Washington State will take on their neighbors to the North, the Eastern Washington Eagles in a Saturday afternoon game that is set to be televised live on ROOT Sports NW at 3:30 PM. The Eagles are riding a three-game winning streak after defeating Idaho on the road Wednesday night.
The Eagles garnered a bit of attention after they hung tough in their season opener with the Gonzaga Bulldogs. They seem to be an improved team under new head coach Jim Hayford and should contend for the Big Sky title.
The Cougars come in with the nightmare in Anaheim still fresh in the minds of many of the fans, especially since their game against Grambling State on Wednesday was largely lost in all the Mike Leach talk. They won that game easily, but the Eagles will provide a greater test. Kenpom currently predicts WSU to win this game 72-66 with 70% confidence.
Offense and Defense previews after the jump.
Eastern will live and die by the three-point shot. 44.2% of their field goal attempts are from three, which is 18th most in the country. They've shot it pretty well on the season, knocking down 37.6%. This helps mask their inability to convert inside the arc, where they are only shooting 43.3%. Defending the perimeter will be key in stopping them.
The most important man to limit from the outside will be junior Colin Chiverton. Chiverton is a junior college transfer, who is on his fourth team in as many seasons (recruited by St. Mary's out of high school where he redshirted, spent time at two different schools the last two years). He has come in and instantly taken over the primary scoring role for the Eagles. He currently takes 35.5% of the available shots while he is on the floor. He seems to be a catch-and-shoot type of guy, or at least doesn't push hard to go towards the rim. Chiverton has not been very effective inside the arc, but has been lights-out from three. He has hit 45.7% of his threes.
Cliff Colimon is the team's second-most voluminous shooter, and he will have the ball in his hands the majority of the time. About 38% of his attempts come from three, and he has hit 40.7% so far this season. Like Chiverton, he has struggled inside the arc, only making 29.5% of his two-point attempts. The primary threat inside will be another Cliff, Cliff Ederaine. He is shooting 62.5% from twos.
Off the bench look out for Tremayne Johnson and Jeffrey Forbes. Johnson is the primary sixth man, and will take a large percentage of the shots while he is on the floor. He has struggled thus far, posting on a 39.1 eFG%. Forbes doesn't take many shots, but when he does it will most likely be a three-pointer. He is shooting well from outside, hitting 40%.
EWU has been good at taking care of the basketball. They are 22nd in the country with a 16.7 TO%. It is worth noting that their two highest single-game turnover rates came against Oregon and Gonzaga. They may have more trouble keeping possession when up against superior athletes. What's interesting, and uncommon, and Eastern is that turnovers currently correlate higher with their offensive efficiency that shooting. If WSU can force them into giving the ball up, that could go a long way into shutting their offense down.
The most important man tasked with preventing turnovers will be Colimon. He has turned the ball over at a high rate himself, 22.7%. The good news for EWU is that many of their other players only catch and shoot off passes from Colimon, so their individual turnover rates are low. It will be vitally important for the Cougars to put pressure on Colimon and force him into mistakes and limit his ability to draw defenders and find the open shooter.
The Eagles are just about an average offensive rebounding team, pulling down 32.2% of their own misses. Laron Griffin makes his biggest impact on the offensive end on the glass. He leads the team with a 15.8 OR%. Johnson comes of the bench to crash the boards, and has posted a 13.2 OR%. WSU will have to make sure to locate and block out these two when they are on the floor.
Eastern has not taken many trips to the free throw line. They are currently 299th in the country in free throw rate, with 28.2 free throw attempts per 100 field goal attempts. Ederaine has been able to draw a lot of fouls, as he is posting a 70.4 FTR. No other Eagle is going to the line at a well-above average rate.
It will be key for WSU to defend the three-point shot and force EWU inside the arc, where they will have a size disadvantage and stuggle. If they can do that, and be active in the passing lanes to force a few extra giveaways, then they could limit the Eagles' efficiency.
EWU has been solid at defending the three, allowing opponents to shoot just 31.0% from beyond the arc. They have not done as well against twos, where they are a little below average allowing 48.4%. This plays into WSU's strength. The Cougars are converting 53.4% of their two-point attempts this season. Brock Motum, Charlie Enquist, and D.J. Shelton will once again have a size advantage in the post and should be able to capitalize.
Something that does not bode well for WSU is Eastern's ability to turn the other team over. The Eagles have forced opponents into turnovers on 23.1% of their possessions. WSU has given it away on 22.1% of their possessions. EWU doesn't get a lot of steals, rather they just rely on pressuring and letting the opponents make their own mistakes. The Cougs have been generous in that regard so far this season. Prepare to be frustrated again.
After getting destroyed by Gonzaga on the glass, EWU has done a much better job garnering defensive rebounds. Since the Zags were able to grab 47.4% of their own misses in the season opener, no opponent has topped 28%. Ederaine has led the way, bringing down an excellent 23.3% of available boards. Don't expect WSU to make much of an impact in offensive rebounding.
Free throws are an area in which Washington State could have a huge advantage in this one. Gonzaga and Oregon both had one free throw attempt for every single field goal attempt against Eastern. Except for South Dakota, all other Eagle opponents have posted a free throw rate above 50. The Cougars have been able to create distance between themselves and some of the lower opponents on their schedule (Sacramento State and Portland) through beating them in the free throw battle. There is a huge opportunity to do that today.
Overall, WSU should be looking to take the ball inside on the Eagles. They aren't great at defending the two and they foul at a very high rate. Reggie Moore, Faisal Aden, and DaVonte Lacy should be looking to get inside, and Motum should be getting a lot of touches on the block and high-post.
As stated in the introduction, this Eastern should be able to hang around and stay close with the Cougs. WSU will have to be better in defending the three than they have been, or they could be in for a very tough afternoon.