Thursday, March 19, 2015

How can the Eastern Washington Eagles take down Georgetown

Photo from goeags.com
It only took a few moments for the pundits to begin proclaiming Eastern Washington a  likely upset team for their round of 64 game against Georgetown.  The story is easy to write, Eastern's high scoring sharpshooters take down Georgetown in a repeat of past early tourney exits for the Hoyas. The problem with that narrative is that many of those pundits never actually watch the Eagles play a game, except maybe their victory at Indiana, and this Georgetown team hasn't lost any NCAA Tournament games to a double-digit seeded team.

The raw numbers make these teams look a lot closer than one might expect given their relative seeding.  Georgetown scores 10.1 fewer points per game than Eastern, but EWU allows 9 more points per game. Both teams are extremely close statistically in rebounding, blocks and assists.  Georgetown edges Eastern with 7.7 steals per game to the Eagles 6.4.  Eastern has the edge in shooting hitting 48% of their shots to Georgetown's 45%.  The trouble with raw numbers is that they do not take into account all of the situations that produce them.  For one thing, Georgetown's conference, the Big East, features 6 NCAA Tournament teams, while Eastern is the sole representative from the Big Sky.

Stick with me through the break and I will break down the challenges and chances for Eastern as they head into tonight's match-up in Portland, Oregon.




Offensively the Eagles need to get good looks on the outside and more importantly, capitalize on those looks.  They also need some to be at least threatening enough in the paint to keep Georgetown honest.  The ideas are simple, the execution is where it will get challenging for Eastern.  3 years ago I talked to Coach Hayford about how he wants his offense to break down their opponents.  In that post he described the effort to constantly force defenses into three way decisions about who/what to defend.  In order for this to work the Eagles will need to be able to threaten from the outside and from the inside.

Defensively the Eagles just need to make the Hoyas work for everything and stay out of foul trouble. Georgetown's big men are really big and pretty good at drawing fouls.  Eastern can win trading 3's for 2's, but they can't win if they're best players are riding the pine with foul trouble.  To do this Eastern needs to focus on contesting the perimeter and denying passing lanes into the paint, especially along the back side of plays.

Drew Brandon will play a critical role on offense for the Eagles.  He must protect the ball, and make the right decisions about who to pass too, when to drive the lane and he must be efficient on the shots he takes.  The good news is that Drew is usually all of those things.  On the defensive side Drew and Parker Kelly will likely be asked to take the primary coverage on Georgetown Point Guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who is scoring 16.1 points per game.  DSR is hitting about 39.5% of his shots from beyond the arc and is staking about 6 shots per contest, so he can't be left alone deep.  He can also drive the lane and is excellent at finding the backside player open underneath.  This means that his drive must be stopped before he can get penetration.  Parker has seemed a little slow footed of late, but he will need to be at his best tonight.  Defensively he is tough and aggressive and that is great, but it can also lead to foul trouble if your feet aren't quick enough.  On Offense Parker just needs to be his usual steady self and drain those open looks.

Tyler Harvey is the most obvious key player for Eastern.  He is at times un-guardable, but other times he guards himself by taking poor shots.  It doesn't seem to be about where or when he takes the shot or how much pressure he is under that determines if the shot is bad, it is his balance.  When he is set and on balance, he may be the best shooter I've ever seen, when he doesn't quite get set and shoots out of rhythm it can get ugly quick.  Harvey will need to be at his best to force the Hoyas to either try and double him, or let him bomb away from beyond the arc.

Venky Jois has to stay out of foul trouble and he has to get EWU some points in the paint and limit his turnovers in the process.  He has averaged over 3 turnovers per game his last 6 and the Eagles will need him to be much more efficient and careful with the ball against Georgetown.  If Venky can draw some fouls and get the Hoyas bigs into foul trouble he could change the whole complexion of the game.  Defensively he will need to be on his man throughout the play, don't give them space to catch passes because their size makes it tough to stop them with the ball in the paint and will earn a lot of fouls.

OG Miljkovich and Bogdan Bliznyuk may be the two most important players for the Eagles.  On offense they are the best inside-outside combination players the Eagles have.  They both possess the ability to sink it from anywhere on the floor and the size to challenge Georgetown in the paint.  Head Coach Jim Hayford will need these two at their most efficient offensively and he will need them to avoid fouling at nearly all cost.

Don't expect the Eagles to go much deeper into their bench, but Felix Von Hofe could see time if any of the shooters struggle and Garrett Moon could see time as an extra defender if Georgetown gets hot from the edge.

If EWU is going to win tonight, they will have to be very efficient on offense no matter who has the ball and they must disrupt the Georgetown attack and prevent them from getting the ball into the paint as much as possible and avoid foul trouble.  I think both of those tasks will be challenging, but are well within reach of thus Eastern team.

If the Eagles get into foul trouble early, particularly OG, Venky and / or Bogdan, then the game could get out of control quickly.  If they can't limit Georgetown's ability to get the ball inside, then they could get into foul trouble quickly.  The Eagles should be sold out on preventing the Hoyas from getting the ball into the paint, and let the Hoyas try to beat them in a 3 point shooting contest.

Coach Hayford is very confident that his team will win tonight.  I don't know if the Eagles will win, but I am very confident that they can.



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