The Eastern Washington University men's basketball team will make its fifth national postseason appearance as a member of NCAA Division I when the Eagles open play in the College Basketball Invitational this Wednesday (March 15) against Wyoming in Laramie, Wyo.
Tipoff is 6 p.m. Pacific time in the first round of the tournament, which is presented by FIVE FOUR and the Gazelle Group. Eastern is making a repeat appearance in the CBI, and EWU's third-straight national postseason appearance under head coach Jim Hayford. Fans can listen the game on 700-AM ESPN and via the web at www.700espn.com.
"We are excited to continue our season with our program's third-straight postseason appearance," Hayford said Sunday evening.
Eastern enters Wednesday's game 22-11 after going 1-1 in the recently-concluded Big Sky Conference Tournament. The Cowboys are 18-14 overall after finishing 8-10 in the Mountain West Conference.
Wyoming, which defeated Eastern 78-71 in Laramie on March 19, 2003, in the National Invitation Tournament, lost to Air Force 83-68 on Wednesday in the MW Tournament. The winner of the Eagles-Cowboys game will play again on Monday, March 20, versus the winner of the Green Bay at Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) game.
"Wyoming has one of the great home court advantages in college basketball," said Hayford. "If you win a game there you have really earned one. Coach (Allen) Edwards has a very good program that earned 18 wins playing in a very difficult league. They have our full respect."
Eastern entered the year picked to finish seventh by the coaches and fifth by the media in the preseason polls. Eastern lost a pair of first team All-Big Sky Conference and All-District performers to graduation – including the school's all-time leading scorer – but reloaded to win 22 games and finish second in the Big Sky at 13-5. The Eagles also boast the league's MVP in senior graduate Jacob Wiley and a second team All-Big Sky selection in Bogdan Bliznyuk.
Eastern's current total of 81 victories is the best four-year stretch in the school's Division I history, and the third-best overall. Eastern won 83 games from 1975-1978 and 106 from 1943-46. The Eagles have won 66 games in back-to-back-to-back seasons, which is also the best in EWU's DI history. Eastern won 80 games from 1945 to 1947 and 66 from 1976-78.
A year ago, Eastern finished with an 18-16 record after advancing to the second round of the CBI, including the school's first NCAA Division I postseason win with a 79-72 home victory over Pepperdine. The season came to an end at Nevada by an 85-70 score, and the Wolf Pack went on to defeat Morehead State in the best of three championship final.
CBI First Round Pairings (all March 15)
Loyola (Md.) at George Mason
Hampton at Coastal Carolina
Stony Brook at UIC
Toledo at George Washington
Eastern Washington at Wyoming
Green Bay at UMKC
San Francisco at Rice
Utah Valley at Georgia Southern
* Besides the 2016 and 2017 CBI, Eastern has participated in the NCAA Tournament in 2004 and 2015, and the NIT in 2003. In 2003, Eastern fell to Wyoming 78-71 in the first round of the NIT in 2003, then lost 75-56 to Oklahoma State in the NCAA Tournament in Kansas City, Mo., a year later. In 2015, after winning the Big Sky Conference Tournament title in Missoula, Eastern fell to 22nd-ranked Georgetown 84-74.
* This will be the ninth national post-season tournament Jim Hayford has coached in. Besides last year's CBI and the 2015 NCAA Tournament, he coached Whitworth in six NCAA Division III Tournaments (2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011). He is 7-8 in national tourney games, including an Elite Eight appearance in his final season at Whitworth in 2011.
* Eastern did not play against any Mountain West Conference foes this season, but did have a pair of common opponents. Eastern split against Montana and defeated Denver, while the Cowboys were 3-0 versus those same schools.
* The Cowboys have four players averaging in double figures, led by Justin James at 15.7 points per game. Hayden Dalton averages 12.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, with Jason McManamen and Alan Herndon chipping in averages of 11.5 and 11.2 points per game, respectively. Those four players are among the five players who have each made at least 40 3-pointers this season, led by McManamen's 74.
* The CBI is a single-elimination tournament up until the "best-of-three" Championship Series, with all games played at campus sites. After the first round games, the Quarterfinal Round will take place on Monday, March 20, followed by the Semifinal Round on Wednesday, March 22. Prior to the semifinals, the remaining teams will be re-bracketed. The Championship Series is a best-of-three in which one team will host two of the three games. Those games will be played on March 27, March 29, and March 31. Past CBI champions include Nevada, Tulsa, Oregon State, VCU, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Santa Clara, Siena, and Loyola Chicago. Teams from nearly every conference have participated in the event.