In each of their last five NCAA openers, the Georgetown Hoyas have been bounced by double-digit seeds, most of whom played the same up-tempo style as Eastern.
PORTLAND — So who has the chip on their shoulder now?
Certainly not Eastern Washington. Within seconds of being paired with Georgetown in the NCAA tournament, the Eagles became the favorite 13th seed in almost everyone’s March Madness pool.
Meanwhile, Georgetown — the Eagles’ opponent in Thursday’s second-round South Regional game at the Moda Center — became everyone’s fall guy, the team most likely to underachieve this year simply because they’ve done it before. In each of their last five NCAA openers, the Hoyas have been bounced by double-digit seeds, most of whom played the same up-tempo style as Eastern.
Eastern Washington vs. Georgetown, 7 p.m., TRUTV
Could it happen again?
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Certainly. Will it?
“That’s why they play the game,” said Eastern coach Jim Hayford, who had plenty of other things to say on Wednesday as both teams prepared for the matchup. Such as saying on national radio, “We’re gonna win.”
It was a calculated move, Hayford said, and meant less for the ears of millions of Jim Rome’s listeners and more for his players.
To a man, they’re listening.
“We’re an upset pick for a reason,” Eastern forward Venky Jois said. “I don’t think anyone’s looking at this game like, ‘Oh, no.’ ”
Not even Georgetown, which appears to be taking everything in stride, including the poking questions about its previous pratfalls.
Said senior guard Jabril Trawick, “We don’t feed into (the naysaying) that much. We’re just happy that we’re here. We’re just ready to play.”
The subplots are many, considering the programs have never met:
• Can Georgetown adjust if national scoring leader Tyler Harvey and the Eagles (ninth in the nation in three-point shooting at 40.3 percent) get hot from outside?
• Can Eastern push the pace, while staying efficient on offense (the Eagles rank 34th in avoiding turnovers) and getting good looks from beyond the arc?
• And the most sobering question of all for Eastern fans: How will a team that ranks 269th in field-goal percentage defense — while playing in a lowly-regarded conference — expect to handle 340-pound center Joshua Smith and one of the best guards in the game in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera?
That alone should give the Eagles (26-8) pause and the Hoyas (20-11) the self-confidence befitting a No. 4 seed.
“Everybody’s playing with a chip on their shoulder at this point,” Smith-Rivera said. “We just want to come out, you know, and try to impose our will on them, you know, try to dominate the game.”
A key battle will be under the boards. The Hoyas outrebound opponents by an average of almost three per game.