Wyoming's Cowboys were supposed to have had about as much chance of winning the WAC championship last year as they did of driving from Laramie to Cheyenne without snow tires. The 'Pokes had to go with 6'6" Ken Collins at center, and most WAC observers thought they were generally built too close to the floor to be much of a threat in this league, except as obstacles to trip over. When Collins left the squad at midseason, the midgets should really have been in trouble. But, stealing a trick from Muhammad Ali, Coach Bill Strannigan came up with a confusing shuffle. He maneuvered his biggest (and slowest) men, 6'5" Tom Asbury and 6'8" Gary Von Krosigk, outside and kept the real midgets-Mike Eberle, Harry Hall and Bob Wilson—zipping through the middle. They ran a lot but shot little in what amounted to a fast-moving stall that wore rival bean poles down to their size. It was a slick improvisation by Strannigan, who has made the most of his material for eight years now.
By early March Wyoming had beaten co-favorites New Mexico and Brigham Young twice, including an NCAA playoff win over BYU. Then Bill and his cunning Cowboys fell off their horses when faced with UCLA in the NCAA regionals at Corvallis, Ore. "I'm not sure we've fully recovered from Alcindor," Strannigan admits, reminiscing about the 49-point loss to the Bruins. He's not kidding, either.
He has lost Asbury, a second-team all-league performer, but Tom's expected replacement, sophomore Carl Ashley, can do more things and do them better, not the least of which is scoring. The 6'6" Denver product made 25 points a game for the freshmen. He is quick and has good spring. Mike Eberle, All-WAC as a junior, is the floor general and a brash outside shooter who fired away from ridiculous distances last season and still averaged 14 points. Harry Hall, a junior from Harvey, Ill., is only 6'2" but can jump with most players much taller, and he is, says Strannigan, "our most complete player." Hall scored 535 points (18 a game) to become the highest scoring sophomore since Flynn Robinson and was second in rebounds. Von Krosigk, a junior from Riverton. Wyo., is expected to be a conventional, stay-near-the-hoop post man this year. He is moving his 210 pounds better and that, Strannigan hopes, will improve his shooting and rebounding.
Wyoming's relief men last season were about as plentiful as General Custer's. After the first six men, Strannigan warmed up the cheerleaders. Now there are other good youths besides Ashley up from an 11-3 freshman squad. "All in all, I feel richer this year," says Strannigan, a spiffy dresser and an affable road companion. "We may have the depth to spell some of the starters. We may have added enough height to our quickness to run and score instead of shuffling for our lives."
Over in Provo, Utah, at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, BYU Coach Stan Watts has no more worries about who should start at center, 6'11" Craig Raymond or 6'11" Jim Eakins. Raymond is gone, and Eakins, a senior, is prepared to take over as the resident steeple. Watts also has 6'7" Kari Liimo and 6'4" Marty Lythgoe. Liimo, a gift from Finland, improved consistently last year and was all-league as a sophomore. Lythgoe is a good jump shooter. After these three, Cougar experience dwindles away, but there is a flock of newcomers from an 11-2 freshman team, most notably Guards Doug Howard and Bob Davis and Forward Gary Schneider, all of whom averaged 15 points or better. Watts took the team on a lengthy summer tour of the Orient and South Pacific, which helped season the young ones and should help all of them get off to a fast start.
And, of course, in Salt Lake City there is Jack Gardner, who would be dangerous with four little old ladies and a Singer midget in the post. Right now he is bawling over the loss of 6'8" Center DeWitt Menyard, ineligible after just one year of being a Utah Runnin' Redskin. "Menyard would have made us a definite title threat," Gardner says. The Utes still have Guard Merv Jackson, a senior from away off in Georgia, to lead eight other lettermen, and Jack will win his share.
Never a WAC winner and with little chance this year, Arizona may score a few upsets. Around Coach Bruce Larson are Bill Davis, Mickey Foster, Mike Kordik.