As I sit in front of my computer, wrapping up my final bracket of the season, I can’t help but notice that only one team from the Western Athletic Conference made it into the NCAA Tournament this year, and it was because they won their conference tournament. New Mexico State, who will be in the same conference next season as UVU, defeated Texas-Arlington 64-55 to punch their ticket to March Madness.
That could be UVU next year.
It’s amazing to think that in one of my many brackets next year, I could be putting the Wolverines over a team like Gonzaga or Georgetown. The Wolverines could be facing St. Louis like New Mexico State is this year. I could be saying UVU and the Final Four in the same sentence. But this year, it is not so. UVU had to settle for a GWC tournament, in which they only saw the first round, losing in double-overtime to Houston-Baptist. Yet the Wolverines still hold their head up high as they look forward to WAC play next season.
The Wolverines have quite a way to go though; their inaugural season in the WAC won’t be an easy one. They will be losing seniors Nick Thompson, Alfonzo Hubbard and Zach Jones in the offseason. Together they were averaging 12.2 points a game for the Wolverines. That’s 12.2 points they won’t have next season. But Holton Hunsaker and Ben Aird will be returning as seniors next season, which might be enough to propel the Wolverines to NCAA recognition.
The glass slipper might not always fit, but for the Wolverines, next year can be their Cinderella story with a trip to brackets all over the world. Jason Johnson will also be returning next season after making 27 starts for the Wolverines, in which he posted 9.7 points a game and a total 63 assists on the year, third best on the team.
But a Cinderella team isn’t just a team that is unknown or underrated. It is a team that knows how to gel together. Next year, the Wolverines will have six returning seniors and Head Coach Dick Hunsaker, who is no stranger to the NCAA tournament, taking Ball State to the Sweet Sixteen in 1990. With his experience, plus those of Aird, Hunsaker and four other seniors, the Wolverines can play well together.
The Wolverines have been waiting for this opportunity to play for a national championship, and 2013-2014 can prove to be a step towards achieving that goal. They have to get there first before putting on their dancing shoes though, and next season will be a welcoming test to the WAC.