College of Idaho championship10.JPG

College of Idaho basketball players lift the Cascade Conference Tournament trophy over their heads at the conclusion of the championship match against Oregon Tech on on March 3 in Caldwell.

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The College of Idaho men’s basketball team has been challenged by the new kids on the block.

Cascade Conference newcomer Lewis-Clark State was picked by coaches as the league favorite in a poll released by the conference Wednesday, beating out the conference’s defending regular season and three-time defending tournament champions by five votes.

The Warriors, who are joining the league from the Frontier Conference, picked up seven on the 12 first-place votes, tabulating 139 votes. The Yotes, who earned four first-place votes, received 134 points.

Bushnell, formally known as Northwest Christian, received the other first-place vote. The Beacons were tied with Eastern Oregon in fifth place, behind third-place Oregon Tech and fourth-place Southern Oregon.

The Yotes are coming off a season in which they went 20-0 in Cascade Conference play in the regular season, won a third-straight conference tournament title and earned the top seed at the NAIA Division II National Tournament. The Yotes tied the 1996 National Championship team with 31 wins on the season when they beat Northwestern (Iowa) in the first round of the tournament. The Yotes, who made national semifinal appearances in 2018 and 19, looked poised to win their second National Championship, but the tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic before their second-round game. They finished the year 31-3.

The Warriors went 29-3 last season, a season which included a win over NCAA Division I opponent Idaho. Lewis-Clark State won the Frontier Conference Tournament title for a second straight year and entered the NAIA Division I tournament ranked No. 6 in the country.

COVID-19 canceled that tournament before the Warriors could play their first game. This season, the NAIA will consist of just one division in basketball, with the tournament field expanding to 64 teams.

The Yotes will host their new in-state conference rivals on Dec. 13, the second weekend of the Cascade Conference schedule. The College of Idaho makes the return trip to Lewiston on Feb. 5.

The College of Idaho will open the season against Montana Western on Nov. 27 as part of the Taco Bell Shootout at the J.A. Albertson Activities Center.

John Wustrow is the assistant sports editor of the Idaho Press. He is a Michigan native and a graduate of Indiana University.

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