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Idaho picked to win Big Sky by coaches, media; Eastern Washington middle of the pack

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 13, 2017, 8:23 p.m.

Idaho, picked to win the Big Sky Conference by both the media and coaches, returns a veteran cast led by Victor Sanders, left; Bogdan Bliznyuk-led Eastern Washington was picked sixth by the media and seventh by the coaches. (File / SR)
Idaho, picked to win the Big Sky Conference by both the media and coaches, returns a veteran cast led by Victor Sanders, left; Bogdan Bliznyuk-led Eastern Washington was picked sixth by the media and seventh by the coaches. (File / SR)

Idaho has been picked to finish first by the media and the coaches in Big Sky Conference preseason polls released Friday by the league office.

The Vandals are followed by Weber State and Montana in both polls for the upcoming 2017-18 season. The media picked Montana State fourth, North Dakota fifth and Eastern Washington sixth. The coaches picked Northern Colorado and Montana State in a fourth-place tie, followed by UND and EWU.

Idaho returns its top seven scorers from last year and bring back Perrion Callandret for his redshirt senior season. In all, the Vandals return nearly 85 percent of their scoring and 75 percent of their rebounding from last year’s squad that finished 12-6 and tied for third in the conference.

In 2016-’17, the Vandals advanced to the Big Sky Tournament semifinals before falling to eventual champion North Dakota. Idaho took a bid to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, where the Vandals defeated Stephen F. Austin before falling to Texas State in the quarterfinals.

Idaho’s upcoming season includes six games against teams that won conference championships last season. The Vandals open the season on Nov. 10 at defending Mountain West champion Nevada before returning home to take on George Fox on Nov. 13 and Sam Houston State on Nov. 18. The annual Battle of the Palouse makes its way to Moscow this season, with Washington State crossing the border on Dec. 6.

Senior guard Victor Sanders, who averaged nearly 21 points per game a year ago, leads a veteran cast for the Vandals. Sanders was selected to the preseason All-Big Sky Team, as announced by the league on Thursday.

Eastern Washington, meanwhile, is led by new coach Shantay Legans and versatile forward Bogdan Bliznyuk. Bliznyuk was also named to the preseason All-Big Sky team, and is one of 10 returning players to the Eagle roster. The eight newcomers include Lithuanian 7-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.

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.

The women’s polls were also released on Friday. Northern Colorado is the prohibitive favorite to win the championship. Eastern Washington was picked to finish sixth in the Media Poll and selected seventh by the coaches. The coaches placed Idaho fifth and the media had the Vandals finishing fourth.


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