PORTLAND – The excitement hasn’t worn off for Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford. It’s merely been channeled in a different direction.
“I’ve gone from excitement mode to coach mode,” Hayford said Tuesday as the Eagles prepared to travel to Portland for Thursday’s second-round NCAA tournament game against Georgetown.
After almost two days of preparation, Hayford said he’s learned plenty about the Hoyas, and after watching film, said that guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera is “the real deal,” that the Princeton Offense is difficult to prepare for, and that the Georgetown wings are “the same size as our fours, and they’re very athletic.”
Hayford said he also appreciated the weekly grind in the Big East Conference, where the Hoyas (21-10 overall) finished in second place.
“We felt like we had no nights off in the Big Sky and we were playing against teams 100-200 spots lower in RPI than they were,” Hayford said.
On the other hand, Eastern’s nonconference schedule was more difficult than Georgetown’s (although the Hoyas also own a win over Indiana). “I’m not so sure that our road and their road are significantly different,” Hayford said.
The stops along the road were entirely different, however. Hayford figures his team is “tougher” after a season spent in the modest confines of a typical Holiday Inn Express, compared with the four-star digs on Georgetown’s itinerary.
For the NCAAs, however, the Eagles are going upscale. They’re staying at the Red Lion Jantzen Beach, and they’re flying instead of driving – a concession to the varied schedules imposed by finals week at EWU.
“Our guys will study better in a hotel room than on a bus,” Hayford said.
The Eagles will practice tonight at the Moda Center from 6:40 to 7:20 p.m.; the session will be open to the public.
Hoyas tired of disappointments
Georgetown is proud of its basketball tradition, including a national title in 1984 and multiple Final Four appearances, as recently as 2007.
Then there’s the new tradition of early exits from the NCAAs, and of missing out entirely and being relegated to the NIT, as the Hoyas were last year. And of winning a grand total of one game in the NCAAs since 2009, and losing to a team seeded 10th or worse in each of the Hoyas’ last five NCAA appearances.
This time around, coach John Thompson III is imploring his players to focus on the here and now – Eastern Washington.
“This is a time frame that, by nature, by design, is almost structured to force you to look ahead. Everyone – we’re not – is going to fill out their pool. All the chatter around campus (will be), ‘Well, if this happens and that happens.’ … Hey, forget all that,” Thompson said. “It’s Eastern Washington. That’s all it is. It’s nothing else. That’s all it is. It’s Thursday, whatever time. That’s all we need to focus on.”
Smith-Rivera figures the past matters only so much.
“You can’t dwell on them,” he said. “We got knocked out early my freshman year. Didn’t make it last year. So it’s another chance to get after it and hopefully succeed past where we’ve been.”
ESPN ranks the starters
Eastern Washington may be the darling of the bracketologists – many have the Eagles knocking off Georgetown – but according to one ESPN analyst, EWU must be better than the sum of its parts.
On Tuesday, the network released Jeff Goodman’s ranking of the starters on all 68 teams, a total of 340 players. Of the Eagle starters, only national scoring leader Tyler Harvey cracked the top 100.
Harvey ranked 68th, while forward Venky Jois ranked 240th, point guard Drew Brandon 278th, forward Ognjen Miljkovic 280th and guard Parker Kelly 300th.
Issaquah star commits to EWU
Eastern received an oral commitment this week from Ty Gibson, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound shooting guard who led Issaquah (Washington) to a fourth-place finish in the State 4A tourney.
For the season, Gibson averaged 15.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
Earlier this year, the Eagles received a commitment from Rico Nuno, a 6-foot-8, 250-pound power forward at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California. Nuno, a freshman from Half Moon Bay, California, averaged 9.9 points and 6.6 rebounds.
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