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UW MEN’S BASKETBALL

Return of Hunter Maldonado makes Wyoming Cowboys the hunted in Mountain West

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LARAMIE – Hunter Maldonado is coming back to play for the Pokes with fellow super senior Hunter Thompson.

And Wyoming will be among the hunted in the Mountain West in 2022-23.

The Cowboys, picked to finish tied for eighth last season, will likely receive first-place votes in the MW preseason poll and votes in The Associated Press preseason top 25 in October.

Maldonado and fellow all-MW first team selection Graham Ike will lead one of the deepest rosters in program history after the Pokes finished 25-9 overall last season with an NCAA Tournament appearance.

Two other members of the all-conference first team – Fresno State’s Orlando Robinson and UNLV’s Bryce Hamilton – are turning pro.

Colorado State star David Roddy, the reigning MW player of the year, has until Wednesday to decide whether to keep his name in the NBA draft.

If Roddy (19.2 ppg) does not return for another run with the Rams next season, UW will have the MW’s top two returning scorers in Ike (19.5 ppg) and Maldonado (18.5 ppg).

The 6-foot-9 Ike (9.6 rpg) will also be the conference’s top returning rebounder with Utah State’s Justin Bean (9.9 rpg) turning pro, and Maldonado (6.3 apg) will be the conference’s top returner in assists with Nevada’s Grant Sherfield (6.4 apg) transferring to Oklahoma.

The Pokes have an abundance of starting experience in the backcourt (Xavier DuSell, Brendan Wenzel, Kenny Foster) and at the forward spots (Jeremiah Oden, Thompson) beyond their two headliners.

Third-year head coach Jeff Linder, who inherited a program that was reeling two years ago coming off back-to-back 24-loss seasons, also made a splash last month by signing Pac-12 transfers Max Agbonkpolo (USC), Ethan Anderson (USC) and Jake Kyman (UCLA).

San Diego State is still the presumed MW favorite with the return of all-conference second-team selection Matt Bradley and defensive player of the year Nathan Mensah.

The deep and experienced Aztecs lose point guard Trey Pulliam to graduation but add talented transfer Darrion Trammell, who averaged 18.7 points and 5.1 assists during two seasons at Seattle.

CSU will obviously be a serious contender if Roddy keeps his talents in Fort Collins. The Rams return veterans Isaiah Stevens, John Tonje and James Moors but have lost key role players Kendle Moore (Missouri State) and Dischon Thomas (Montana) to the portal.

MW regular-season and tournament champion Boise State must replace Abu Kigab, who has exhausted his eligibility, as well as Emmanuel Akot (transferring) and Mladen Armus (turning pro).

The Broncos will try to reload around MW freshman of the year Tyson Degenhart and all-MW second-team selection Marcus Shavers.

One team that could be a surprise contender, like UW was last season, is New Mexico under second-year head coach Richard Pitino.

The Lobos are expected to return the dynamic backcourt dup of Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr. and have upgraded their front court with the addition of transfers Morris Udeze (Wichita State) and Josiah Allick (Kansas City).

Fresno State, Nevada, UNLV and Utah State are rebuilding after losing their star players to the draft and/or the portal. Air Force and San Jose State are projected to remain at the bottom of the MW pecking order.

Follow UW beat writer Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn

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