Champions of the Big Sky conference after rallying from an eleven point deficit in the title game against Montana, Eastern Washington was given a #13 seed and a matchup against #4 Georgetown Thursday at 10 PM EST. The Eagles are fast becoming a chic upset pick by many college basketball pundits. But do they have the ability to upset the Hoyas?
Eastern Washington is one of the best offensive teams in the country, with a 110 adjusted offensive rating according to KenPom stats, 46th in the nation. This did not come completely against low-major competition, either, as they scored 1.08 points per possession (PPP) in a loss to SMU and 1.18 PPP in a win against Indiana. They are spurred on by their high volume high efficiency three point shooting, making 39.6% as from outside the arc as a team, 14th in the nation, shooting threes at a rate of 43% of their total field goal attempts, 18th in the country.
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The Eagles shy away from two point jump shots, attempting these shots on just 18.9% of their total attempts according to hoop-math, 17th lowest in the county. They play a version of MoreyBall, taking a good portion of their shots at the rim (39.1% of total attempts) or from beyond the arc (43%). They are led by the nation’s leading scorer in Tyler Harvey, a junior who scored 22.9 points per game on 52.4% from two point range and 42.4% from three. Harvey is the type of player who can put the Eagles on his back and will them to the second weekend will etching his name into NCAA tournament lore.
Georgetown was a strong defensive team this season, and will need to slow down Harvey to stop EWU’s offensive attack. The Hoyas ranked 25th in the nation defensively, allowing an adjusted defensive rating of 93.7. The Hoyas should deploy several players on Harvey and have capable perimeter defenders who could be able to bother him with their size, length and strength in 6’3″ D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, 6’5″ Jabril Trawick, 6’5″ and L.J. Peak or possibly 6’9″ Isaac Copeland in a pinch.
Harvey can score in a variety of ways, however, and will be difficult for Georgetown to handle. He has the ball in his hands a ton, and EWU also runs him off ball screens on almost every half-court possession, where he is one of the most efficient scorers in the county. Off these ball screens, Harvey can pull off the dribble and knock down jumpers if defenders drop down and cut off dribble penetration. According to Synergy Sports, Harvey shoots 51% on jump shots off the dribble, one of the best marks in the nation.
Georgetown will defend the ball screen by fighting over the top and having their big man show high on the ball screen. It’s not a full hedge defensively, but they are aggressive with their defense, which will be necessary to stop Harvey from pulling up off the dribble. They may need to extend their hedge further out than they have at times in previous games, to ensure Harvey doesn’t pull up from several feet behind the arc, especially if he is in rhythm.
When Hoyas big man Josh Smith is on the floor, EWU will need to run him through ball screens and try to free Harvey for jump shots or drives to the rim. Smith doesn’t have great lateral foot speed at all, and Harvey should be able to get open looks against Smith, especially if Smith steps too far out on the hedge to try to take away jump shots.
If the defense runs Harvey off the three point line, he can get to the rim and finish, where he shoots 58.8% at the rim, according to hoop-math. Harvey is listed at 6’4″, 185, which makes his finishing at the rim impressive, as he has shown he can score over taller and stronger defenders with his slight frame. However, he may have trouble against the interior defense of Georgetown, who allow just 49.4% shooting at the rim, 11th in the nation, while blocking 14.5% of shots, 15th in the nation.
Harvey isn’t a great creator off the dribble, as he looks to shoot instead of pass when he drives to the rim. Harvey averages only 2.5 assists per 40 minutes pace adjusted, which is low for a player with the ball for so much of the game. However, he does have decent vision and can find open teammates when the defense swarms to him.
Harvey is flanked on the Eagles interior by fellow junior 6’8″ Venky Jois, who averages 16 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Jois gives Eastern Washington an interior scoring presence, but is also able to attack off the dribble from the perimeter. He will need to handle some of the scoring load for EWU to pull the upset, and surprising Georgetown with his perimeter skills could be one of the keys for the Eagles.
Jois is undersized, but he is an efficient post scorer showing some nice footwork on the interior. He needs to use his footwork to get past defenders, as he isn’t going to power through them or score over them on a regular basis. He’ll be at a disadvantage against the 6’10” Smith when matched up against him, and will have to draw him out to the perimeter and try to beat him off the dribble. When defended by other smaller Georgetown bigs such as Mikael Hopkins or Copeland, however, Jois may be able to score on the block.
EWU takes the right shots according to conventional wisdom, but they are undersized, measured as the 266th tallest team by KenPom’s effective height ranking. This hurts their efficiency at the rim, as they rank 104th in the nation at 61.2% around the rim. Combined with their lack of offensive rebounding ability, corralling just 29.4% of their misses, the Eagles can struggle offensively if they can’t hit their three point attempts, as they don’t have a second way to score regularly.
For as good as EWU is good offensively, they are that poor defensively, allowing 107.7 points per 100 possessions, according to KenPom. They don’t have great size or superior athletes on the floor, so they need to constantly help on dribble penetration or in the post, which can lead to open shots. They like to switch on ball screens, which can leave them exposed on the perimeter. Georgetown is just an average three point shooting, converting 34.7% of their long distance attempts. But the Hoyas will have space to shoot out of ball screens, and will need 39.5% shooter Smith-Rivera to be ready to hit big shots. If Smith-Rivera gets a second to gather himself in the middle of a ball screen switch or has space against a big man, he has regularly shown the ability to knock down jumpers off the dribble.
Jois can be scored upon in the post, as he gives up several inches at times to opposing post players and EWU doesn’t have any other players bigger than him that play significant minutes. They are average at rim protection, allowing teams to shoot 57.8% at the rim according to hoop-math, although they do block an impressive 12.3% of their opponents shots. Smith should have an advantage here, and staying out of foul trouble will be key for him, as he should be able to impose his will during his minutes. The clips below show Jois being beaten defensively on the block by California big men as well as Smith using his size advantage to score on the low block. This will be a tough matchup for Jois, and EWU will need a strong game plan to deal with the size and strength of Smith.
EWU will need to find a way to turn Georgetown into a perimeter team, where they shoot 34.7% from three point range and 35.2% on two point jump shots. This will be easier said than done, though, as they will be outmatched on the interior and Georgetown will be looking to continually feed the post, especially when Smith is on the court. The battle will likely be won around the rim, as Harvey will need to be strong at the rim to finish against the likes of Smith, Hopkins and others, while Georgetown will look to exploit their size advantage on the offensive end for easy buckets.
This is a tough matchup for EWU against a defensive minded Hoyas team, but it could be one of the surprise upsets of the first round if they can handle the Georgetown size while finding space for Harvey to create for himself. Regardless of how far they go, though, Eastern Washington will be part of some of the most entertaining games of the NCAA tournament. They play fast, averaging 68.6 possessions per game, 24th in the nation while shooting a ton of threes and have a player who can go off for a major day in Tyler Harvey. Georgetown will look to control Harvey while dominating on the interior with their size advantage.
If they can do that, they should avoid being a first day upset and live to play another day.
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