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Eastern Washington basketball fans react during the NCAA college basketball selection show Sunday, March 15, 2015, in Cheney, Wash. Eastern Washington will play Georgetown. (AP Photo/The Spokesman-Review, Kathy Plonka)
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Say this for Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford: he's confident about his Eagles heading into the NCAA Tournament against Georgetown.
So confident, in fact, that Hayford predicted on a national radio show Wednesday that his team would win. He told listeners of The Jim Rome Show on CBS Sports Radio they could advance the Eagles in their brackets and ended the interview by telling the host: "We're gonna win. Talk again, Jim."
Of course, the idea isn't that farfetched.
Since 2009, the Hoyas are just 1-4 in the tournament. All four losses came against teams seeded 10th or worse, and three of those losses came by double digits.
Eastern Washington, seeded 13th in the South Region, will try to be the next overachieving underdog to down Georgetown when they face the fourth-seeded Hoyas on Thursday night in Portland.
And if Hayford has his way, his team won't have a happy-to-be-here mentality.
"It did exactly what I wanted because I knew the 15 guys on the bus were listening to that," Hayford said of his prediction before the Eagles' evening practice. "I want my team confident. My team understands the difference between confidence and a lack of confidence. I want our guys to enjoy the moment. They've lived their whole life to play in the NCAA Tournament.
"I want them to know that their coach believes in them, is confident in them, and is sending them out on the court to be fearless. It was great that I got to talk to several million people while I was talking to the 15 guys on my bus."
The Hoyas (21-10) are well aware of all the chatter.
Georgetown coach John Thompson III said his players told him of Hayford's headline-grabbing interview, and they're as eager as anybody to show — not talk about — what they can do.
"We all know what's at stake," said Hoyas guard Jabril Trawick. "We're all Division I basketball players. We're all playing for something. We don't feed into it that much. We're just happy that we're here. We're just ready to play."
Eastern Washington (26-8) is a popular pick to be one of those surprise teams that pop up every spring for more reasons than Georgetown's recent resume.
The Eagles are a guard-oriented group led by national scoring leader Tyler Harvey (22.9 points per game). They shoot a ton of 3-pointers, and they played a nonconference schedule that included a win at Indiana and close losses at SMU, Washington and California.
Eastern Washington has shown some fight already this March, too. The Eagles rallied to beat Montana in the Big Sky championship for the program's second NCAA Tournament berth and first since 2004, when they lost to Oklahoma State.
For Georgetown, March has been filled with a lot of letdowns lately.
The Hoyas last made it out of the round of 32 in 2007, when they advanced to the Final Four. Georgetown, which plays in the more difficult Big East, settled for an NIT invitation last year after getting bounced as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament by No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast in 2013.
"The facts are the facts. That being said, this is a different team than we have here now. This is a different year," Thompson said. "So we're ready for this group to play."
Here are some things to watch in Thursday's game:
JACKING IT UP: Eastern Washington isn't afraid to shoot from long distance. And the Eagles are pretty good at it, too. They rank in the top 10 nationally in 3-point percentage (40.3) and 3-point attempts (832). If the Eagles can get hot, look out.
SIZE ADVANTAGE: Georgetown will try to counter Eastern Washington's outside attack with a powerful inside game led by 6-foot-10, 350-pound center Josh Smith. The Eagles start a three-guard lineup alongside 6-foot-7 forwards Venky Jois and Ognjen Miljkovic.
GUARDING GEORGETOWN: For all the talk about its high-scoring offense, Eastern Washington's defense is downright dreadful. The Eagles rank 324th in the country in points allowed, giving up an average of 73.6 points. They're also 269th in opponents' field-goal percentage (44.9).
THE OTHER STAR: Harvey will receive all the attention for leading the country in scoring, but Georgetown fans might argue he's not the best player on the floor. Hoyas guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera is averaging 16.2 points and 4.2 rebounds and can take over games, as he did during key stretches of a 78-58 win over second-ranked Villanova (32-2) in January.
PACE OF PLAY: The Eagles will try to speed things up and spread things out, while the Hoyas want to slow things down and pack things in. Both teams have the personnel to accomplish their goal. Which one wins the pace-and-space game could be the key to which one wins on the scoreboard.
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