by Will Maupin (Special to SWX)
Eastern Washington’s offense has pushed the team out to a 5-2 start this season. The Eagles are averaging over 81 points per game, which is nearly eight above the national average. Apart from their two losses, the Eagles have had no problem outscoring their opponents.
However, they’ve yet to face an offense as good or better than theirs. That’s exactly what they’ll see Sunday at 5:30 pm in Moraga, California when they travel to face Saint Mary's. EWU may score more points than the Gaels but they aren’t as efficient.
Saint Mary’s Gaels, familiar to Inland Northwest basketball fans as Gonzaga’s chief rival in the West Coast Conference, boast one of the nation’s most efficient offensive attacks. Their 1.21 points per possession ranks sixth in the nation, well ahead of the Eagles’ 1.10 points per possession.
Last year, senior point guard Matthew Dellavedova was the offensive maestro in Moraga. He’s now with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and a trio of seniors have stepped up to fill his shoes.
Chief among them is the 6’ 4” point guard Stephen Holt, a former shooting guard who has had no problem moving to the point this season. Holt is averaging 12.8 points and 5.7 assists per game. The main recipient of Holt’s assists is 6’ 9” junior forward Brad Waldow, he leads the team with 17.7 points per game and is a legitimate double-double threat as he is averaging 7.0 rebounds per game.
The key matchup in the game figures to be EWU’s Venky Jois vs. Saint Mary’s Beau Levesque. While both players stand 6’ 7” and play at the four spot, their games couldn’t be any more different. Jois is a traditional power forward while Levesque plays a stretch-four type, perimeter oriented game.
If Jois is able to exploit the mismatch with Levesque, he should have no problem scoring over him in the post. On the defensive end however, Jois will have to chase Levesque all over the place. If he sticks with him, that will allow Waldow easy looks in the post. If he sags off Levesque to help on Waldow, Levesque and the Gaels’ guards will have too much room to operate.
It’s pick your poison with this balanced, efficient Saint Mary’s offense. EWU can pull off the upset, but they’ll need to play their best basketball of the season to do so. This being the first of a brutal four game stretch (UC Irvine on 12/15, at Seton Hall on 12/22 and vs. Connecticut on 12/28), a confidence boosting win would be invaluable.
Beyond boosting their confidence, EWU has an opportunity to pick up a season defining win this weekend. Saint Mary’s is in the “others receiving votes” category of this weeks AP Top 25.
The Eagles are 2-5 all time against Saint Mary’s, including an 0-4 record in Moraga.