1 A new leader. Jim Hayford gets the point: this has been a troublesome position almost since the day he arrived from Whitworth in 2011. That’s when incumbent point Glen Dean departed for Utah; 18 months later, Justin Crosgile quit in midseason. Now it’s up to junior college transfer Drew Brandon, a 6-foot-4, 180-pound junior from Corona, Calif., to run the offense. Brandon impressed Hayford with his ability to control the pace of the game – fast or slow – and his composure. Brandon was multiple a threat last year at Sierra College, averaging 15.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.2 steals.
2 Hitting the glass. The Eagles were second in the Big Sky last year in first-shot field-goal defense. The killer was second and third shots, the product of a minus-4.2 rebound differential for the season and minus-3.3 in conference games. For the year, opponents grabbed 420 offensive rebounds, 78 more than the Eagles. Besides the maturation of forward Venky Jois (9.0 rebounds a game) and center Martin Seiferth (6.3 rpg), Hayford expects more boards from hard-working 6-6 small forward Thomas Reuter, the 6-4 Brandon and 6-3 shooting guard Tyler Harvey.
3 Kelly for 3. If the Eagles are going to break down opposing defenses, they’ll need an even better long-range shot from Parker Kelly, who shot 40.1 percent from 3-point range last year. That’s a solid number, but if Kelly “can get it up to 45 percent, that’s elite,” said Hayford, who has named Kelly a team captain along with Jois. That’s especially important on Hayford’s offense, which last year took 775 shots from long range, hitting 34.1 percent as a team. Guard Tyler Harvey and newcomer Ognjen Miljkovic, a 6-7 forward from Serbia, also are threats from three.
4 When game’s on line … Poor free-throw shooting – 65.5 percent overall – cost the Eagles several games last season, but there may be a bright side. Opponents frequently targeted Seiferth, who in one mid-season stretch was 13-for-40 from the line, but he was 13 for 19 in the last six games of the season. Departing players hit 69.5 percent of their free throws, so the new players will need to step up and deliver.
5 And a little luck. Just a run of average fortune would be better than last year, which included a prolonged absence for personal reasons by Collin Chiverton; the untimely departure of Crosgile, several injuries and even a car accident in Grand Forks, N.D., that sidelined senior guards Kevin Winford and Jeffrey Forbes. To top things off, Jois suffered an ankle injury that cost him several games during the final month of the season.