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Eastern basketball seen as middle-of-the-road in Big Sky

Eastern Washington University logo (Courtesy)

Hayford says polls are a good barometer

The Big Sky Conference preseason polls say a lot about the Eastern Washington men’s basketball program, coach Jim Hayford said Thursday.

“It shows a recognition that we’re building in the right direction and at the same time it shows we have a lot of work to do,” said Hayford, whose team is picked to finish fifth by the coaches and sixth by the media.

That’s better than last year’s ninth-place finish – out of 11 teams – that left the young Eagles out of the postseason tournament. That team finished 7-13 in the conference and 10-21 overall.

With only three upperclassmen and no seniors, the Eagles are even younger this year – Hayford’s third in Cheney – but perhaps more experienced. Since practice opened on Oct. 1, Hayford said he’s “really encouraged by our great team chemistry and really intelligent play.”

Weber State, which is coming off a school-record 30-win season, is the heavy favorite of both the media and the coaches. The Wildcats were a unanimous pick of the coaches and took 31 of 34 first-place votes from the media.

“It’s nice to know that some of the people in our league think we have a chance to be a pretty good basketball team,’’ said Weber coach Randy Rahe, who is 150-75 record in seven seasons.

Weber 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.

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

Montana, the two-time defending champion, 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.

“They’ve set themselves apart from the league,” Hayford said when asked if Weber or Montana will be challenged this year. “Talk is cheap, and until someone does it, those two are in a higher elevation of the Big Sky.”

North Dakota, entering 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 tournament.

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

The 2013-14 regular season begins on Nov. 8. The 2014 conference tournament is scheduled 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.