Monday, March 15, 2021

Big Sky assistant: Eastern Washington’s 5-out style will stretch KU’s defense

Eastern Washington forward Tanner Groves shoots over Arizona forward Ira Lee (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Arizona won 70-67. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Eastern Washington forward Tanner Groves shoots over Arizona forward Ira Lee (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Arizona won 70-67. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)


When opposing coaches prepare to face Eastern Washington, it doesn’t take long for them to start worrying about the challenges that come with defending the Eagles’ five-out offense.

The Big Sky Conference’s tournament champion, EWU only suffered three losses once league play began in late December. An assistant coach for Northern Colorado, one of the few teams to defeat the Eagles since then, Lawrence native Dorian Green shared his thoughts on Saturday’s NCAA Tournament matchup between Kansas and EWU with the Journal-World.

According to Green, the Eagles are known for finding ways to put opposing defenses in tough spots.

“They’ve got five guys on the floor at all times that will stretch you out (to the 3-point line) and make shots behind the arc. So that’s the hardest part, because they put you in space,” Green said.

That includes Big Sky Conference MVP Tanner Groves, EWU’s 6-foot-9 junior big man.

“He can make a 3 and stretch it out,” the UNC assistant said, adding the Eagles, led by Shantay Legans, are a well coached group. “It’s just really hard to guard, because they’re constantly putting you in space, and then they play with pace and confidence.”

As a team, EWU (16-7) hits 35.4% of its 3-pointers (99th in the country). But as Green pointed out, even Groves (17-for-52, 32.7%) is a threat. And the Eagles have four other players who average more than one made 3-pointer per game — junior wing Kim Aiken Jr. (31.5%), sophomore wing Tyler Robertson (37.8%), senior guard Jacob Davison (36.4%) and senior guard Jack Perry (50%). Aiken and Robertson lead the team with 34 made 3-pointers through 23 games, and Davison has connected on 32.

Green, a former star guard at Lawrence High, watches the Jayhawks only occasionally, as he’s busy with his Northern Colorado responsibilities and scouting Big Sky opponents. But he’s seen enough of KU to think EWU will try to pull Jayhawks junior big David McCormack away from the basket. He’s expecting the McCormack-Groves matchup to be a key component of the March Madness clash in Indianapolis.

“Those two bigs are kind of polar opposites for the most part,” Green said.

With McCormack expected to be back in the lineup for favored KU (20-8) after missing the Big 12 tournament due to COVID protocols, the Jayhawks figure to play through McCormack offensively, as they have most of the season.

“That’s going to be tough for Eastern Washington to guard,” Green said. “Especially if (McCormack) can get Groves in foul trouble, I think that will change the dynamic of Eastern Washington quite a bit.”

While the Big Sky isn’t a high profile league, Green thinks the Eagles (ranked No. 110 in the country at, like most teams headed to Indianapolis, have the type of mental resolve and toughness that will make them “a tough out.”

With four upperclassmen among the top seven players in their rotation, the Eagles have a veteran group, and Green thinks EWU is “kind of on a mission” after having its 2020 season (23-8) cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They have a confidence about them. They play together and they’ve won a lot of games together,” Green said. “It’s not an easy matchup. That’s for sure.”


Jeff Coffman 1 year, 8 months ago

With 3 pointers you have to rebound significantly. We will miss Jalen for his rebounding, but I don't think they will appreciate the 4 guards switching, they probably haven't seen that very much.

Dirk Medema 1 year, 8 months ago

As long as they don’t hit 40+% from 3, or we shoot 12%, we should be fine. Both are outliers but possible.

At 23-8, my heart goes out to them for missing last year’s tourney. It’s tough to have that kind of season pulled out from under you.

David Davison 1 year, 8 months ago

I'd think anyone that isn't a EWU fan would state it was worse for Kansas to have the season pulled out from under them.

Shannon Gustafson 1 year, 8 months ago

Yeah, must have been rough to be one of their fans after the season ended so abruptly last year. No idea what that must have felt like...

Len Shaffer 1 year, 8 months ago

They were showing a replay of the Big Sky championship last night, and Groves looked really good, not just away from the basket but in close as well. I think he will be a handful no matter where he sets up.

I definitely think we're going to miss Jalen and that the game will be a lot closer as a result. As is so often the case in the tournament, it will probably come down to 3-point shooting, so I sure hope Ochai is on his game like he was the end of the OU game.

Bryce Landon 1 year, 8 months ago

KU's offense has been suspect all season, and they struggled in their wins over UTEP and OU. With us being shorthanded due to Jalen sitting out with coronavirus, I could see where we might be ripe for an upset. I hope I'm wrong, but being on the wrong end of one 3/14 upset in 2005 sucked rocks, and I don't want KU to fall prey to another one.

Steve Zimmerman 1 year, 8 months ago

Dont' let those guys fool you with the 3pt.. they not only shoot a lot of 3s, but they've also got Big Sky POY, a big guy, who can give our bigs a nightmare. He's not that quick, but he's got better footwork than any of our bigs. Those players have high bball IQ and they know how to seek contacts to get FTs, too. They're capable of beating KU with or without our starting 5. It's going to be a game between offense (EW, which can play good defense, too) vs defense centric teams.

Chad Smith 1 year, 8 months ago

Every team in the tournament is dangerous. Could we lose to EWU? Sure. Should we?absolutely not. With or without jalen wilson, we have a better defensive team and dominant low post player and EWU has struggled with good low post players all season. If McCormack doesn't play, then yes it gets far more interesting in my mind. But if he's good to go, he should be able to give them headaches in the post all game.

Also, at least statistically, EWU is a decent/mediocre defensive team but I wouldn't consider them good. ( EWU ranks 156th in defensive efficiency, KU ranks 6th currently in that category).

Dirk Medema 1 year, 8 months ago

2 of their 3 P5 games from early in the season were one possession games.

Mitch might actually be better suited to play against Groves, but hopefully he and David can more than negate him.

I’m less worried about Ochai’s shot being on than Christian’s being found at all. I believe the last one he attempted was an air ball with no apparent confidence and resulted in him sitting afterwards.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.