Conference Contenders? Utah Valley has bigger ideas

By Connor Dee

The Big Dance is 42 days away. In just 42 days, one team will represent the Western Athletic Conference with a chance to shine on the biggest stage. Four out of the last five years New Mexico State has represented the conference in The Tournament. Midway through the conference season, they stand an abysmal 0-9. In 2021, Grand Canyon was the one sneaking into the Round of 64; this year they stand 3 games out of first with a lackluster conference record of just 5-4. Who leads you ask? It’s time we start putting some respect on Utah Valley’s name.

Picked to finish seventh in the Preseason Coaches Poll, the Utah Valley Wolverines have rolled to first place in the conference halfway through the season. At 8-2, Utah Valley stands one win ahead of Seattle, Southern Utah, and Stephen F. Austin. The Wolverines have shined bright against the lower half of the league. They are 5-0 against teams with a losing record, but just 3-2 against teams over .500.

After starting conference play with five straight wins, the Wolverines suffered their first loss in a home game to Seattle. Three games later, they lost by 12 to Southern Utah. Concern can be raised about how Utah Valley handles its top-of-the-conference opponents. They will face Stephen F. Austin in the last game of the season, in what will likely mean a lot for conference tournament seeding.

Outside of the losses, the Wolverines have proven that they can win in a multitude of ways. Utah Valley’s leading scorer, Justin Harmon, has had some duds sprinkled into the mix of a stellar season. Even when he isn’t scoring, Utah Valley can depend on Trey Woodbury and Le’tre Darthard to provide points. Along with that, sophomore sensation, Aziz Bandaogo, continues to show what he’s capable of. The seven-footer is fourth in blocks and double-doubles in the entire NCAA.

Make no mistake, this Utah Valley team can make the NCAA March Madness Tournament. Head Coach Mark Madsen has turned this squad into a machine that most of the time functions on a very high level. The Wolverines have the three keys to the cinderella story: senior leadership, great guard play, and a presence down low. They will be chased and tested for the remainder of the season, but if the Wolverines do make it out alive, get ready for them in March. The Madness is just 42 days away.

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