The Eastern Washington University Eagles earned a trip to the NCAA tournament by winning the Big Sky Championship. The Eagles (26-8) are led by Tyler Harvey, the nation’s leading scorer at 22.9 points per game.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Harvey Wasn’t Recruited By Any D-1 Teams
Tyler Harvey, the nation’s leading scorer as a sophomore, didn’t receive a single scholarship offer to a Division 1 school. He was originally recruited by the Eagles head coach, Jim Hayford, to play for Hayford at Division III Whitworth, and followed Hayford to Eastern Washington, where he became a walk-on.
Harvey, a Torrance, California native, averaged 21.8 ppg as a freshman, before improving on that number his sophomore year. Harvey is now getting the attention of NBA scouts. He told Yahoo Sports:
If you had told me all that when I was still in high school, I probably would have laughed at you. I would never have thought any of this was possible. It’s just a blessing to be in the position I’m in now.
With his scoring ability, Harvey has a chance to become a household name during the NCAA Tournament and could lead the Eagles to an upset victory.
2. The Eagles Are a Young Team
Though he is the nation’s top scorer, Harvey is only a sophomore and hasn’t faced the spotlight of the NCAA Tournament. This is the first trip to the Big Dance for the Eagles since 2004 and only the second in school history.
Harvey’s supporting cast includes a trio of international imports, led by junior forward Venky Jois, an Australian who averaged 16.9 ppg and sophomore Ognjen Miljkovic, of Serbia, who scored 10.1 ppg. Bogdna Bliznyuk, originally from Ukraine, was the conference’s Freshman of the Year after scoring 8.5 ppg.
Drew Brandon is the team’s senior leader, averaging 9.7 ppg, along with 7.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists.
Here’s the Eagles roster:
F Ognjen Miljkovic (6-7, 220, So., Belgrade, Serbia)
G Tyler Harvey (6-4, 185, So., Torrance, California)
G Daniel Hill (5-9, 165, Jr., Sydney Australia)
G Sir Washington (6-3, 180, Fr., Las Vegas, Nevada)
G Nate Galgalo (5-10, 175, So., Spokane, Washington)
G Parker Kelly (6-4, 195, Sr., Spokane, Washington)
F Bear Henderson (6-6, 215, Fr., Mission Hills, California)
G Will Ferris (6-1, 175, Fr., Bellevue, Washington)
G Cody Benzel (6-4, 175, Fr., Spokane, Washington)
F Frederik Jorg (7-1, 285, So., Mönchengladbach, Germany)
G Drew Brandon (6-4, 185, Sr., Corona, California)
F Kyle Reid (6-8, 215, Jr., Cleveland, Ohio)
F Bogdan Bliznyuk (6-6, 215, Fr., Lviv, Ukraine)
F Garrett Moon (6-5, 190, Sr., San Francisco, California)
F Felix Von Hofe (6-5, 200, So., Melbourne, Australia)
F Venky Jois (6-8, 230, Jr., Ferntree Gully, Australia)
3. They Won at Indiana Early in the Season
Led by a career-high 27 points from Brandon and 25 points from Harvey, the Eagles went into Bloomington, Indiana and knocked off the Hoosiers, 88-86, on Nov. 14.
Coach Jim Hayford told the Associated Press:
We just never stopped believing. We really don’t look at the scoreboard till there’s three or four minutes left because that can go up and down and we just play through runs. That didn’t happen overnight. These guys have developed a lot of confidence, growing up together the last two, three seasons.
Eastern Washington could use that confidence to pull off an upset this March.
4. Hayford Was a Top D-3 Coach
Hayford joined the Eagles three seasons ago after leading one of the top Division III teams in the country, Whitworth University. Hayford led the Spokane, Washington school to the top ranking in the country during his time there, leaving with a 217-57 record over 10 seasons.
Hayford also has coaching experience at the University of Sioux Falls, where he began his career as head coach in 1999.
5. The University is Located in a Small Town
Eastern Washington is in Cheney, a small Washington town, which has about 10,000 full-time residents. The university was founded in 1882 and now has about 14,000 undergraduate students in Cheney and at its other campus in Spokane.
The university is best known for its red turf football field, Roos Field, where the Division I-AA Eagles play and the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks often hold training camps. Eastern Washington and Boise State are the only schools in the country to have a non-green field.
Notable alumni include Indiana Pacers guard Rodney Stuckey, ESPN’s Colin Cowherd and comic book creator Todd McFarlane.