Utah Valley Rolling Into Conference Play

The college basketball season is in full swing, and the Utah Valley Wolverines are swinging for the fences. After a shaky start to the season, losing three of their first five games, the Wolverines have turned it on in a big way. With upset wins against BYU and Oregon, UVU has won six straight games heading into conference play. Will this be the year the Wolverines finally break through to the Big Dance?

It all starts from the top: the head coach. Mark Madsen is in his fourth season as the head coach for the Utah Valley Wolverines. With a championship pedigree in the NBA, Madsen has all the tools and knowledge to bring his team to the promised land.

The 2020-21 season notched Madsen’s best season to date. His Wolverines came in second in the conference (9-4) and lost in the first round of the conference tournament to New Mexico State. The 2021-22 season saw UVU take a step back, finishing 10-8 in conference play, good for seventh place.

This season, Coach Madsen has a team that looks poised and confident, shaking off the ghosts of a poor season last year. With eight players returning, the Wolverines have the pieces they need to do damage in conference play.

Last year it was Fardaws Aimaq that led UVU in scoring with just a tic shy of 19 a game. The junior, now senior, stud has since transferred to Texas Tech and left his team desperate for points. A new point leader has been crowned, but he is going to need consistent help.

Junior guard Justin Harmon is leading Utah Valley in points with just a shade under 15 a game. With his field goal percentage up nearly five points from last year, and his three-point percentage jumping from 29.7% to 36.8% Harmon looks ready to command the offense. But this team isn’t just a one-trick pony like the year before.

Utah Valley has four players averaging over 10 points a game and Trey Woodbury is one of them. He seems to have recovered from his knee injury and is out for blood this season. If Utah Valley wants to have success in the conference they will need consistent scoring from Woodbury. His three-point percentage is at a career-best and they will need him and Harmon to stretch the floor and knock down threes consistently. So far, they’ve shown they can do that.

But who will replace Fardaws Aimaq’s paint presence? Don’t worry, Coach Madsen has found the answer: Aziz Bandaogo. The seven-foot sophomore sensation has drastically fulfilled any expectations Utah Valley started the season with. Bangaogo was thrust into the starting position, after averaging just 12 minutes last year, and he is making his mark quickly.

The lengthy giant is averaging a double-double, and career highs in points and rebounds. His defense has quickly improved as well. Using his size, Bandaogo is blocking over 2.5 shots per game, a 116% increase from a season before. The Wolverines have the three key pieces to make a deep run in their conference: shot-making, rebounding, and paint presence. But they will be facing stiff competition as usual.

Two teams have won the conference tournament in the past five years, and one team has won it eight out of the last ten. New Mexico State is the juggernaut that Utah Valley must overcome. A team with upset potential every time they enter the tournament, New Mexico State is clearly the team everyone else is looking up to.

So will it finally be Utah Valley’s year to break through to the Big Dance? Only time will tell. Along with NM State, Stephen F. Austin has recently joined the conference and will pose a legitimate threat as well. Mark Madsen has to be thrilled with how his boys have performed to start, but what matters most is ending the season even stronger. Utah Valley will be tested throughout this entire conference season, but come March, anyone can get hot. Let’s see who does.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: