Wyoming opened this season winning its first ten games. There are still fourteen undefeated teams remaining as of this writing and last year we well documented and researched the last remaining undefeated team for each season since 1949 (see link: http://www.mylosingseason.net/2011/12/undefeated-teams.html) as well as a history of Murray State (one of the last unbeaten teams a year ago) (see link: http://www.mylosingseason.net/2012/01/murray-state.html. I have spent a majority of my life in Wyoming and have an advanced degree from the insitution. It's a unique state and its basketball team's success this year is largely attributable to Coach Larry Shyatt. Shyatt previously coached Wyoming in 1997-98 before returning last year and guiding Wyoming to a 21-12 record.
Wyoming has a storied basketball tradition. Besides the National Championship referenced here: http://www.mylosingseason.net/2007/01/wyoming-utah-sailors-ferrin-mikan-and.html and Kenny Sailors mentioned in this same post, Wyoming had some strong seasons during the late 80's including a cover photo and Sports Illustrated article about its then superstar Fennis Dembo. Through the magic of technology that issue is now available to everybody online. (see link: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/edb/reader.htmlmagID=SI&issueDate=19871118&mode=reader_vault
Dembo's name will go down with several others referenced in this blog for its combination of uniqueness and the fleeting moment of infamy that like so many other college stars he had. Dembo led Wyoming to some of it's best seasons. The 1986 team went 24-12 and advanced all the way to the NIT Championship game at Madison Square Garden before losing to Florida. The 1987 team advanced to the Sweet 16, as Dembo torched Reggie Miller in a second round matchup against UCLA by scoring 41 points.
In fact, the last time Wyoming found itself ranked according to the Associated Press was at the end of the 1988 season when Dembo and Eric Leckner led Wyoming to the WAC Tournament Championship playing in Provo, Utah. Wyoming finished that season with a final AP ranking of 13, led by Dembo, future NBA first round draft choice Eric Leckner and then coach Benny Dees.
That was the same year Wyoming played against Loyola Marymount which finished ranked 15th in the final AP poll. (see link regarding Paul Westhead and LMU: http://www.mylosingseason.net/2009/03/memories-of-paul-westhead.html). The 1988 season was particularly relevant to followers of WAC basketball as BYU was the last undefeated team that year. (See Link to Sports Illustrated article (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/edb/reader.html?magID=SI&issueDate=19880208&mode=reader_vault).
In fact, if you parse the back issues of Sports Illustrated you will find an additional article and picture of Dembo on page 88 of the March 21 issue. In that issue, in the last paragraph of Morin Bishop's weekly report on college basketball he writes, "But it was fun again for the 3,500 fans that made the trip to Provo; one of them waived a sign that said, 'Benny Dees for President'". Benny quipped, "that's the guy that threw those eggs," regarding a previous incident earlier in the season when his house was egged. (see link: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/edb/reader.html?magID=SI&issueDate=19880321&mode=reader_vault)
While Bishop is correct about the sign, it took two of us to hold it the night in Provo. What Benny Dees probably still doesn't know is that other person who held the sign that night in Provo also later gave Dees' son a job where they teamed up to win a junior college national championship. This blog has written a lot about the College of Southern Idaho and its coaches passion and my passion which were largely fueled by those games that Wyoming played in 1986, 1987 and 1988 -- the last time Wyoming found itself ranked.
Accordingly, it has been twenty-four years since that season when that sign was hoisted in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah and Wyoming last found itself in the Associated Press Top 25. Wyoming did crack the UPI top 25 in 1991, rising to number 25 during the week of January 15th and actually on that team as a walk-on was the current head coach of CSI Golden Eagles. I am certain that he does not even know about the multitude of factors and incidents which tie him to the lore of Wyoming basketball.
This past week, the Pokes received 15 votes in the AP poll, putting them at essentially 29th and 8 votes in the USA Today Coaches poll putting them at essentially 31st. Both on the cusp of being ranked for the first time since 1991 in the coaches poll and since 1988 in the Associated Press poll -- given the right bounces, the Pokes could find themselves essentially ranked for the first since that 1988 season.
Wyoming doesn't play again until December 18th -- a home game against the University of Denver and then they host UCSB on December 21st (a team they already beat by 28 points on the road). The likelihood of entering January undefeated and with two poll opportunities between now and then the likelihood of being ranked seems high.
Whether the team can achieve the ranking evokes strong memories and connections.