It’s March Madness, and that generally means it’s time for your team to play someone you’ve never heard of, or at least, know nothing about. That said, let’s take a peek at Eastern Washington, who will take on your Kansas Jayhawks in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Location: Cheney, WA (~15 miles southwest of Spokane)
Swoop debuted as the first mascot of EWU on September 29, 1973, following a student body vote after the Board of Trustees declared the original mascot, the “Savages,” no longer acceptable. His original name was Victor E. Eagle, but was revamped in the early 2000s into what EWU claims is “America’s Favorite Mascot.”
This contrasts slightly with the Jayhawkers, who were basically gangs from Kansas who fought against pro-slavery factions from Missouri in the 1850s, prior to the onset of the Civil War.
League: Big Sky
Enrollment: 12,350 (2020)
Acceptance Rate: 95.7% (2020)
SB Nation Blog: Nope, although you may check out Mid Major Madness and see if they have anything regarding Eastern Washington.
Cool Tradition: Pass through the Pillars.
“In the days before most students had cars, trains unloaded EWU students in downtown Cheney each fall. They hauled their suitcases and bags up College Avenue to campus.
Today’s new students honor this tradition with a ceremonial stroll through the Herculean Pillars. With luggage safely stowed in their residence hall, new students exchange high-fives and cheers with all who line the path.”
Better than KU in football? The short answer? Probably, yes.
Mostly known for having the only red artificial turf in college football, the Eagles played in the FCS Championship game in 2018, although they went just 7-5 the following season. Not including this year, since 2010 EWU is 97-35 in football, albeit at the FCS level.
Kansas and Eastern Washington have met just once in men’s basketball, an 85-47 KU victory in Allen Fieldhouse back in December of 2007.
16-7, 12-3 2nd Big Sky
EWU was overwhelmingly picked to finish first in the preseason coaches poll after returning four starters from last year’s squad, but finished a half-game behind Southern Utah in the regular season.
Last time out: Defeated Montana State 65-55 in the Big Sky Tournament championship game.
The Eagles have won 4 games in a row and 13 of their last 14.
2019-2020 Record: 23-8, 16-4 (postseason cancelled)
The Eagles are coached by Shantay Legans, who is 75-48 in his fourth season at the helm of EWU. This is his first head coaching job at the NCAA level. He was previously an assistant coach at EWU from 2009-17 under two previous head coaches, Kirk Earlywine and Jim Hayford, prior to being promoted to head coach after Hayford left for University of Seattle.
How scary are they?
On a scale of 1-10, maybe a 2? This Kansas team has been so up and down enough this season that there’s enough there to make the rational fan nervous. That said, KenPom has EWU’s win probably at 17% and predicts a 78-67 Kansas victory.
The Eagles are currently ranked #110 by KP. They are a top-40 team in the country in Effective FG%, and they don’t turn it over much. They shoot nearly 80% from the free throw line as a team (#6 in the country). They take a decent amount of shots from behind the arc, and they do like to play fast, as they have an adjusted tempo rank that sits in the top-30 of the country.
That said, they are one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country, however, so they generally get just one shot each possession.
Common Opponents: None
EWU was 0-3 against the Pac-12, getting blown out by Oregon but playing both Arizona and Washington State to a 3-point game.
Other Games of Interest: Eastern Washington has zero top-100 wins per KenPom, and only one win in the top-200. They also have two sub-200 losses: Northern Colorado and Idaho State.
Although they didn’t score any big wins, they were decently competitive with the top teams on their schedule outside of Oregon (KP #36). They dropped a 5-point decision to Saint Mary’s (KP #75) and as mentioned earlier, a 3-point decision to both Arizona (KP #43) and Washington State (KP #107).
Three Man Weave
- Kansas should dominate on the glass on this one, especially if David McCormack and Jalen Wilson are anywhere near 100%. While KU isn’t a dominant rebounding team, Eastern Washington is terrible on the offensive glass, and the Jayhawks should be able to hold the Eagles to a lot of one-shot possessions.
- EWU is a sub-250 team when it comes to a several defensive statistics, including steal percentage and block percentage. David McCormack will have a big size advantage against anyone not named Tanner Groves, but the flip side of that is Groves is more than capable of stepping out and canning a three (17-52, 32.7% on the year). KU will have to be wary of EWU attempting to lure big Dave out of the paint.
- Neither team relies too heavily on the three-ball for scoring, although since EWU does take nearly 40% of its field goal attempts from behind the arc this contest could easily develop into a 3-point shooting competition. I tend to think that the Eagles will struggle to score inside on Kansas, and may even force Bill Self into a 5-guard lineup at times. On the other side, it would be to KU’s benefit to lock in defensively and slow the EWU offense, being sure to limit second-chance scoring opportunities for the Eagles.
Yet Another Wrong Prediction
You might take a quick look at EWU’s lineup and think, oh man, five guys who average double figures. Oh man, eight guys who hit over 30% from deep (min 25 attempts), including five guys who hit over 36% from deep. Simply put, KU needs to figure out a way to stay in front of EWU’s shooters, as they do have the potential to make open looks and spring a first round upset. However, while the Eagles did average 83.1 ppg in the Big Sky regular season, that has fallen to 69.4 ppg in their last five outings.
Therefore, I’m gonna bet on Bill Self with six days to prepare for an opponent. We already know that Marcus Garrett can erase one of EWU’s offensive threats, and I look for lots of easy looks inside for Kansas - maybe even a dunk or two from David McCormack - and for KU to end up with a relatively comfortable first round win, 79-65.