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Look for Cowboys to fight for high seed in Mountain West

Dec 20, 2012 - By Bruce Tippets, Sports Editor

University of Wyoming men's basketball coach Larry Shyatt has given me hope the Cowboys are going to be contenders this year in the tough Mountain West Conference.

The Pokes are off to a 11-0 start this year under Shyatt and are receiving some national attention after knocking off Colorado a couple of weeks ago in Laramie.

The Buffaloes were ranked No. 19 at the time, and it was thrilling to see the Wyoming fans storm the court and celebrate after the win over CU.

The victory was special for me because I have family bragging rights.

My parents graduated from Colorado, and I went to school at the University of Wyoming.

I made a phone call to my father right after the final score. All I said to him was "overrated."

The Pokes haven't slowed down after the big win.

UW was ranked the equivalent of No. 29 the AP top 25 poll this week, receiving 14 votes.

I'm the first one to admit Wyoming's preseason schedule has been a little soft, but the most important thing is the Pokes are winning and winning.

That is the bottom line.

Shyatt was a winner when he was an assistant coach at the University of Florida and has brought that attitude to Wyoming.

I would say the second-best victory this preseason was winning at Illinois State 81-67.

The Cowboys were down in the first half but stormed back for the win.

UW should add two more non-conference wins against UC Santa Barbara and SMU to raise its victory total to 13 before the Mountain West Conference heats up in January.

Nevada and Fresno State are the two new additions, but the powers in the league are going to be UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State. All three are ranked teams, and I believe will be going to the NCAA tournament at the end of the season.

The No. 4 seed is up for the taking in the MWC. That seed will come down to Colorado State, Wyoming and Fresno State.

The Cowboys have one of the strongest defensive teams in the league under Shyatt.

The defense is going to take the Pokes a long way against the high-powered offensive teams in the league.

I also like how Shyatt has made his team balanced on the offensive end. Four players are scoring in double figures after the first 11 games.

Wyoming's "Mr. Inside" player, Leonard Washington, is scoring at 14.5 points per game and pulling down 8.5 rebounds.

Luke Martinez is tied with Washington at 14.5 points per game. Point guard Derrius Gilmore is at 13.0 points, and Larry Nance Jr. is scoring 11.5. Gilmore has been the biggest surprise to me, putting the ball into the basket and running the team from his point guard position.

Washington and Martinez have the experience of playing in the MWC, and that is going to help UW when games are tight in crunch time.

The only thing that worries me about the Pokes is that they are not very deep on the bench. Guard Josh Adams is fourth at 5.5 points. They don't have a lot of depth after the top four players.

Wyoming can't afford to get into a running game with the Rebels or the Aztecs.

Shyatt and his coaching staff will need to come up with a game plan on slowing things down and keep those talented teams under control and not letting them go on big runs.

UW must find a way to split the season series with the Rebels, Lobos and Aztecs.

If they do that then they can keep within striking distance of a postseason berth.

I'm not counting on a trip to the NCAA tournament this year, but I'm saying the Pokes should finish in fourth in the MWC and will be on the bubble for a spot in the big show.

Whatever happens, it's going to be a fun ride to follow Shyatt and the Cowboys this winter.

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