As far as its hopes of playing on into the postseason are concerned, Eastern Washington University’s men’s basketball team will be working without a net tonight when it entertains Northern Colorado in a Big Sky Conference showdown that tips off at 7:05 at Reese Court.
The Eagles (11-15 overall, 5-9 Big Sky) dropped road games at Weber State and Idaho State last week to slip into seventh place in the conference standings and need a win over the Bears (12-16, 6-7) tonight to have any chance of qualifying for the six-team league tournament that will determine the Big Sky’s automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
UNC, which beat Eastern 75-68 in Greeley, Colo., earlier this winter, is tied with Montana State (12-12, 6-7) for fifth place in the BSC race with home games left against Montana and MSU following tonight’s matchup. The Bears can assure themselves of finishing ahead of Eastern with a win tonight, leaving the Eagles with a chance to tie Montana State for sixth by beating Portland State at home next Saturday.
But even though EWU and MSU split their two regular-season matchups, the Bobcats would earn the league’s sixth and final tournament berth by virtue of their upset win over regular-season champion Weber State earlier this year.
“We have to worry about what we can control at this point,” Eagles coach Kirk Earlywine said earlier this week. “And what we can control is how we play against Northern Colorado.
“Obviously, we need some help, and things have to fall right for us. But more than anything else, all the help in the world isn’t going to save us if we don’t do our part and win the rest of our games.”
Eastern could still overtake UNC or Montana State – but not both – for the final BSC tournament berth, because those teams must still play each other, which means at least one will match the Eagles’ total of seven league wins.
If UNC beats Montana State and ties Eastern for sixth place, the final tournament berth would go to the team with the highest RPI, as the result of their having split their two regular-season matchups.
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