Scouting Report: Wyoming
Yes, the New Orleans Privateers – tired and immersed in frankly excessive scheduling (three games in a five-night span) – were in no position to threaten Air Force on Wednesday. Nevertheless, the Falcons did what they were supposed to do. Any athlete or team generally benefits from seeing something successful happen, from performing actions over and over again with positive outcomes. Air Force has been able to run its offense to near perfection in its past two games. The Falcons are going to score fewer points against Wyoming, a team that held San Diego State to 45 points last week. However, if the Academy can run good sets and hit pressure shots in the final minutes of a close game, this developing "muscle memory" on offense could carry Air Force to a big road win.
The Cowboys haven't made the NCAA tournament since 2002, but they're very much in the hunt this season under head coach Larry Shyatt, a former head coach at Clemson who served as an assistant to Florida head coach Billy Donovan when the Gators won national titles in 2006 and 2007. Wyoming is a slow-tempo team that plays great halfcourt defense. The challenge for the Cowboys is to find enough offense to separate themselves from the opposition in crunch time.
Wyoming's resume is not a strong one. The team's win over San Diego State was huge, but that's the only excellent win on the portfolio. The Cowboys lost to Fresno State, 49-36, on Jan. 16, a bad loss which does much to cancel out the triumph over SDSU. Wyoming needs to view this home game against Air Force as a must-win. The Falcons might suffer as a result, since the Cowboys might play with more intensity. However, AFA can also benefit from such a reality: Wyoming might panic if the game stays close into the final two minutes. Pressure could be the Falcons' friend in Laramie.
WYOMING STAT PACK – STATISTICAL HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS
Two-point field goal shooting percentage: 55. National rank: 11 (out of 345).
Three-point field goal shooting percentage: 33.1. National rank: 198.
Possessions per 40 minutes: 61.2. National rank: 342.
Turnovers per game: 11.4. National rank: 33.
Field goal percentage defense: 39.8. National rank: 53.
Two-point field goal percentage defense: 42.8. National rank: 42.
Forward – Leonard Washington – Senior, 6-7, 230 2012-13: 14.3 points per game, 9.1 rebounds per game, 2.4 assists per game, 1.5 steals per game
Washington is a jack-of-all-trades performer and leader for the Cowboys. He gets his hands onto – and into – every facet of competition, contributing the way a senior should on the floor. Air Force needs to know that since Wyoming's leading scorer, guard Luke Martinez, has been suspended indefinitely for his role in a fight a few weeks ago, Washington is now Wyoming's best active player and the Cowboys' most potent threat at all spots on the court.
Forward – Larry Nance, Jr. – Sophomore, 6-8, 210; 2012-13: 10.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg
Larry Nance won the 1984 NBA Slam-Dunk Contest at the All-Star Weekend in Denver, shocking the world by beating Julius "Dr. J" Erving and the rest of a star-studded field. Nance was a member of strong Phoenix Suns teams that pushed the Los Angeles Lakers in multiple Western Conference Finals series. Nance's son is trying to make a name for himself at Wyoming, and with his blue-collar rebounding ability despite a 210-pound frame, it's clear that Nance Junior has taken his basketball DNA from Nance Senior, nicknamed "Leapin' Larry Nance" by longtime Phoenix Suns radio man Al McCoy. Nance Junior is active and uses his combination of footwork and hops to get to loose balls. Air Force has to put a body on him and seal him out.
Guard – Josh Adams – Freshman, 6-2, 175; 2012-13: 6.6 ppg, 1.3 rpg
Because of the absence of Martinez from the starting five, Wyoming's most urgent need – now and for the rest of this season – is to get adequate scoring punch from its other guards. Adams does not look for his shot. He'll have to find the courage to take more shots in key situations so that this team has to be defended at all five positions on the floor.
Guard – Riley Grabau – Sophomore, 6-2, 170; 2012-13: 6.1 ppg, 2.5 apg
Everything that was said of Adams also applies to Grabau, with the only difference being that Grabau – one year older and wiser than Adams – has at least shown a propensity to be more of a distributor and thereby help the overall functioning of the Cowboys' halfcourt offense. Still, Shyatt has to see – and get – more production from his reworked backcourt, now that Martinez – who averaged 14.5 points per game – is no longer available for Wyoming.
Guard – Derrious Gilmore – Senior, 5-10, 170; 2012-13: 10.8 ppg, 2.6 apg
Gilmore is the one Wyoming guard in a Martinez-free lineup who has demonstrated the ability to score with some degree of consistency. Gilmore's lack of size will not enable him to hit standstill jumpers against taller defenders; he relies on his quickness to create open shots. Air Force will benefit greatly if it can shut off driving lanes for Gilmore.
With Martinez out of the picture, Shyatt – who used a six-man rotation before Martinez got suspended – must now try to steal minutes from unproven reserves Nathan Sobey and Derek Cooke, Jr. Cooke averages 2.8 rebounds per game. Wyoming has to get some standout performances from a sixth or seventh man each night in order to stay in the NCAA tournament chase.
Keys to the Game
1) One-and-done for Wyoming. Air Force is playing a team that does not shoot the three very well but has two nose-for-the-ball rebounders in the persons of Nance and Washington. If the Falcons rebound to the best of their ability, their chances will skyrocket in Laramie.
2) Make Wyoming work for all 35 seconds of each Air Force possession. Wyoming is not a deep team. Air Force has to make the Cowboys spill the tank, and it cannot bail out Wyoming with quick jacks early in the shot clock, or with turnovers that lead to cheap baskets at the other end. Wyoming will need Air Force to give up cheap points at times in order to score enough to win. If the Falcons give the Cowboys very few freebies, they're going to be in the fight until the very end.