The Greatest Basketball Teams In University of Wyoming History
Next week, the Wyoming Cowboys will take on Coastal Carolina in a three-game series for the CBI Invitational Tournament title.
Admittedly, the CBI is not the NCAA...or the NIT, for that matter. But long-suffering Pokes fans will take all the titles we can get. After all, It's been 31 years since Wyoming played for a postseason championship; losing to Ohio State in final round of the 1986 NIT Tournament.
Here's a look back at the five greatest basketball teams to ever wear the brown and gold.
1. 1943 NCAA Champions – In the annals of Wyoming basketball history, no two names are bigger than Everett Shelton and Kenny Sailors. Shelton arrived in 1939 and quickly built the program into a national powerhouse. When Sailors joined the program the following year, he revolutionized the sport with a crazy new invention called “the jump shot”.
In ’43, Sailors was named college basketball’s Player of the Year and led the Pokes to a victory over Georgetown in the NCAA title game. Sailors left Laramie the following year to serve in World War II, but returned in 1945, eventually becoming a three-time All-American before playing in the NBA. Sailors was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.
2. 1934 National Champions – Willard “Dutch” Witte holds the unique distinction of being one of Wyoming’s most successful basketball coaches and least successful football coaches. In 1934, before the introduction of a national tournament, Dutch’s younger brother Less Witte, a two-time All-American, led the Pokes to a 26-4 record. The Helms Foundation, which was the first national college basketball voting poll, named Wyoming the National Champions.
Witte later took over the football program, compiling a 16-30-3 record in six seasons.
3. 1981 and 1982 NCAA Tournament Teams – After Shelton’s retirement in 1959, the program suffered through nearly two decades of futility. In 1978, Jim Brandenburg took over and put Wyoming basketball back on the map.
In the 1980-1981 and 1981-1982 seasons, Brandenburg led the Cowboys to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. Wyoming advanced to the second round of the tournament in both years and won consecutive WAC Championships for the only time in school history.
4. 1987 Sweet Sixteen – Coming off an appearance in the NIT Finals the previous year, the ’87 Pokes struggled during the regular season. Luckily, the Cowboys got hot at the right time, winning the WAC Tournament and scoring upset wins over Virginia and UCLA before falling to Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV Running Rebels in the Sweet Sixteen.
5. 1952 Elite Eight – The '52 NCAA Tournament was the first to feature a “Final Four”. Back in those days, the field consisted of 16 unseeded teams, who were divided into two regions. Wyoming finished 20-10 overall, first in the Mountain States Conference. After defeating Oklahoma City in the opening round, they lost to Santa Clara in the round of eight. No Wyoming team has made it further in the past 67 years.
Honorable Mention: 2002 NCAA Tournament Team – After finishing tied for the conference lead the previous season, coach Steve McClain’s ’02 Cowboys won their first outright Mountain West regular-season title and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Pokes knocked off Gonzaga in the first round, before falling to Arizona in the round of 32.