Eastern Washington Eagles (2-3)
Big Sky — 2009 record: 12-18
The Eagles are in the third year of a rebuilding program under coach Kirk Earlywine, and thus far it’s been something of a struggle. Eastern Washington hasn’t had a winning season since 2007, nor have they made the six-team Big Sky Conference Tournament. That despite having one of the best players ever to play in the Big Sky, current Detroit Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey. But in their meeting with Idaho last season, on their home court in Cheney, Eastern Washington came out victorious, 69-59.
This year’s Eastern Washington squad has just one win over a Division I program, that coming on the road against Southland Conference foe Texas-Arlington. They played close with a young Washington State team, giving the Cougars all they could handle but falling just short, 67-61. That success didn’t carry over, as on Tuesday Boise State easily handled the homestanding Eagles, 82-69.
The problem for the Eagles can be summed up in a word: Efficiency. Like the Hornets before them, the Eagles have started the season stone-cold from the floor — as a team, they’re shooting just .414 and have one of the nation’s worst 3-point percentages at .299. Against the Vandals, who have been holding their opponents to just .400 shooting, that doesn’t bode well for Eastern Washington’s upset chances. They have been slightly outrebounding their foes, but a +2.0 margin won’t be enough of a difference when your team misses 6 out of 10 shots from the field.
The defensive matchups look even worse for the Eagles. Idaho’s strength is in the backcourt, with the nation’s 40th-best 3-point shooting percentage at .420. It’s in that stat that the Eagles’ defense has been atrocious, allowing .404 shooting from outside — one of the nation’s worst.
It’s inside that Eastern Washington has a chance of making things happen. The combination of Brandon Moore and Mark Dunn can make for some matchup issues against Idaho’s big men — particularly given Idaho’s turnover woes there. But get beneath those two and there’s zero proven depth, so early foul trouble could take a toll.
Much like Sacramento State, the Eagles are a program that is poised for improvement, and after the Texas Southern debacle, Idaho well knows the cost of thinking any game is a gimme. But the Vandals have a clear talent advantage at virtually every position, and the guards should have a field day, shooting out the lights in Memorial Gym in front of a friendly crowd. It’s going to take a serious effort from Earlywine’s team to select their shots and convert every opportunity to keep this game close.
Key statistic: Points per possession
- Idaho: 1.06 (76th) — Eastern Washington: 0.91 (250th)
Measured by dividing the number of points scored by the number of possessions, this is a basic measurement of a team’s offensive efficiency, and the difference is stark. The Vandals have one of the nation’s 100 most efficient offenses, while the Eagles are stuck in the bottom 300.
- G #01 Glen Dean, Fr. — 8.4 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 4.0 apg
A true freshman point guard, Dean is doing a serviceable job for the Eagles in his first Division I action — but that’s a position where Eastern Washington could sorely use some senior experience. His negative assist-to-turnover ratio needs improvement, but what he most needs to learn is when not to take shots. The Eagles as a whole are a poor-shooting team, but Dean’s terrible .297 average is dragging everything else down. Then again, maybe it’s his ball-handling that’s the worst — coughing it up six times against Boise State? Yikes.
- G #10 Alden Gibbs, Jr. — 4.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.0 apg
Gibbs is another highly-touted JC transfer that has yet to pan out for Earlywine. Called by his coach “arguably the best athlete in the Big Sky,” Gibbs has proven to be a solid rebounder but he’s also been yet another EWU backcourter who can’t shoot. Gibbs has hit just 31.8 percent of his shots this year and went 0-3 in 20 minutes against Boise State. Against the Vandals’ stellar backcourt, those kind of numbers just aren’t going to cut it and Gibbs is going to have to seriously step up the production.
- G #10 Jeffrey Forbes, Fr. — 9.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.4 apg
Yet another true freshman pressed into service by the Eagles, Forbes has been one of EWU’s strongest newcomers — but even that’s relative. His .419 shooting percentage is just OK, though it makes him by far the best among Eastern Washington’s backcourters. Forbes is also a demon from the free-throw line, converting 90 percent of his trips to the charity stripe.
- C #45 Brandon Moore, Sr. — 13.4 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 1.0 apg
Anchoring the inside for Eastern Washington, Moore will create a formidable matchup. He has size, experience and a solid shooting stroke. Anyone who averages a double-double is someone to take seriously, and Marvin Jefferson should have all he can handle to keep Moore from dominating the paint. Where he should be exploitable is his ball-handling, as he’s given up 13 turnovers and got picked to death by Texas-Arlington.
- F #42 Mark Dunn, Sr. — 12.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, .600 FG%
A stalwart for the Eagles, Dunn is a serious force anywhere on the court and has the team’s best shooting percentage — inside and out. He can clean up the glass, slam home a dunk or even stroke it from beyond the arc, making for a real defensive matchup issue. Does he go up against Luiz Toledo? Can Toledo defend it outside, and if he’s drawn out there, will it open up the paint? Watch Dunn’s performance closely, as if Idaho can contain him effectively, things get very difficult for Eastern Washington. Conversely, if he gets it going the Eagles will have a chance.
- G #5 Benny Valentine — 14.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 4.4 apg
Coming off the bench for the Eagles is an incredible scoring spark in the person of Valentine, a Texas Tech transfer who led EWU in scoring and assists last year and was named Second Team All-Big Sky. This year he again leads the Eagles in both categories. Why he doesn’t start is a mystery. It may have something to do with the fact that while he scores a lot, he misses even more — last year he shot .390 and this year he’s gotten worse at .339.
- G #21 Kevin Winford — 4.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 1.0 apg
One of the few Division I players to come out of Alaska, this redshirt freshman was expected to be one of the Eagles’ strongest pieces this season — Earlywine called him the team’s best shooter. But he hasn’t lived up to the hype, averaging just 4.0 points and putting up an awful .294 shooting percentage in his three appearances. Winford lost his starting role after the season’s opening games and saw limited minutes against Boise State.