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Sleeping with the Enemy: The Eagles of Eastern Washington

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Your Fighting Hoyas of Georgetown are getting set to do battle with Eastern Washington in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament and as usual we here at THE GLOBAL PHENOMENON are bringing you everything you need to know about Georgetown's next opponent.  Here with us to dish on all things Eagles is Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball, your trusted source for all of your Big Sky needs.  Let's do this!

1) Eastern Washington Eagles! How does it feel to be the first 13 seed in NCAA Tournament history to be favored by the national media in this game but a 7.5 point underdog in Vegas?

It feels good! In all seriousness, it was easy to see throughout the year that if EWU made the tournament, they would become media darlings. From articles on how Eastern Washington is your favorite team and you don't know it yet, to talk about the basketball zamboni, to long profiles on Tyler Harvey and his jump from zero scholarships to the nation's leading scorer, the Eagles are an easy team to root for. For much of the second half of the year, everyone following the Big Sky kind of thought whoever won the conference would be a 15 or 16 seed, or maybe even have to go to the play-in... so when the Eagles were given a 13, AND facing a team that everyone in the national media says is overseeded (no offense!), things certainly reached a fever pitch. I think when people really dig into the matchup, they see it's not quite as easy as the national media is making it seem by writing EWU into the next round, but it's tough to dial down that excitement, especially since it's been awhile since the Big Sky has had any tournament success. 


2) Tell us something about Eastern Washington, the school, that we might find interesting.  Note that when we asked this about Florida Gulf Coast we found out that it was a party school on a beach and that the coach's wife was a smokeshow and therefore we were doomed before the game even started.

Not many people know about this, but Eastern Washington is often called the Florida Gulf Coast of the Northwest (OK, that's a lie). Don't hold it against EWU, but Colin Cowherd is an alumnus of Eastern Washington University, before he went on to annoy fans of all sports all around the country. But in all seriousness, 3% of EWU's student body is international... And I believe all 3% of those international students are on the basketball team (the roster includes one player from Serbia, one from Ukraine, a German, and three Australians). 


3) Do you expect a lot of Eagles fans to make the voyage to Portland? Should Georgetown worry about a raucous pro-Eagles crowd?

To be honest, I doubt it. Eastern Washington's highest attended game this year was 4,621 people when they hosted Montana (the third to last game of the year, which was huge for the right to host the Big Sky tournament), followed by 3,114 people when they hosted Sac State. In theory, Reese Court can host 6,000 people. So, chances are there will not be droves of Eagles fans making the trip. I would still expect it to be a good pro-Eagles crowd, if only because the neutral crowd always favors the underdog, especially when that underdog plays at a fast pace and shoots lots of threes. But in terms of EWU fans specifically making the trip, I don't think they'll take over the arena by any means.


4) Let's talk some hoops.  Is Tyler Harvey as good as everyone is making him out to be? If you had an NBA player comp for him, who would it be?

I do think Harvey is that good, and he could have a future in the NBA, thanks to his shooting ability. His range starts from about my computer (no matter where the game is being played), and he has a beautiful stepback move that he uses to create space and get off shots. Also, he is truly not afraid to shoot from anywhere at anytime. While everyone knows about the shooting, he also has the ability to get into the lane and into the line... unlike a lot of three-point specialists (Harvey shoots 43% from downtown on over 9 attempts per game), Harvey shot almost six free throws per game. He has a solid handle, and rarely turns the ball over. He's unselfish too... in the Big Sky semifinals, Harvey had 0 points in the first half (he finished with 9), because Sacramento State was face guarding him and putting all their defensive attention on him. EWU still had 49 points in the first half, and won 91-83.

In terms of an NBA comparison, I have always thought he seemed like a poor man's Stephen Curry, and I'm at least not alone there (so you don't think I'm crazy). The picturesque stroke, ability to fire it up from seemingly anywhere on the court, smooth handle, and unselfishness all remind you of Curry, to a certain degree. Obviously nobody is as good as Curry at those things, but he can flash those same traits. 


5) Eastern Washington has one of the worst defenses in the nation and will be the worst defensive team the Hoyas have faced all season...by far. How exactly are the Eagles going to defend Georgetown?

That is certainly a good question... EWU will play some man and some zone defense, looking to keep the other team on it's toes a little bit, but I would expect more man defense than anything else. They don't generally bring a lot of pressure, though they did use it effectively to come back at the end of the Big Sky title game. Generally speaking, they don't force turnovers - they just don't emphasize that, and don't have the personnel to do it even if they did. 

The most important defender for the Eagles is big man Venky Jois, who is really the only semblance of a rim protector they have. When he missed games due to injury this year, the Eagles were a bit of a sieve inside. As you've surely noticed if you've checked any of the numbers, teams have crushed Eastern Washington outside, to the tune of shooting 38.4% from downtown against them, a bottom 25 mark in the country. So in short, the best strategy for EWU might be, "I hope Georgetown misses a lot of shots on good looks."


6) Eastern Washington needed a dramatic comeback to snag the Conference Tourney championship over Montana.  Is Eastern Washington even the best team in the Big Sky?

Yes, but that's not to say they were head and shoulders above everyone else.

They split the regular season title with Montana at 14-4, but because of tiebreakers, Montana was the host of the conference tournament, so that dramatic comeback in the final five minutes came on the road against an 11 point deficit. (It also came a night after a fairly suspicious call you may have heard about went in Montana's favor). They likely would have won the conference outright if it weren't for injuries - Venky Jois missed two of their four Big Sky losses, and was limited in a third, while their other contenders enjoyed relative good health. They struggled at times during the middle portion of the Big Sky season, but they hit their stride again come tournament time, and them winning the conference tournament was clearly the best bet for the Big Sky in terms of NCAA Tournament success.


7) If you and I were watching this game together at a bar on Thursday night, please detail your food and beverage order over the course of the 2+ hours.

I'd start with a jack and coke, with wings for an appetizer (of course), medium heat. I grew up in North Dakota, where the variety of spicy food was, uh, lacking, so my heat tolerance certainly leaves a little bit to be desired. Once we got closer to halftime, I'd order a beer... at the risk of turning in my man card, it'd probably be a cider beer (it is St Patrick's week after all), and then a burger and fries. Near the end of the game, I'd get a celebratory shot for me, and one for you drain your sorrows from the game.


8) Is EWU a destination school for head coach Jim Hayford or do you think he may bounce to a high major at some point?

I think he stays at least one more year, because the majority of the team is underclassmen (just two seniors), and is bringing in a couple more talented recruits next year. After that, it's hard to say. One thing that Eastern Washington could have going for it is that it plucked him from DIII Whitworth University, and it seems like he may be a bit more loyal to EWU after it plucked him from the obscurity of the unknown.

Still, he would seem like a good bet to leave for greener pastures after next season. This NCAA Tournament berth certainly boosts his profile, and as mentioned the team should be just as good (or better) next season. Even though he came from DIII, he was phenomenally successful there - to the tune of winning nearly 80% of his games in 10 seasons. He had no previous ties to EWU, so it's not any type of homecoming. He has proven an ability to think outside the box (look at all the international recruits again, and there are more coming in next year), and plays a style that fans love, which is becoming increasingly more important, it seems. Last, at age 47 he would seemingly be in his prime to take a more high profile job. I don't think he's got the resume to jump to a high major yet - it feels like there has to climb one more rung - but a jump to a WCC or Mountain West school in the next two years would make sense.


9) Who are your picks to reach the Final Four and eventually cut down the nets in Indy?

In the Midwest, I sadly have to pick to Kentucky, in part because they're so good, and in part because the rest of their region is so terrible. Down in the West, give me Arizona, mercifully knocking off the Badgers in the Elite Eight, winning the right to get beat by Kentucky in the Final Four. In the East, I've got Virginia and the pack-line defense slogging their way through the bracket. And then in the South, give me Eastern Washington (OK, that's another lie... actually give me Iowa State). Then as much as I'd like to pick against Kentucky, I'm not that dumb... so I'll take Kentucky over Virginia in the title game.


10) What is your perception of this Georgetown team?

First, every time I think of Georgetown I think of a boring offense... I can't help it. My next thought is a team that is pretty dang good defensively. My last thought is that I sort of always forget that Joshua Smith is still playing college basketball (isn't he about 40 by now?), so it will be fun watching him play.

11) What's the deal with that red football field of yours?

In 2010, EWU replaced the natural turf with the red turf, and it's been a huge hit ever since! It reportedly cost $975,000 to install, and since that time they have reduced costs, increased ticket sales, and increased awareness about the program (for example, you are reading about it right now). I think it would be a good idea for Georgetown to install some gray turf on their field so generate a little excitement!

(Casual Note: That's actually not a bad idea.)


12) Final score prediction?

You know I've got to take the Eagles in this game. The best shot for EWU will be hitting from downtown, and the personnel is certainly there. Everyone knows about Harvey, but the Eagles had four other guys take at least 80 threes this year, and another guy that shot 54% on his 40 attempts. Nobody is afraid to shoot from long-range at any time, which should serve them well. So I'm going to say a guy like Ognjen Miljkovic (you can call him OG), Felix Van Hofe, or Bogdan Bliznyuk goes off for 25, Tyler Harvey gets his, and the Eagles feel the crowd get behind them as the clock dwindles down and they have the lead. Eastern Washington 77, Georgetown 71.


13) Please tell me everything is going to be OK.

Most definitely not. Probably not. Well, it could be. It will probably be. Alright, everything will be OK. But keep your definition of "OK" pretty loose.