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Eastern Washington

Record: 4-9.

Preseason polls: Picked second by coaches and media.

Coach: Ray Giacoletti (Minot State '85) 56-46 (30-14 in league) in four years at Eastern Washington, 104-79 in six years overall.

Wins 2000-03: 15-17-17-18

League finish 2000-03: t1st-2nd-2nd-2nd

Best win: 65-54 at Santa Clara on Jan. 3.

Worst loss: 70-49 vs. Gonzaga on Dec. 31.

Stat that matters: The Eagles have finished either first or second in the last four seasons, three under Giacoletti.

Prospects: Pretty good. Despite their non-conference record, the Eagles still have the makings of a good team. Senior Alvin Snow has league-MVP talent, but has been wildly inconsistent so far. After averaging 17.6 ppg in Eastern's first seven games, he averaged just 7.0 in their next five before breaking out for 28 in the Eagles' final non-league game at Santa Clara. The road win was just one of seven (against 38 defeats) posted by the league during non-conference play. Junior forward Marc Axton has found his range of late, averaging 15.2 ppg in his last five games while shooting 63 percent. Like many Big Sky teams this season, the Eagles are weak in the paint. Freshman Matt Nelson (6-8) leads the team in rebounding at just 4.5 a game. Senior guards Brendon Merritt and Josh Barnard will have to take their games up a notch if the Eagles want to live up to preseason expectations.

Prediction: Second.

Idaho State

Record: 5-9.

Preseason polls: Picked fifth by coaches, fourth by media.

Coach: Doug Oliver (San Jose State '73), 57-93 (27-49 in league) in six years at Idaho State and overall.

Wins 2000-03: 8-14-10-15

League finish 2000-03: t8th-3rd-t7th-t3rd

Best win: 78-62 vs. Binghamton on Nov. 22 in Top of the World Classic.

Worst loss: 90-66 vs. BYU on Dec. 29 in Adidas Festival in Honolulu.

Stat that matters: The Bengals rank last in the league in scoring margin (-7.7), free-throw shooting (.601) and rebounding margin (-12.3).

Prospects: The Bengals would be a clear favorite to win the Frontier Conference after warming up for league play with consecutive wins over Rocky Mountain and Montana-Western after losing seven straight. To compete in the Big Sky, however, the Bengals will have to find some semblance of an inside game. ISU has been outrebounded by an astounding 12.3 boards a game during non-conference play. The Bengals have the top point guard in a league short on point guards in senior Marquis Poole. Poole leads his team in scoring (15.3), assists (5.4) and steals (2.6). Snow College transfer Jeff Gardner has stepped into the void left by an injury to sharpshooter David Schroeder, who is out for the season. Gardner is averaging 21.7 ppg over his last three games. Senior center Scott Henry was among the league leaders in rebounding and field goal percentage last season, but has failed to match those numbers so far this year.

Prediction: Eighth.

Montana

Record: 3-9.

Preseason polls: Picked third by both coaches and media.

Coach: Pat Kennedy (Kings College '75), 16-26 (7-7 in league) in two years at Montana and 409-302 in 24 years overall.

Wins 2000-03: 17-11-16-13

League finish 2000-03: t1st-t7th-t4th-t3rd

Best win: 75-68 over Saint Mary's on Nov. 30 in UM Holiday Classic.

Worst loss: 71-64 at home to Jackson State on Dec. 16.

Stat that matters: The Griz rank seventh in the league in turnover margin (-2.5) and last in assist-to-turnover ratio (0.68).

Prospects: Not great. The Griz won three of their first four and looked impressive in winning their own tournament over SE Missouri and Saint Mary's, but they've lost all eight games since then. The biggest problem has been the revolving door at point guard, where senior Derrick Mansell, junior Roy Booker and sophomore Kevin Criswell have all taken turns. It's Mansell's job now and with some stability there the Griz might be able to cut down on their league-leading 18.8 turnovers a game. Criswell, the league's top freshman last season, is shooting just 28 percent from the field - 20 percent from 3-point range - during the current eight-game slide, the longest for a Griz team since 1968-69. The Griz will need greater contributions from seniors Steve Horne and Brent Cummings, and junior transfer Kamarr Davis if they expect to be competitive in league.

Prediction: Fifth.

Montana State

Record: 8-5.

Preseason polls: Picked eighth by coaches and sixth by media.

Coach: Mick Durham (Montana State '80), 210-176 (101-78 in league) in 14 years at Montana State and overall.

Wins 2000-03: 12-16-20-11

League finish 2000-03: 7th-t4th-1st-t6th

Best win: 82-75 over Colorado State on Jan. 5 in Bozeman.

Worst loss: 74-56 at home to Santa Clara on Dec. 6.

Stat that matters: The Bobcats are first in the league in scoring margin (+3.2), field goal percent (.482) and 3-point shooting (.404).

Prospects: Surprisingly good. The Bobcats are the hottest team in the league entering Big Sky play, having won five in a row. Senior Jason Erickson looks like the early favorite to win his second league MVP award. He's second in the league in scoring (17.1 ppg), first in free throw shooting (.911), third in 3-point shooting (.489) and first in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.15). Beyond the numbers, he's the best floor leader in the league. True freshman Nick Dissly of Bozeman might be this season's Kevin Criswell. He's the top frosh in the league in scoring (10.6), field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and assists. Matt Towsley, a 6-10 junior transfer, gives the Cats a scoring threat in the paint, but is just an average rebounder. If 6-6 senior Calvin Ento can help the Cats hold their own on the boards, they're a cinch to exceed preseason expectations.

Prediction: Third.

Northern Arizona

Record: 7-6.

Preseason polls: Picked seventh by coaches and media.

Coach: Mike Adras (UC-Santa Barbara '83), 71-58 (32-28 in league) in five years at Northern Arizona and overall.

Wins 2000-03: 20-15-14-15

League finish 2000-03: 3rd-t4th-t4th-5th

Best win: 74-73 at UNLV on Dec. 18.

Worst loss: 67-58 at Marist on Dec. 28.

Stat that matters: The Lumberjacks lead the league with 9.3 3-pointers per game.

Prospects: No worse than most of the rest of the league's middle teams, but no better either. The Lumberjacks might have one advantage over many of the teams that will battle for the middle slots - they have two go-to guys, one inside and one outside. Forward Aaron Bond, a 6-7 senior, has averaged 26.7 ppg over his last three games, going 28-for-33 from the line during that stretch. He and Adrian Hayes, a 6-8 senior, lead the team in rebounding at 5.1 a game. The outside guy is sophomore Kelly Golob (13.4 ppg), who leads the league in 3-point ers (42) while shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc. The Jacks have to find some consistency from the other three slots on the floor to move into the upper half of the league.

Prediction: Seventh.

Portland State

Record: 6-7.

Preseason polls: Picked fourth by coaches and eighth by media.

Coach: Heath Schroyer (Armstrong State '95), 11-29 (3-11 in league) in two years at Portland State and overall.

Wins 2000-03: 15-9-12-5

League finish 2000-03: 6th-t7th-6th-8th

Best win: 74-55 at home over Portland on Dec. 19.

Worst loss: 79-63 at Cal State Northridge on Dec. 22.

Stat that matters: The Vikings allow fewer points (64.8) than any other team in the league and rank second in field goal percentage (.458).

Prospects: Far better than last year when the Vikings finished last. Blake Walker, a 6-5 transfer from San Bernardino Valley JC, is already the odds-on favorite for newcomer of the year. He leads the league in scoring (18.4), including a 41-point effort at Tennessee State. He's also third in rebounding (6.4). The 2001 freshman of the year Seamus Boxley (6-7, 210) is finally healthy again and is an extremely active player in the paint. He's leading the league in rebounding (8.8) by a wide margin and is eighth in scoring (13.2 ppg). Will Funn, a JC teammate of Walker's, appears to be an adequate point guard and Sheu Oduniyi, a walk on, gives the Vikings a credible outside threat. PSU shed the burden of a 21-game road losing streak during the non-conference season and appears talented enough to make some noise in league play.

Prediction: Fourth.

Sacramento State

Record: 6-7.

Preseason polls: Picked sixth by coaches and fifth by media.

Coach: Jerome Jenkins (Regis '90), 32-65 (10-34 in league) in four years at Sacramento State and overall.

Wins 2000-03: 9-5-9-12

League finish 2000-03: t8th-9th-t7th-t6th

Best win: 73-51 at home over Long Beach State on Dec. 27.

Worst loss: 76-60 at Cal Poly on Dec. 6.

Stat that matters: The Hornets are last in the league in shooting (.399).

Prospects: Better than in recent years. The Hornets enter league play with their second best record since joining the Big Sky. Sac State won three road games against Big Sky teams last season after losing their first 49, including a win over Montana in the first round of the Big Sky tournament, the Hornets' first postseason appearance. The Hornets' leading scorers, senior Joseth Dawson (12.2 ppg) and senior Joel Jones (11.6 ppg), each redshirted last season. Senior guard Brandon Guyton (10.1 ppg) gives the Hornets three players averaging in double figures. Sac is the worst shooting team (.399) in the league, but ranks third in scoring defense (67.8 ppg) and first in 3-point defense (.252). Sophomore DaShawn Freeman has been inconsistent at point guard, but ranks third in the league in assists (4.5) and fifth in steals (1.8).

Prediction: Sixth.

Weber State

Record: 7-6.

Preseason polls: Picked first by coaches and media.

Coach: Joe Cravens (Texas-Arlington '77), 84-47 (40-20 in league) in five years at Weber State, 139-99 in nine years overall.

Wins 2000-03: 18-15-18-26

League finish 2000-03: t4th-t4th-3rd-1st

Best win: 82-68 at Southern Utah on Dec. 2.

Worst loss: 79-59 vs. Troy State at Oneida Classic in Green Bay, Wis.

Stat that matters: The Wildcats are one of just two teams in the league with a positive rebounding margin (+1.0).

Prospects: Very good. Weber State has more proven players than any team in the league, which is good enough to make the Wildcats the favorite to repeat as champs. Slobodan Ocokoljic (6-8, 235) is averaging 15.9 ppg and 6.6 rebounds a game. Lance Allred, a 6-10 transfer from Utah, chips in 12.4 ppg and 4.6 rpg and senior guard John Hamilton adds 11.8 ppg. Senior Nic Sparrow, among the league leaders in 3-point percentage (.382), gives the Wildcats four players averaging in double figures at 11.2 ppg. Without Jermaine Boyette at the point, the Wildcats are not the same team that cruised through conference unbeaten last season, but they're good enough to win a weak league.

Prediction: First.

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