Looking Forward: Northeastern

As was the case with this year’s Hofstra squad, your ’15-’16 Northeastern Huskies need no introduction. Husky head man Bill Coen returns four seasoned starters from a 23-win team that won the CAA Championship and gave Notre Dame more than it bargained for in the NCAA Tournament.

Coen has his Huskies primed to contend in the CAA once again, but there’s one big question to be answered. Despite returning starters at positions one through four, Coen will enter the season very green at the five.

Scott Eatherton was an uber-efficient big man who had helped Northeastern evolve into one of the best defensive rebounding teams (74.7%, 10th nationally) in the country. He was unique for Coen’s program, and there’s simply no replacing everything he brought to the court. Factor in the loss of Reggie Spencer, the sixth man who averaged over 25 minutes per game throughout his four years in Boston, and you’ll realize that the center spot will largely be a work in progress.

However, there are many, many positive things going on up in Boston.

Senior David Walker is a Preseason All-CAA First Team selection who averaged 13.5 points and a team-high 3.6 assists last season. Walker shot 39.2% from beyond the arc, and has 92 career starts to his name. Walker averaged fewer than 10 shots per game last season, and will be asked to do more offensively this season. That’s an exciting prospect for one the most efficient offensive players (and best dunkers) in the CAA.

Redshirt senior Quincy Ford was the CAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, playing his best game (22 points) in the CAA Tournament final. It was a welcome sign to see Ford, who missed all of ’13-’14 with a back injury, erupt after averaging just over seven shots per game in league play. He’s a unique talent who’s spent his first three seasons playing alongside big-time scorers (Eatheron, Joel Smith). He certainly appears poised for a career year in ’15-’16.

Junior T.J. Williams started all 35 games last season, and was Northeastern’s primary ballhandler. Williams actually outscored Ford in conference play, averaging 11.1 points in 35+ minutes per game. He’s shown a knack for drawing fouls, and if he can improve upon his 60.2% mark at the stripe, he could truly have a breakout season.

Senior Zach Stahl is a jack-of-all-trades 6’5” power forward. He’s a great passer out of the post, and his ability to play on the block allows Northeastern to create mismatches with the 6’8” Ford on the perimeter. Stahl shot the ball at a 56.9% clip, and is the Huskies’ leading returning rebounder.

With 285 career starts between them, this foursome possesses talent and experience that rivals anyone in the CAA. The fifth spot is the one in question, and will inevitably be filled by a committee of players.

Fortunately, Coen revamped the frontcourt with three impressive young big men. Coen’s never been shy about playing freshmen early and often, evidenced by the fact that Walker, Ford, and Williams all started 19-plus games in their first seasons of collegiate ball. Coen will be forced to rely upon the youngins again this season.

Three-star newcomer Jeremy Miller boasts an impressive offer sheet, and was previously committed to Boston College before pledging to play for Coen. Sajon Ford is Quincy’s brother, who was also courted by multiple noteworthy coaches. 6’10” 270-pound Anthony Green is ready to challenge C.J. Gettys as the CAA’s biggest center. These gentlemen don’t need to put a ton of points on the board, but need to protect the glass and help Stahl defend the interior.

Out of 351 D-I hoops squads, Northeastern received the sixth-fewest minutes from its bench. Coen started the same five players in all but one game last season, and simply can’t bank on such remarkable health this time around. Fortunately, this year’s bench will be more experienced and in a better position to contribute.

The Huskies weren’t dependent upon the three ball last season, but shot the long ball at an elite percentage (38.6%, 28th in D-I). This strength could become magnified this season, and the first two guards off the bench could be a big reason why. Sophomore Devon Begley flashed the goods on numerous occasions last season, connecting on half of his 30 three-point attempts. Walk-on senior Caleb Donnelly scored in double figures in both the CAA Tournament Finals and Semifinals, and shot 52.9% (27-of-51) from three on the season. He should enter this season brimming with confidence.

The rest of the bench is a bit of a mystery. Redshirt junior forward Kwesi Abakah had a bit of hype heading into last season, but could never find the court consistently. His classmate Jimmy Marshall has a reputation as a knockdown three-point shooter, but hasn’t played enough to find any rhythm.

Northeastern’s deliberate offense typically results in a few needle-threading passes gone awry each night. With a defensive style that doesn’t force many turnovers, it might be surprising to hear that Northeastern had one of the worst turnover margins (-3.8 turnovers per game) in the nation last season. This shouldn’t happen for such a veteran team, and is the reason why freshman guards Donnell “Red” Gresham and Brandon Kamga could find the court if they prove they can adequately man the point.

While there are obvious concerns, most specifically in replacing the rebounding production left behind by Eatherton and Spencer, it’s important that we acknowledge how Coen has everything rolling in Boston. He returns three seniors who’ve played a role in winning two regular season championships, brought in the best freshman class in the CAA, and has Tom Izzo’s Spartans coming to Matthews in December. This momentum is not lost on the young hoopsters, as Coen already has three commitments from the high school Class of 2016.

We trust that Coen, perhaps the best end-game coach in college hoops, will figure out the proper way to utilize his talented and experienced core to maneuver around any potential shortcomings to give the Huskies another shot at getting back to the NCAA Tournament.

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