Montana is second and Montana State is fourth and sixth in the Big Sky Conference's preseason coaches and media men's basketball polls, the league announced Wednesday.
Reigning Big Sky champion Eastern Washington has been tabbed a heavy favorite. EWU topped the coaches poll for the second-straight season with 99 points and nine of 11 first-place votes, and the Eagles totaled 304 points and 24 of 28 first-place votes in the media poll.
Montana came in second in both polls after finishing third in the conference race a season ago. The Griz totaled 86 points and one first-place vote among the coaches while compiling 250 points and two top nods from the media.
Reigning Big Sky Freshman of the Year Derrick Carter-Hollinger is the top returning scorer for Montana after averaging 6.7 points per game. Incoming transfer Michael Steadman was named to the Big Sky Preseason All-Conference Team after posting 13.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game as a junior in 2018-19.
"We're grateful to be in this situation," UM coach Travis DeCuire said. "I like it, but I don't like it, too, because sometimes your student-athletes read those articles and think it's just going to happen. We have to become a top-two team, and we have a lot of work to be that."
Montana State is picked fourth by the media and sixth by the coaches. The Bobcats were picked to finish seventh in both polls ahead of the 2019-20 season before finishing in a tie for fifth.
Under fourth-year head coach Shantay Legans, Eastern Washington returns four starters, including Big Sky Preseason MVP Jacob Davison, who ranked fourth in scoring as a junior with 18.4 points per game. The Eagles also return junior Kim Aiken Jr. who led the league with 9.7 rebounds per game while averaging 13.3 points.
Davison (2nd) and Aiken Jr. (3rd) were All-Big Sky selections last season while leading the Eagles to a 23-8 overall record and 16-4 mark in Big Sky play.
“Our team is being picked as the favorite to win the Big Sky this year, which is a testament to all we accomplished last year and the culture of success we’ve been able to build here at EWU,” Legans said. “That said, we haven’t accomplished a single thing this year, and that is our approach to the season. After winning the Big Sky last year but having to stop short of our quest towards the NCAA Tournament, our team is hungrier than ever. There is a lot of work to be done.”
In the coaches poll, Weber State totaled 73 points for third while Portland State received 67 points and one first-place vote for fourth. The Vikings were followed by last season’s second-place finisher Northern Colorado with 65 points for fifth in the poll.
Montana State (60), Southern Utah (56), Northern Arizona (34), Sacramento State (31), Idaho State (24) and Idaho (10) rounded out the poll.
Northern Colorado took third in the media poll with 222 points and two first-place votes with preseason all-conference selection Bodie Hume returning for the Bears.
Montana State totaled 200 points for fourth, ahead of Weber State’s 183. Southern Utah (173), Portland State (147), Northern Arizona (143), Sacramento State (93), Idaho State (86) and Idaho (50) round out the poll.
The 2020-21 campaign tips off Wednesday, Nov. 25, with the 20-game Big Sky Conference schedule beginning Thursday, Dec. 3. The 2021 Big Sky Basketball Championships will be March 8-13 at Idaho Central Arena in Boise, Idaho.
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