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Eastern Washington picked in the middle of the Big Sky basketball pack

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 13, 2017, 4:34 p.m.

Expect Eastern Washington to lean heavily on Big Sky Conference Player of the Year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk. (File / SR)
Expect Eastern Washington to lean heavily on Big Sky Conference Player of the Year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk. (File / SR)

Eastern Washington has been picked to finish sixth by the media and seventh by the coaches in Big Sky Conference preseason polls released Friday by the league office. A year ago, Eastern was in a tie for fifth by the media and was also picked seventh by the coaches, but went on to finish as the league runner-up in the regular season.

Idaho, Weber State and Montana hold down the top three positions in both polls for the upcoming 2017-18 season. The media picked Montana State fourth, North Dakota fifth and Eastern sixth. The coaches picked Northern Colorado and Montana State in a fourth-place tie, followed by UND and EWU.

Led by new coach Shantay Legans and Big Sky Conference Player of the Year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk, the Eagles feature a team with size throughout their lineup. Bliznyuk was named to the preseason All-Big Sky team, and is one of 10 returning players to the Eagle roster. The eight newcomers include Lithuanian seven-footer Benas Griciunas, a graduate transfer who has 59 games of NCAA Division I experience.

The Eagles are coming off a third-straight appearance in a national postseason tournament, and were 22-12 overall a year ago. Eastern finished 13-5 in the Big Sky to finish second behind regular season champion North Dakota, and then the Eagles advanced to the semifinals of the league tournament.

“I love this team – we have size, we have veterans and we have youth,” said Legans. “We have athleticism and we can score on the low block right now, and we can shoot the ball from the outside very well. We feel really good about this team. We have a lot of size, with a seven-footer who could start and a point guard who is 6-6 and grew over the summer. That size will affect how we play offense and how other teams play against us.”

The Eagles return eight letterwinners from last year, including a trio of returning starters — Bliznyuk, Mason Peatling and Luka Vulikic. A senior, Bliznyuk was a second team All-Big Sky Conference selection a year ago, and was the league’s Freshman of the Year in 2014-15.

The Eagles began practices for the 2017-18 season on Oct. 2, and officially open the season at home on Nov. 10 against Walla Walla in the debut of Legans’ head coaching career. The Eagles then go on the road for 10-straight games, including games against Pac-12 foes Washington on Nov. 12 and Stanford on Nov. 14, before playing three games in Las Vegas.