Defending Champions Picked to Finish Third in Big Sky

Defending Champions Picked to Finish Third in Big Sky

Weber State and Montana are co-favorites, but Eagles are just 15 points behind in the coaches poll and 37 points away from first as chosen by the media

Big Sky Conference News Release

They weren't picked to win it last year, and look what happened to the Eagles.

In what could again be a tightly-contested race in the Big Sky Conference, the defending champion Eastern Washington University men's basketball team has been picked to finish third by both the coaches and media in preseason polls released Thursday (Oct. 1) by the league.

Eastern had 99 points in the coaches poll to trail preseason favorites Weber State (114) and Montana (113). Both the Wildcats and Grizzlies received six first-place votes. With 183 points in the media poll, EWU trailed preseason favorite Montana (220) and WSU (194). Montana captured 14 of the 19 first-place votes, with the Eagles receiving one and the Wildcats two.

"We are eager to get on the court and show what this team can do," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford, whose team officially begins practice for the 2015-16 season next Monday evening (Oct. 5). The Eagles open the season on Nov. 13 at Mississippi State of the Southeastern Conference.

The Eagles closed a monumental 2014-15 campaign with a 26-9 record overall after finishing 14-4 in the Big Sky Conference to share the regular season title with Montana. Eastern swept through three games in the Big Sky Conference Tournament to garner the school's second NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.

Despite being picked to finish second by the coaches and third by the media a year ago, the Eagles finished with program bests for victories overall (26), in the Big Sky (14), on the road (11) and in non-conference play (9) in 32 seasons as a member of NCAA Division I.

"Being picked in the top third of the conference is a good place to be," said Hayford. "That shows we are earning the respect of our peers. This year there are many great players returning in the Big Sky Conference and the league has so many great coaches. We have our work cut out for us."

Although senior forward Venky Jois is the lone starter back for EWU, Eastern returns four other letterwinners. The Eagles added several talented newcomers to the fold – including graduate transfer Austin McBroom – to replace seven letterwinners lost. Included was honorable mention All-American Tyler Harvey, who left following his junior season to become a second-round draft choice in the NBA by the Orlando Magic.

Jois was selected to the All-Big Sky Conference first team as a junior in the 2014-15 season, and then was named to the Big Sky Conference All-Tournament team. He was the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year in the 2013-14 season, and earned honorable mention All-Big Sky accolades as both a freshman and sophomore.

Among the other returning letterwinners are Bogdan Bliznyuk, who was the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year after coming off the bench to average 8.7 points and 4.0 rebounds for the Eagles. It's an honor now won six times in the past 14 seasons by Eastern players, including Jois in the 2012-13 season.


2015-16 Preseason Polls

Coaches: 1. Weber State 114 points (6 first-place votes); 2. Montana 113 (6); 3. Eastern Washington 99; 4. Northern Arizona 79; 5. Southern Utah 64; 6. Portland State 62; 7. Northern Colorado 61; tie-8. Idaho 52 & North Dakota 52; 10. Sacramento State 51; 11. Montana State 31; 12. Idaho State 14.

Media: 1. Montana 220 points (14 first-place votes); 2. Weber State 194 (2); 3. Eastern Washington 183 (1); tie-4. Northern Arizona 133 (1) & Sacramento State 133 (1); 6. Northern Colorado 117; tie-7. Idaho 109 & Portland State 109; 9. Southern Utah 96; 10. North Dakota 70; 11. Montana State 64; 12. Idaho State 24.

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