LAS VEGAS — A forgettable season came to an end for the University of Wyoming men’s basketball team Wednesday, and now one has to wonder about the future.
UW lost to New Mexico 78-68 in a first-round game at the Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championships at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Cowboys finished 8-24, which is the most losses in school history. The previous record was 22 in 1973-74.
UW also recorded a record-low in home attendance with an average of 3,961 in the Arena-Auditorium. It was the first time since the A-A opened in 1982 that the Cowboys averaged less than 4,000 fans. The previous low was 4,346 in 2010-11.
That 3,961 figure is a bit inflated because that is based on tickets sold, not actual fans at the games. If that was counted, UW would have averaged around 2,000 fans per game.
And, men’s basketball revenues dropped significantly this season due to the team’s poor performance and lack of attendance.
All that has the makings of a change, meaning a coaching change. But UW won’t have a new coach for the 2019-20 season, and at this point, it is not the right time to make a move.
Third-year coach Allen Edwards won 43 games in his first two seasons. Yes, this past season was historically bad, but much of that was out of his control.
A roster with eight new players at the start of the season showed a time of transition.
That transition was rocky due to injuries, the suspension of senior point guard Nyaires Redding and the departure of newcomer Lwal Dung due to homesickness and his desire to pursue a professional career in his home country of Australia.
Even if UW had avoided the injury bug and other issues, it likely wouldn’t have finished much higher than sixth or seventh in the 11-team MW. It also wouldn’t have helped the school’s bottom line financially significantly, either. Attendance and revenues in college basketball are dropping across the country, not just at UW.
However, a coaching change at this point would not be wise.
One, what coach in their right mind would want the UW job knowing it got rid of a coach after one bad season with a lot of new players and a rash of injuries? UW may not be the most desirable job in the MW, but the message athletics director Tom Burman would send by cutting Edwards loose with two years left on his current contract and after one bad year would keep potential coaching candidates avoiding UW like the plague.
Two, Edwards deserves the chance to turn this around. Any plans or expectations for this team this season got derailed from the start. UW had to re-learn how to play when it went away from its fast-tempo pace to a more methodical one due to a lack of bodies. And, it did it just as conference play started.
Not many teams around the MW or all of college basketball would have had much success if they dealt with what UW did.
Many of the players who saw significant time for UW were thrust into much bigger roles than anticipated. Perhaps that will be a good stepping stone heading into next year for guys like junior point guard A.J. Banks, redshirt freshman forward Hunter Thompson and true freshman wing Trevon “T.J“ Taylor — just to name a few.
And, if all or most of the players who are slated to return actually do, it will say a lot about what Edwards and staff are trying to build and develop within the program.
If there is a max exodus of players, that could be a sign that a change could be coming sooner than later. But not now. Not after three seasons with Edwards, even with a historically bad one.
However, 2019-20 is a big one for UW basketball. When success is low, attendance plummets and revenues shrink, that is a bad trifecta. In most cases, doing nothing makes things worse.
Like he does with all his coaches after their seasons end, Burman will meet with Edwards to discuss the past season and talk about the future. Burman has never been one to put quotas on his coaches in terms of, “you have to win so many games or you’re gone.”
But improvement/progress must be made. How that is defined is open for interpretation.
For the Cowboys to do that, players and coaches must grow and improve. UW needs more size along the frontcourt. If Edwards wants to get back to playing like he wants, there will be a good amount of teaching — or re-teaching — of how to do it.
Staying healthy, and getting guys back from injury — most notably sophomore guard Hunter Maldonado — are huge factors, but factors Edwards and UW has little to no control over.
UW men’s basketball is in transition, and from a distance there are plenty of reasons for skepticism — both on and off the court.
That transition needs to take some positive steps forward in 2019-20. If not, UW will be looking at a complete rebuild.