 and 12.2 points per game, respectively. If Casper can get at least one other player to share the load, the T-Birds may just sneak back into the top-25 by season’s end.
• Rough start: It was a tough pick between the Golden Eagles and Eastern Wyoming for which team would wind up evading last place in my poll. And the only reason that LCCC isn’t sitting in the gutter is because it has played in one less game than the Lancers. I have a feeling it could by the Golden Eagles on the bottom of the list next time because the squad has to return from the holiday break for a matchup against Sheridan. If Vegas let me bet on junior college basketball, I would call that game the lock of the year with the Generals winning by at least 20 points.
• Double threat: If a team can effectively guard just two players, beating LCCC shouldn’t be that tough. The squad only has two weapons as Phillip Freeman and Charles Cooks lead the team in scoring with averages of 14.7 and 11.9 points per game, respectively. The next highest scorer on the Golden Eagles’ roster averages somewhere in the eight-point range. And there isn’t very many players on the team who can do that, so this may be the year for forget in Laramie County.
• Rough start: It’s going to be an uphill battle for the Lancers to finish with a decent seed for the Region IX tournament this year. But at least Eastern began its break on a positive note by defeating Northeastern Junior College in the final game before the Holidays. And the victory was much needed after the Lancers endured a five-game losing streak in November. The good news is that the Lancers are 4-2 in their last six, so maybe the squad is starting to find its rhythm.
• Double threat: If Eastern hopes to save some face this year, at least one more player is going to have to step up. So far, only two Lancers are averaging double digits as Matt Rosenmaum leads the team with 15.41 points per game. Jarret Upchurch makes up the other half of Eastern’s lackluster scoring threat with 13.5 points per game.