New Eastern men’s basketball coach knows challenging schedule is what will eventually make his program a “perpetual postseason team”
His debut schedule as a NCAA Division I head coach is incredibly difficult, but that doesn’t bother Jim Hayford.
The first-year Eastern Washington University men’s basketball coach announced his schedule Wednesday (Aug. 16) and it’s top-heavy with perennial NCAA Tournament teams, including the likes of Gonzaga, Oregon, UCLA and Saint Mary’s.
In all, the Eagles play 15 games versus 11 NCAA Division I schools who played in national postseason tournaments in 2011. The Eagles will play all 11 of those foes on the road, as well as four league home games.
“This will be a very difficult preseason schedule,” admitted Hayford. “It’s road-heavy and the opponents are very good. But it’s also the kind of schedule we need to play to prepare ourselves to become a perpetual postseason team.”
Headlining the list of opponents are 2011 NCAA Tournament participants Gonzaga from the West Coast Conference, UCLA from the Pac-12 and Northern Colorado from the Big Sky. Eastern officially opens its season at Gonzaga on Nov. 11, and plays at UCLA on Dec. 14. The Eagles and Bears play in Greeley, Colo., on Jan. 14 and in Cheney, Wash., on Feb. 15.
The Eagles play a pair of road games against teams which played in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) a year ago – Washington State from the Pac-12 (Dec. 3) and Saint Mary’s from the WCC (Dec. 20). The Cougars won three games before losing in the semifinals to Wichita State.
A third Pac-12 foe on Eastern’s road schedule is Oregon (Nov. 17), which won last year’s College Basketball Invitational Tournament (CBI). Other EWU opponents who played in the CBI are Big Sky rivals Montana and Weber State.
The Eagles also play three teams who participated in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT), including road games at Hawaii (Nov. 22) and Idaho (Nov. 30). Northern Arizona from the Big Sky also played in the CIT in 2011.
Eastern’s other NCAA Division I non-conference games are against South Dakota (Nov. 15 at home), UC Davis (Nov. 27 at home), Cal State Fullerton (Dec. 11 on the road) and Seattle (Jan. 16 on the road). The Eagles will also play on the road in an ESPN BracketBusters game on Feb. 17 or 18.
Eastern’s Big Sky Conference slate begins Dec. 28 and Dec. 30 with road games at Montana State and Montana, respectively. The Eagles open their league home schedule on Jan. 5 versus Weber State, then host Northern Arizona two nights later. Eastern home games will begin at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time this season, except for a Sunday afternoon game versus UC Davis (1:35 p.m.).
The quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament are scheduled for March 3 at campus sites. The regular season champion will host the semifinals on March 6 and the championship game on March 7.
Hayford’s first Eastern squad will feature four returning starters and four other returning letterwinners who helped Eastern finish 10-20 overall a year ago. Eastern was 7-9 in Big Sky Conference play to finish sixth and advance to the Big Sky Conference Tournament for the first time since 2006. Eastern advanced to the NIT in 2003 and the NCAA Tournament in 2004.