Other than a couple of masks and a noticeable distance between coach, athlete and interviewer, Big Sky Conference men’s and women’s basketball virtual media days were similar to previous years.
A member of each school’s media department doled out questions to their representatives – some in person, some in a video conference – often touching on coronavirus adjustments and season outlook.
The interviews recorded in October were posted Thursday by the conference, a day after Big Sky coaches and media picked Eastern Washington to repeat as Big Sky Conference champions.
EWU senior guard Jacob Davison was voted preseason Most Valuable Player earlier this week.
Idaho’s women were also picked to win the league in both polls.
Unfinished business for EWU men: The Eagles, who return four starters and the majority of their bench from a 23-8 campaign, saw their season end in March at the Big Sky Conference Tournament, two hours before the quarterfinal round.
Davison, who averaged 18.4 points last season, hopes the coronavirus doesn’t get in the way of the Eagles’ pursuit of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
“It was devastating,” Davison said of potentially missing an NCAA berth earlier this year. “That’s been my goal since when I first knew what March Madness was, and to come that close for it to be cut short was tough.
But it gets me more excited for this season.”
The Eagles will have to make up for the lost production of graduated forward and Big Sky MVP Mason Peatling, who averaged 18.5 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.75 assists per game.
In EWU’s four previous seasons, three were named MVP, including Jake Wiley (2017) and Bogdan Bliznyuk (2018).
Legans believes another MVP could emerge.
“We’ve been in situations where we have guys leaving, then guys step up, like guy (Davison) sitting next to me,” Legans said.
He even led our team in assists some games.”
All-Big Sky talent Kim Aiken Jr., a versatile wing who averaged 12 points and nine rebounds last season, may also be a potential MVP candidate.
EWU, looking to win back-to-back Big Sky titles for the first time, doesn’t believe there’s pressure to live up to the lofty preseason expectations
“I don’t think so. “We’ve always had a target on our back. Even when we lost back-to-back (championship games) to Montana.”
EWU opens its season Nov. 25 at Oregon.
EWU women look to rebuild: Wendy Shuller enters her 20th year as head coach with several winning seasons on her résumé.
Last season – an 4-26 record and first-round tournament exit – wasn’t one of them.
Youth and injuries took their toll on EWU last season before multiple players transferred, three currently on different NCAA Division I rosters.
But the Eagles return three players who started much of last season, including leading scorer Grace Kirscher (10 ppg).
The Eagles were picked to finish 10th and ninth in the media and coaches polls, respectively.
“It’s a process. We talk every day about trusting the process and not expecting everything all at once,” Shuller said. “It helps we have the upperclassmen we have, that have bought into the team concept.”
The return of Kirscher and sophomore guards Kennedy Dickie and Jenna Dick may open things up sophomore forward Milly Knowles, who was injured last season.
“I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest post, I feel l have both (shooting and inside ability,” Knowles said in the virtual interview.
EWU opens its season Nov. 25 at Washington State
Idaho men adjusting to new roster: Idaho men’s basketball coach Zac Claus went 8-24 in his first season in charge, and that was with All-Big Sky senior guard and leader Trevon Allen.
Idaho now has a roster mixed with transfers and experience, but the team couldn’t get too acquainted during the spring and summer due to coronavirus restrictions.
Claus likes what he sees so far, though.
“Our new guys have been terrific,” Claus said. They’ve come in eager, work ethic, and have been incredibly coachable.”
Idaho was picked to finish 11th and 10th in the conference, according to both polls.
Scott Blakney, a senior forward who started 31 games last season, is one of the more experienced players.
“We couldn’t meet any of the new guys or any of the coaches in the summer, stuff we were use to doing,” Blakney said. “It was mostly just me and Gabe Quinnett” (in Moscow over the summer), and that’s who I was trying to work out with.”
The Vandals open Big Sky play on Dec. 5 at Sacramento State.
Vandal women aim Sky high: Idaho coach Jon Newlee called the cancellation of the Vandals’ Big Sky Tournament title game against Montana State “a punch to the gut,” as his team was on the cusp of a potential NCAA Tournament appearance.
Idaho, annually one of the best teams in the Big Sky, is expected to return to the top of the conference, in a season that will likely have little or no fans.
Newlee believes his team can create its own energy.
“There’s no question we have had the best bench in the Big Sky in recent years. Their energy is amazing,” he said.
Idaho, 22-9 last season, returns All-Big Sky guard Gina Marxen, All-Big Sky wing Beyonce Bea and starting forward Natalie Klinker.
Bea likes the potential of this group, she said has been in its own bubble to help avoid infection.
“I think we’ll be a really strong team defensively again this year, and offensively as we reduce those turnovers, sharing the ball, not just a one-man show kind of thing.
Idaho opens Big Sky play on Dec. 3, hosting Sacramento State.
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