Introducing Cinderella: Meet the Eastern Washington Eagles

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Tyler Harvey and company are a team to keep an eye on (AP Photo)

Conference: Big Sky

Coach: Jim Hayford

Record: 26-8 (14-4)

Ratings and rankings:

Kenpom: 140
RPI (NCAA.com): 78
AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding: Eastern Washington is projected to be a 14-seed in the NCAA tournament.

Names you need to know: G Tyler Harvey (23.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.7 apg), F Venky Jois (16.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.3 bpg), F Ognjen Miljkovic (10.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg), G Drew Brandon (9.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 4.9 apg)

Stats you need to know: Jim Hayford’s Eagles are one of the best offensive teams in the country, as they’re averaging 81.1 points per game (third in the country). Eastern Washington shoots 40.6 percent from three and 48.1 percent from the field, ranking in the top 20 nationally in both categories. As for the defensive end, opponents are shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from beyond the arc and those are numbers this team could stand to improve upon.

Tendencies: The three-point shot is an important one for this group, as they score more than 38 percent of their points by way of that shot with six players having made at least 20 three-pointers. Eastern also shoots well inside of the arc, as they’re making 52.2 percent of their two-point attempts per kenpom.com. Harvey’s the main scoring option, but that doesn’t mean he’s the only player capable of getting going. That’s what makes this team so tough to defend. The Eagles will show multiple looks defensively, including some full-court pressure, but the defense is where this team has had issues.

Big wins, bad losses: Eastern Washington posted one of the biggest wins in school history in late November, as they won at Indiana. Their worst non-conference loss came at Washington in December. In conference play the Big Sky regular season co-champions picked up wins over fellow contenders Montana (they beat the Grizzlies in Missoula twice this season) and Sacramento State. As for any head-scratching losses, their two-point home loss to Portland State is probably the only one.

How’d they get here?: With the Big Sky tournament being played on Montana’s home court, Eastern Washington erased a nine-point second half deficit to win 69-65. Prior to that the Eagles took care of Idaho and Sacramento State by identical 91-83 scores, and overall they’ve won five straight heading into the NCAA tournament.

Outlook: This is a very dangerous team, and because of their offensive skill Eastern Washington is more than capable of springing an upset. But the defense is the question mark with this group, especially if they run up against a team that can cycle perimeter defenders on Harvey without a serious drop-off.

How do I know them?: Of course there’s the win over Indiana, and they also played No. 20 SMU tight before ultimately losing by nine. This is Eastern Washington’s second NCAA tournament appearance with the first coming in 2004 when they lost to eventual Final Four participant Oklahoma State. And the school also produced Rodney Stuckey, a first round pick in the 2007 NBA Draft who’s currently with the Indiana Pacers.