Big Sky Conference regular-season champion Eastern Washington will make the short trip to Pullman, Wash., on Tuesday for a meeting with Washington State in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament.
Washington State (17-16), the No. 4 seed on its portion of the bracket, concluded conference-tournament season No. 73 in the NCAA’s NET rankings and No. 57 in KenPom.com’s overall advanced-metric rankings.
The Cougars scored regular-season wins over NCAA Tournament teams Arizona, Arizona State and USC, and put together a seven-game winning streak late in the campaign. TJ Bamba’s 15.8 points per game along with 14.3 points with 8.4 rebounds per game from Mouhamed Gueye led Washington State during the regular season and Pac-12 tournament.
Washington State also features DJ Rodman, a versatile wing who surprised his team with an announcement last month he would return to the Cougars for the 2023-24 season.
“We’ve got to be a program that anticipates, expects to play in the postseason. Obviously the big goal is to play in the NCAA Tournament,” Washington State coach Kyle Smith said in his press conference on Monday. “That’s kinda the next step. It’s the same thing this year. … Just getting that experience (of continuing the season to build to the next year), there’s nothing like it to get that confidence.”
After participating in last season’s NIT, Washington State dealt with a bevy of injuries in 2022-23. The Cougars look to extend this year’s postseason run, both in pursuit of a title and to build to an NCAA Tournament run next year.
Eastern Washington (22-10) had its NCAA Tournament hopes dashed with a buzzer-beater loss to Northern Arizona in the Big Sky Conference tournament. The Eagles put together an 18-game winning streak during the regular season en route to the league’s regular-season title — and thus an automatic bid into the NIT — but ended on a three-game skid.
Eastern Washington aims to regroup behind Steele Venters and Angelo Allegri, who lead the Eagles with 15.3 and 13.5 points per game, respectively.
“It’s been a special thing to be a part of (this team),” Eagles coach David Riley said in his postgame press conference following the Big Sky tournament loss. “I think the greatest part of the season is the effort, leadership and buy-in, ‘one through 15’ of the players, of the whole coaching staff, the administration, the president … the whole university.”
–Field Level Media