Washington vs. Eastern Washington, 5:00pm Sunday, Pac-12 Networks.
Husky fans know all about Eastern's recent success in football, but it may come as a bit of a surprise that this year's Eastern basketball team, playing in the Big Sky conference, is also a strangely intimidating offensive force.
The Eagles have earned an 8-1 record largely by scoring with great volume and efficiency. They started off with a few low-caliber wins before losing 68-77 on the road to SMU, but then quickly jumped into the spotlight by traveling to Indiana and earning an 88-86 victory.
Since then has won four more, most recently over Seattle U and the University of San Francisco.
Starting five: G Drew Brandon (Sr., 6-4, 185), G Parker Kelly (Sr., 6-4, 195), G Tyler Harvey (Jr., 6-4, 185), F Ognjen Milijkovic (So., 6-7, 220), F Venky Jois (Jr., 6-8, 230).
Three 6-4 guards and two international forwards (Ognjen from Serbia, Jois from Australia).
Venky leads with the team with 21.1ppg and 8.4rpg. He has shot an outrageous 67% from the floor so far this season, so it will be interesting to see how his efficiency is impacted by Upshaw's shot blocking.
Drew Brandon is the primary ball-handler. He is averaging 5.0 assists and only 1.8 turnovers per game. He is only contributing 8.8ppg and has shot a 1-13 from beyond the arc, but strangely enough ranks second on the team with 7.9rpg.
Tyler Harvey is Eastern's designated gunner. 20.4ppg on 47% shooting from the field, including 63-132 (43%) from deep. Parker is also a shooting threat, averaging 9.6ppg on 47% three-point shooting (compared to 43% from the field). Forward Milijkovic also likes to drift out beyond the arc (19-42 three-point shooting).
This starting five plays the vast majority of the minutes, with only F Felix Van Hofe (So., 6-5, 200) and F Kyle Reid (Jr., 6-8, 215) averaging 10 or more minutes per game off the bench.
First and foremost, this team scores points. EWU ranks 10th in the nation in points per game (85), 3rd in points per possession (1.26), 7th in field goal percentage (52.4%), 19th in three-point % (41.9%), and 5th in true shooting percentage (62.8%).
There is one small offensive blemish: Eastern is only 114th in free-throw percentage (70.5%) and 255th in free throw rate (33.5). The Eagles take a lot of shots and convert them at a scary rate, but they do not earn trips to the free throw line very reliably.
This is also not a remarkable rebounding team, on the offensive or defensive side. Total rebound percentage (51.6) ranks an unremarkable 130th, with the offensive percentage (35.3, 97th) better than the defensive percentage (67.9, 229th).
Considering Washington's overall size advantage, the Huskies should be favored to win the battle of the boards.
Despite a lack of overwhelming size in the front court, this team is also 11th in blocks per game with 6.6, only a handful of spots behind Washington.
UW's success will depend on whether or not the entire team continues to buy in defensively. Whether in zone or man, these Huskies have pressured the ball far more often this year, relying on Upshaw as a defensive anchor to free up guards.
Despite the lack of a true defensive stopper in the back court, even good offensive teams have struggled to score, as demonstrated by San Diego State's abysmal 36-point offensive effort last week.
Against a team that boasts three excellent three-point shooters in the starting five, including one post, staying disciplined on the perimeter should be Romar's first priority. Harvey alone could take over the game if the guard defending him slacks off for a couple possessions in a row.
As long as the Husky guards trust in Upshaw (and Kemp and Jarreau) to protect the basket and focus their efforts on heavily contesting each and every long ball, I'm confident that UW's offense can score enough on this undersized EWU front court to win an exciting game.
If Eastern's shooters are allowed to run wild? Well, I'm sure we all remember what underrated shooting teams have done to Washington over the past few seasons. Here's hoping this year really is different.
Washington 79, Eastern 71