In preparation for challenging preseason schedule – particularly in November – Eastern begins third season under Jim Hayford
Practices for the 2013-14 Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team will begin on Oct. 1, and the Eagles will need every one of them in preparation for the early tests they will get when they open their 31-game schedule in November.
Entering their third season under head coach Jim Hayford, the Eagles will practice mornings, starting Oct. 1 at 10 a.m. Eastern will have 30 practices between Oct. 1 and the team’s season opener at home versus Pacific University on Sunday, Nov. 10 at 2:05 p.m. That begins a seven-game schedule in November, highlighted by a visit to the University of Washington on Nov. 17.
The Eagles return four starters and seven total letterwinners to a team that finished 10-21 overall and just missed the Big Sky Conference Tournament with a 7-13 league mark.
“The early season schedule is tough when you look at it,” said Hayford. “When you play the Huskies it is a big challenge. I am really excited to play in the tournament down in Irvine because we are getting to play three other mid-major schools that were picked at the top of their leagues similar to a Weber State or a Montana in our league. It is going to let us know how we hold up against what the top of our league looks like. There are no schools on our schedule that look like the bottom or the middle of our league in terms of our non-conference schedule, but that is only going to prepare us more.”
After the home date with Pacific, the Eagles will play at Washington of the Pac-12 Conference in a game televised on Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. Pacific time by the Pac-12 Networks. The Huskies were 18-16 a year ago overall and 9-9 in one of the toughest leagues in the country.
“It will be the first time since I have been the head coach that we have played the Huskies and traveled over to Seattle,” said Hayford. “It is always a neat challenge to see how we stack up against the larger schools in the state.”
Then it’s off to Irvine, Calif., to play in the 2K Sports Classic, where Eastern will play three games in three nights. The Eagles play Boston University, LIU Brooklyn and UC Irvine – teams which had a collective record of 58-43 (57 percent) a year ago, and were 34-18 (65 percent) in their respective leagues.
Saint Mary’s, which was 28-7 overall and 14-2 in the West Coast Conference in 2008, ushers in an equally difficult month of December.
The schedule also features a trip to the East Coast to play Connecticut and Seton Hall, and a total of seven opponents which played in national postseason tournaments a year ago. The schedule includes 20 Big Sky Conference games for the second-straight year and a total of 14 home contests.
“I think the Big Sky Conference is going to be more difficult -- there are many teams returning solid rosters,” Hayford said. “We have a very challenging preseason that will prepare us for a great conference season.”
Connecticut finished 20-10 overall and 10-8 in the Big East Conference last season, while Seton Hall was 15-18 overall and 3-15 in the league. However, Seton Hall and six other teams in the so-called “Catholic 7” broke off from the league, but will retain the Big East tag. The remaining Big East teams, plus others in the expanded conference, will now be named the American Athletic Conference.
“The East Coast trip jumps out at you -- it is an excellent opportunity for our guys to see a different part of the country and to experience playing against one of the nation’s elite programs,” said Hayford. “I know the guys are looking forward to that trip.”
Besides Pacific, Eastern’s non-conference home games include Walla Walla (Nov. 19), Seattle (Nov. 29) and UC Irvine (Dec. 15). Home games will begin at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time for weekday games and Sunday and Saturday games will start at 2:05 p.m.
More on EWU’s 2013-14 Schedule . . .
In all, Eastern’s 2013-14 schedule includes 10 games versus six schools who participated in national postseason tournaments a year ago. Eastern will play six games against those opponents on the road, and four games at home.
Three appeared in the NCAA Tournament – LIU Brooklyn (Nov. 23 in Irvine), Saint Mary’s (Dec. 8 on the road) and Montana (Jan. 9 at home and Feb. 8 on the road). UC Irvine (Dec. 15 at home and Nov. 24 in Irvine) played in the College Basketball Invitational Tournament, and won a game before falling in the quarterfinals.
The other three postseason opponents on EWU’s schedule were also in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT). Weber State (Jan. 2 on the road and March 8 at home) won four games to advance to the championship, where it lost to East Carolina 77-74. North Dakota (Jan. 30 at home and March 1 on the road) played in the first round, as did Boston University (Nov. 22 at UC Irvine Tournament).
The Big Sky Conference Tournament will take place March 13-15 at the site of the regular season champion. For the second-straight year, it will now include seven teams, with the regular season champion receiving a first-round bye. The tournament will include a quarterfinal round with six of the teams playing, followed by semifinals and the championship game.
Hayford hopes a more experienced team will translate to winning more of the close games they lost in the 2012-13 season. Nine of EWU’s losses were one-possession games with less than four minutes remaining, and the Eagles finished 6-10 in games decided by 10 points or less.
“There were a number of close games,” he said. “That is part of being in a competitive conference. The hard part about experience is getting it. Hopefully we got it, and we will win more than our fair share of those close games this year. I do like that our guys found ways to win some of those last year.”
Eastern will be trying for its third Big Sky Tournament berth in the last four years in 2013-14, and its 13th in 27 years as a member of the league. Eastern has 12 previous appearances (1990, 98, 99, 2000, 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 11, 12).
Hayford won for the 279th time in his 400th game as a collegiate coach on March 7 when the Eagles beat Idaho State 87-73. He is currently 279-122 (69.6 percent) in 14 seasons as a head coach, including a 25-38 mark at Eastern. He was 217-57 (79.2 percent) in 10 seasons at Whitworth (2001-2011), and before that was 37-27 in two seasons at the University of Sioux Falls (S.D.).
“I have done everything I can to be a student of the history of Eastern Washington basketball,” Hayford said. “The year that stands out for each Eagle fan is when Eastern went to the NCAA Tournament in 2004, but they were 4-9 in non-conference games.
“You cannot be afraid of a tough schedule playing these bigger schools regardless of the outcome,” he continued. “You just focus on it making you better and better. I think we have a non-conference schedule that will put us in the fire. It will refine us, make us stronger and prepare us for Big Sky play. That is what this year’s schedule is, so we embrace it.”