The Assignment: The 2012-2013 Northeastern Huskies were historically successful. Seniors Joel Smith (First Team All-CAA) and Jon Lee (Third Team All-CAA) were irreplaceable parts of that historic run. Explain how a bigger, and still skilled Northeastern team can keep pace in the CAA in ’13-’14.
After trimming rival Boston U and Princeton with game-winning heroics in the final seconds of the first two games of the season, we knew the Northeastern Huskies were in for a special season.
We came to expect late-game heroics from the Cardiac Canines (or Hypertension Huskies, if you will). Double-digit comebacks were the norm, highlighted by a 24-point comeback against George Mason on Semifinal Sunday. It was the largest comeback in the program’s 93-year history.
It was the quintessential example of senior point guard Jon Lee’s greatness, as Lee drove the right side of the paint and banked home the game-winner to complete the comeback. A senior knows when there’s nothing open, you’ve got to “put your head down and drive.”
Winning on the opponent’s floor was commonplace, as Northeastern tied for the nation’s fourth-best winning percentage (11-4, .733), a direct product of spending Thanksgiving in Alaska. The Huskies led the CAA in steals (259) and 3-pointers (231), and were masterful at capitalizing off turnovers. They were superb from the foul line (75.3%), including a 27-of-27 showing at Georgia State in February.
This isn’t to say that the Huskies’ games weren’t close — 23 of Northeastern’s 33 games were decided by seven points or less. It came down to the fact that, on a given night, the odds favored Lee and Joel Smith outplaying the opposition down the stretch. A 20-point win over George Mason on January 27th put Northeastern at 8-0 in conference. The Huskies started 12-1 in league play, and coasted to their first conference title in 20 years.
Smith in particular was an ace in every sense of the word. When Lee missed the season’s first nine games, the veteran Smith stabilized the Huskies’ young core. When Lee returned, Smith continued to be the number one option on offense. Smith averaged a career-high 16.1 points per game and earned All-CAA First Team honors.
Smith led the CAA in effective field goal percentage (61%), points per shot (1.3) and true shooting percentage (65.7%). Smith hit 86 3-pointers, which established a new single-season record at Northeastern.
But near the end of that 12th conference win, Smith suffered an ankle injury. He missed a game and was ineffective in the next few, before finishing the season strongly. Somewhere along the line, Smith suffered major ACL damage, but you wouldn’t have known it from watching him play. Smith was forced to miss Northeastern’s NIT game against Alabama.
There’s really no replacing the Lee and Smith’s talent and leadership, but the cupboard is far from bare in Boston. A team that had the CAA’s highest-scoring offense last year will make strides in other areas. Last year, the Huskies’ 3-2 zone gave many teams problems, but was ultimately average (68.3) in terms of points allowed. Additionally, Coen’s teams have been among the bottom 50 rebounding teams in five of his seven seasons in Boston.
Next season, with the addition of St. Francis transfer Scott Eatherton (14 points, 7 boards in ’11-’12), as well as redshirt freshman Kwesi Abakah, the Huskies will suddenly boast one of the biggest frontlines in the conference. The added length will give them a chance to clog up more passing lanes, and maintain high steal percentages.
Additionally, the Huskies should be a much better rebounding team. Coen has assembled possibly his biggest frontcourt to date, and just in time for the departure of George Mason and Old Dominion. Obviously when you’ve got a super efficient offensive group, there simply aren’t as many rebounds to grab, but boasting a bigger frontcourt will allow Northeastern to pull in more than 18.5 defensive rebounds (340th) per game.
The question will be how big of a jump rising junior Quincy Ford can make. Last season, back issues limited his effectiveness down the stretch, but playing alongside Eatherton and redshirt freshman Kwesi Abakah should alleviate the pressure on Ford to contribute down low. At 6’8″, Ford is a huge mismatch when playing on the wing. Ford averaged 12.2 points per game, a number that should jump considerably this year.
Last season, rising junior Reggie Spencer had the task of guarding the opponents’ big man. At 6’7”, it was a tough assignment to play alongside Rendleman and Hagins on the low block. With Eatherton and Abakah on roster, Spencer should get more breaks, which will help him avoid the late-season slide he experienced last year. He’s a true power forward who will be a double-double threat each night.
Rising sophomore David Walker will step in as Northeastern’s floor general. Having played alongside an experienced leader like Lee should do wonders for the 6’6″ Walker, who earned All-Rookie Team honors. Walker had the second-most steals of any Husky (1.3 per game) last season. As one of the biggest guards in the CAA, his length will create the easy turnovers that helped the Huskies build their leads last year.
Walker will bide time with junior Marco Banegas-Flores. When Lee was sidelined in the first nine games, Banegas-Flores received valuable playing time. The emergence of Walker relegated Banegas-Flores to bench duty, but the rising junior point guard had a career-high 10 points in the CAA Championship. He got to the rim easily, which will be a welcome skill on a team that can space the floor will multiple talented shooters.
One of those shooters, Demetrius Pollard, is the guy who hit the game-winning three against Boston U. Pollard shot 36.3% from three, and averaged 5.6 points in his 16.4 minutes per game. When Smith missed the Delaware game, Pollard played a career-high 41 minutes, but shot just 1-of-8 from the field. For Pollard, consistency is the key to more playing time.
Zach Stahl is a versatile wing who plays bigger than his 6’5” 200-pound frame. He’s a strong shooter who played stretches at the four last season. Now that the Huskies will boast a much bigger frontline, expect Stahl to see more minutes at the two and the three.
He didn’t play as much as classmates Walker and Stahl, but I expect Derrico Peck to find the floor a lot more next season. After playing 22 minutes against Belmont in the Great Alaskan Shootout, Peck didn’t play double-digit minutes again until the CAA Championship, when he provided a huge spark in Northeastern’s comeback efforts. Peck finished with a career-high eight points in 13 minutes.
Northeastern is set to bring in three freshmen. Pflugerville, Texas’s TJ Williams has grown from a diminutive 5’7” guard into a 6’3″ steal. Unfortunately for Williams, that growth spurt came with an assortment of nagging injuries which have limited his court time over the past few seasons. That may have been Coen’s gain, as many people in the Longhorn State think Williams is another steal in a long line of Coen recruits.
In early May, Northeastern received commitments from 6’6” small forward Jimmy Marshall and 6’2” guard CJ Hill. Marshall is a sharpshooter who can spread the floor. Hill is a late-blooming combo guard who should be an immediate contributor on defense. Both are Virginia natives.
Chris Avenant will be the Huskies’ only senior next season. Thus, Northeastern won’t have the veteran presence it had last season, but will be far from bereft in talent. Northeastern will still be among the best three-point shooting teams in the CAA, and should be a better defensive and rebounding squad. The Huskies will push to remain in the top half of the league this year, and will be one of the favorites to win the CAA heading in ’14-’15.