There are two teams in the current WAC with multiple WAC regular season championships under their belts. Yes, of course, one of those is New Mexico State. It might surprise you to learn that Utah Valley is the other team. The Wolverines won the regular season crown in 2013-14 under Dick Hunsaker. And now, in 2020-21, the Wolverines were regular season co-champs under second-year head coach Mark Madsen. Utah Valley shared the 2020-21 regular season crown with GCU after splitting with the Lopes in the final regular season series of the 2020-21 season.
Madsen returns the WAC Player of the Year Fardaws Aimaq along with talented guard Trey Woodbury. And the Utah Valley staff might have gotten the player they needed via the transfer portal in former BYU guard/forward Connor Harding. With the addition of Harding, Utah Valley improved its perimeter shooting. The Wolverines attempted 123 few 3-pointers than their opponents in 2020-21. Adding a perimeter shooter will open things up a bit more for Aimaq to work in the paint and Woodbury to attack the rim.
Mark Madsen, 3rd season
At UVU: 22-30 overall, 14-14 in WAC play
Postseason: Lost in 2021 WAC semifinals to New Mexico State
Fardaws Aimaq, 6’11, RSSO, C/F
Trey Woodbury, 6’4, JR, G/F
Tim Fuller, 6’9, SO, C/F
Le’Tre Darthard, 6’4, SO, G
Evan Cole, 6’10, GR, F
Jamison Overton, 6’6, SR, G
Connor Harding, 6’6, JR, G (BYU)
Tim Ceaser, 6’9, SO, F (Coastal Carolina)
Justin Harmon, 6’4, SO, G (JUCO)
Jordan Battle, 6’2, FR, G
Predicted WAC Finish
I will catch grief for my predicted WAC finish for the Wolverines. It’s already a forgone conclusion. The argument will be made that Fardaws Aimaq returns and Trey Woodbury is one of the best players in the league. Connor Harding gives UVU more of an outside threat from the perimeter. Yes, yes I know all this.
When Aimaq announced he was returning to Orem for another season, that was huge news. The 6’11 sophomore is the WAC Player of the Year, averaged 15.0 rebounds per game, first time that has been done in nearly 50 years. And led the Wolverines to a share of the WAC regular season crown. That is half the good news. Trey Woodbury is also back after scoring 15.6 points per game for the Wolverines. Woodbury had his best game of the season against New Mexico State in the WAC semifinals. The Las Vegas native went for 34 points and was 15-16 from the free throw line. Good news indeed.
— UVU Men’s Basketball (@UVUmbb) July 7, 2021
Even better news is that Madsen and his staff persuaded BYU forward Connor Harding to come to UVU. Harding’s wife plays basketball at BYU so that had a big part in the decision. Harding’s length will create problems on the perimeter on the defensive end. On the offensive side of things, Harding will allow the Wolverines to spread the floor a little more. Yes, Harding only shot 31 percent from 3-point range last season. However, in 2019-20, Harding was a 44 percent 3-point shooter for the Cougars.
The Question Marks
Now, here are some of the reasons for 6th-place. Utah Valley lost Jamison Overton and Evan Cole who were electric. Overton also averaged 15.6 points per game for the Wolverines. Cole was the fourth leading scorer at 11.4. But it was the quickness and athleticism both of these players showed that made the Wolverines better. That’s the first thing.
Second thing is while the offseason workouts look great, and Aimaq has lost weight, we can’t understate the struggle against NMSU in El Paso and the WAC semifinals. And the struggle against the bigs of GCU in the final WAC series. Yes, Aimaq averaged 13.8 rebounds over those five games. But, with double teams coming and more physicality happening in the paint, Aimaq only averaged 6.2 points in those five games. In fact, New Mexico State shut Aimaq out in the points category in the WAC semifinals.
The third thing is the point guard position. Yes, Blaze Nield and Jaden McClanahan were good at times last season. The assist-to-turnover ratios were solid for both. But, the Wolverines need to get more scoring punch from the point guard position in order to compete in the WAC. When you have guards like Darrion Trammell, Jovan Blacksher Jr., Ty Rowell, Montre Gipson, and Cam Gooden among others, your point guard has to produce some offense rather than simply being a game manager. The WAC is a guard-heavy league and Utah Valley’s guards will have to have more scoring ability in the Wolverines are to contend in 2021-22.
We know what Trey Woodbury and Fardaws Aimaq can do and will do. If the Wolverines are to take a step forward, Le’Tre Darthard and Tim Fuller have to have big season especially offensively. Darthard can shoot from the perimeter but also finish at the rim. Fuller is a big strong body that can rebound and score around the rim. Both have to step their game up a bit in 2021-22. The other question is will the transfers pan out? Tim Ceaser from Coastal Carolina and JUCO transfer Justin Harmon could have big roles for the Wolverines.
Games are not won or lost on paper. Utah Valley has the talent and the experience of winning a championship under its belt. However, in a revamped WAC that simply got better with the new additions, the Wolverines will have to be even better to have a chance at repeating as WAC champs.
The Wolverines will play in the inaugural SoCal Challenge in Malibu. The Wolverines will take on West Coast Conference foe Pepperdine on Nov. 15. Utah Valley will then play Idaho on Nov. 22 and either Cal Poly or Nicholls State on Nov. 24. At this time that is the only scheduling news we have for the Wolverines.