Wyoming College Hoops Rant (1/8 – 1/20)

BY WADE MCMILLIN, Couchsideshow.com editor

A lot of squads from Wyoming found early success in the first half of the 2011-2012 junior college men’s basketball season.

Teams like Sheridan College, Northwest College and Western Wyoming College either made (or are still in) the NJCAA’s top 25 poll or at least are getting votes for the list. There’s no question that junior college ball in the Cowboy State is extremely competitive right now. But things are about to get even more interesting. The first half of the season was dedicated to mostly playing out-of-state teams for Wyoming’s eight junior college squads. Now, that part of the season is over. Players have returned from the holiday break to a new level of intensity on the junior college hardwood. And it’s coming from within their own state.

Four teams from Wyoming found at least some sort of glory in the polls during the first half of the season. But now that those same squads are playing other teams in Wyoming, the almost perfect records are starting to become more blemished. In the NJCAA’s Jan. 10 poll, Northwest and Sheridan received votes to be in the top 20 while Western sat high and mighty in the No. 9 spot with an impressive 14-1 record. However, just eight days later, voters for the NJCAA’s top 20 frowned upon the Mustangs, ranking them No. 20 after the team suffered losses to Sheridan and Gillette College. Meanwhile, Northwest has also felt the strength of Wyoming’s teams after experiencing an early-season run. The Trappers didn’t receive any votes to be in the top 20 poll, losing their past two to Casper College (preseason top-20 team) and Montana’s Miles Community College of Miles City, Mont.

Yes, this part of the season is the best in Wyoming junior college hoops. There’s already starting to be some parody at the top and it seems like it could come down to the Region IX tournament before we actually find out who’s the best in the Cowboy State.

Now, here’s a look at the top five teams in Wyoming:

 1. Western Wyoming Community College, 15-3 overall record

• Wyoming Whiplash: The Mustangs started the season out on fire, securing a 13-1 record out of the gates. But misfortune has seemed to catch up to Western as it lost its first two matchups after the holiday break. Western did beat Colorado Northwestern Community College on Jan. 17 to get back to its winning ways, but the Mustangs will have to square off with another tough opponent, Northwest College, on Saturday in Powell, Wyo.

• Player Update: Western should be very pleased that they have still have four players averaging double digits in points whole four others can chip in between seven to nine points on any given night. D.J. Stennis lead the Mustangs in scoring at 12.56 points per game, which is a bit higher than B.J. Kline’s 11.0 ppg clip.

 2. Sheridan College, 13-3 overall record

• Gaining Momentum: Sheridan was ranked in the preseason, but fell off quickly. However, it appears the Generals are starting to get noticed again. With a 13-3 record, Sheridan received 12 points (tied for fifth) for the top 20 poll. After a tough loss to Northwest before the break, Sheridan unusually lost to Laramie County Community College, but defeated 13-4 Central Wyoming College and the powerhouse Western Wyoming Community College, handing the Mustangs just their second loss of the season.

• Player Update: Like Western, Sheridan also had a lot of different guys who can score. Lamont Prosser leads the team at 14.47 points per game, but seven of his teammates have shown they can score at least seven points per night.

 3. Northwest College, 15-4 overall record

• After the Break Blues: The Trappers of Northwest College grabbed out No. 1 spot the last time Couch Side did the Wyoming College Hoops Rant. That’s when they were getting votes for the top 20, had just beaten Sheridan College and had just two losses. Since then, Northwest dropped two games to Casper and Miles Community College, which has 12-plus wins. The Trappers did beat Little Big Horn when they returned from the break, but they were definitely on the wrong side of the Casper game, which I thought was a statement game. NWC also has a very tough three-game stretch ahead with matchups against Western, Gillette and Sheridan, all of which have made this top five post. Yikes.

• Player recap: Every time the Trappers play, all eyes are on Chris Hansen. By far, he is the top scorer in Wyoming at 19.7 points per game, which is No. 19 in the country. He has also got some nice help off the bench from Junior Coleman and starting forward Jeffrey Solarin, who score 13.71 and 14.65 points per game, respectively. Since returning from the break, Hansen’s average has dipped a total point, though.

 4. Central Wyoming College, 13-4 overall record

• Streaking: The Lancers notched two huge games by defeating Gillette College and Miles Community College in their past two games. Both opponent had double-digit wins, and Central almost defeated Sheridan and Western in their first two games back from the break. The Lancers are showing they can play with anyone right now and have a pretty easy schedule for the rest of January. If they get two wins to close out the month, Central may just be the best team in Wyoming.

• Player Update: Central isn’t led by just one guy. It’s more like four and one could argue six. James Johnson barely leads the team in scoring at about 13 points per game, but both Armani Flannigan and Davion Pearson are averaging at least 12 points per game and Malachi Roberts is holding a clip of 11. Add Preston Eaton and Ali Sabra, who average nine and eight points per game, respectively, into the mix and this team could be gunning for the top 20 very soon.

 5. Gillette College, 12-6 overall records

• Back and Fourth: It seems like every time Gillette nabs a big win, it drops its next statement game. That’s sort of been the theme since the Pronghorns returned from the holiday break. Gillette started out great with wins against Miles, Western and a 123-point outing against Little Big Horn to start its win streak, but the Pronghorns couldn’t follow it up with a victory against Central. They have a above average test this week against Casper and Northwest College, but both of those games are at home. If the Pronghorns can get rolling again like they did when they returned from the break, this team could pull off some major upsets down the stretch and make a run at a Region IX championship.

• Player Update: Gillette has a two-headed monster in freshman George Edwards and sophomore Kashaune McKinney — both of whom are from the Chicago area. The pair is averaging at least 17 points a night and have been crucial for Gillette to grab its 12 wins so far. The Pronghorns also have a spark from down under with Australians James Hunter and Reece Maxwell, who average 13 and 10 points pr game, respectively.

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