Eagles Picked to Finish in Middle of Big Sky Pack - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Eagles Picked to Finish in Middle of Big Sky Pack

© Eastern Washington Univ. Athletics © Eastern Washington Univ. Athletics

by Eastern Washington Univ. Athletics

Encouraged by a youthful team with a fast finish a year ago, the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team has been picked to finish fifth by the coaches and sixth by the media in preseason polls announced by the Big Sky Conference Thursday (Oct. 17).

Eastern returns four starters and seven total letterwinners from last year's team, which finished 10-21 overall and 7-13 in the 11-team Big Sky under head coach Jim Hayford. Now entering his third year at the helm of a squad with no seniors, EWU was picked to finish behind preseason pick Weber State, North Dakota, Montana and Northern Colorado in the coaches' poll. The media picked Montana State to finish in fifth just ahead of the Eagles.

"I think the Big Sky Conference is going to be more difficult -- there are many teams returning solid rosters," said Hayford, whose team opens the season Nov. 10 at home versus Pacific University. "We have a very challenging preseason that will prepare us for a great conference season."

A year ago, Eastern finished with four wins in its last eight outings, but came up short in qualifying for the seven-team Big Sky Conference Tournament. However, three of those late losses included an overtime loss to UNC, a four-point setback to North Dakota and an eight-point loss at Weber State.

Weber State, which is coming off a school-record 30 win season and a second-place finish in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, earned 31 of the 34 first-place votes from the media and a total of 370 points. Weber State was a unanimous first-place selection in the coaches' poll, earning 10 first-place votes and 100 total points. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team.

 "Congratulations to Weber State and coach (Randy) Rahe," Hayford added. "He runs a first-class program and they are deserving of the recognition."

Coaches Poll

Rank – Team – First-Place Votes – Total Votes
1. Weber State (10) – 100
2. North Dakota – 86
3. Montana (1) – 84
4. Northern Colorado – 77
5. Eastern Washington – 55
6. Montana State – 54
7. Sacramento State – 39
8. Portland State – 38
9. Northern Arizona – 32
10. Idaho State – 22
11. Southern Utah - 18

Media Poll

Rank – Team – First-Place Votes – Total Votes
1. Weber State (31) – 370
2. Montana (3) – 322
3. North Dakota – 308
4. Northern Colorado – 251
5. Montana State – 220
6. - Eastern Washington – 188
7. - Northern Arizona – 161
8. Sacramento State – 140
9. Portland State – 116
10. Southern Utah – 92
11. Idaho State - 65

More on the Big Sky Conference Preseason Polls . . .

Two-time defending Big Sky champion Montana was selected second by the media and third by the coaches. Montana received one first-place vote in the coaches' poll and 84 total points. In the media poll, the Grizzlies received three first-place votes and 322 total points.

North Dakota, which enters its second season in the Big Sky, was tabbed second by the coaches and third by the media. Brian Jones' club finished 12-8 in conference and advanced to the semifinals of the Big Sky Championship. UND earned 86 points in the coaches' poll, and 308 in the media poll.

Northern Colorado was selected fourth in both polls. Montana State was tabbed fifth by the media and sixth by the coaches. Eastern Washington was selected fifth by the coaches and sixth by the media.

Weber State went 14-2 in conference in 2011-12 and 18-2 last season, finishing second to Montana both seasons. The Wildcats fell in the Big Sky Championship game both years to the Grizzlies.

The Wildcats return senior guard/forward Davion Berry, a First Team All-Big Sky pick and the Newcomer of the Year last season. Berry averaged a team-high 15.2 points per game, which ranked fifth in the league. The Wildcats also return senior center Kyle Tresnak, who averaged 11.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game en route to Second Team All-Conference honors.

Senior point guard Jordan Richardson also returns to the lineup, and sophomore forward Joel Bolomboy is one of the league's rising stars.

Weber State won a Big Sky single-season record 30 games last season, falling to East Carolina in the championship of the CIT. The Wildcats lost starters Scott Bamforth and Frank Otis.

Montana, which has played in four straight Big Sky Championship games and posted four consecutive 20-win seasons, returns reigning Big Sky MVP Kareem Jamar. The senior guard/forward averaged 14.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game last season.

The Grizzlies lost All-Conference guard Will Cherry and senior All-Conference center Mathias Ward to graduation. Junior guard Jordan Gregory, an Honorable Mention All-Conference last season, returns to the starting lineup, along with senior center Eric Hutchison.

The Grizzlies won a Big Sky single-season record 19 conference games last season with just one loss. Over the past two seasons, UM has won 34 of 36 conference games.

North Dakota is led by senior First Team All-Conference guard Troy Huff, who led the league in scoring with an average of 19.2 points per game and led the league in steals with an average of 2.4 per game. North Dakota returns three other starters, including guards Aaron Anderson and Jamal Webb. Anderson earned Second Team All-Conference honors last season and netted 13.3 points per game. Webb was second in the league in steals and third in assists.

B.J. Hill enters his fourth season as the head coach at Northern Colorado. The Bears return First Team All-Conference forward Derrick Barden, who averaged 13.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Guards Tate Unruh and Tevin Svihovec return to the starting lineup. Unruh averaged 13.5 points per game and shot .428 percent from 3-point range. Svihovec averaged 11.9 points and 3.2 assists.

Montana State, under the direction of eighth-year coach Brad Huse, will be led by senior forward Flavien Davis and senior guard Antonio Biglow. MSU has qualified for the Big Sky Championship every season under Huse.

The returning starters for Eastern Washington include sophomore forward Venky Jois. The 6-foot-7 Jois averaged 12.3 points per game, and led the league in rebounding (9.0 per game) and blocked shots (2.4 per game) en route to being selected the Freshman of the Year.

Northern Arizona, Sacramento State, Portland State, Southern Utah and Idaho State rounded out the media poll. Sacramento State was tabbed seventh in the coaches' poll, followed by Portland State, Northern Arizona, Idaho State and Southern Utah.

The 2013-14 regular season begins on Friday, Nov. 8. The 2014 Big Sky Championship is slated for March 13-15 at the site of the regular-season champion. Conference teams will play 20 league games in a true double round-robin format.

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