On December 17, Northeastern flew to Michigan for their last games before conference play. Though 6’9” sophomore forward Greg Eboigbodin was advertised before the trip — he played high school ball in Detroit — he sat out both games due to injury. With 6’8” junior forward Tomas Murphy also hurt, head coach Bill Coen had a decision to make.
In his first two seasons of action under Coen, Max Boursiquot had never started at center. Listed at just 6’5” tall and 211 pounds, he’d be lighter and shorter than every player he would guard, an already daunting task made more so because he’d be the Huskies’ last line of defense. But, as he had in the previous game, Coen chose Boursiquot.
In the 20 games to follow, Max Boursiquot defended with versatility, with energy, with athleticism and strength and intelligence. He was the best defender in the CAA this year and should be recognized as such.
“He gives you a chance each and every night,” Coen said. “He’s a big reason why we’re hopeful going into the tournament.”
Boursiquot’s supreme versatility starts with his physique. While his height is clearly a disadvantage against big men, he is as strong as any player in the league. His low center of gravity allows him to hold his position in the post against larger players, then seal those same players off to secure rebounds.
Just ask William & Mary forward Nathan Knight. Knight is a lock for the All-CAA First Team, will likely win Player of the Year, and is one of the most athletic, skilled big men in the nation. Even he — and his star 7’0” frontcourt partner Andy Van Vliet — had trouble with Boursiquot at times.
“Huge credit to Max,” Knight said after the teams’ second meeting of the year. “He’s deceptively strong . . . a lot stronger than he appears on paper. His physicality and his quickness, being the size of a guard with the strength of a big, really grants him some upside on the defensive end playing against guys like me who play a little more inside out.”
Knight also pointed out another of Boursiquot’s defensive skills: forcing matchups to change plans and attack him away from their preferred spots.”
“He’s 212 [pounds], I’m 250, so I try to take advantage of that size by getting the ball as close as I can to the basket,” Knight said. “He did a tremendous job today of pressuring our bigs, making us catch the ball where we didn’t want it when there were plays drawn up for us to get on the block.”
Boursiquot is also quick, nimble, and athletic enough to harass guards on the perimeter. He bodies them and disrupts their usual driving game. He has the positional awareness, basketball IQ, and reflexes to disrupt perimeter passing and reap the benefits with layups and dunks on the other end. He finished third in the conference in steals; of the top 12 players in that category, he is the only one who isn’t a guard.
Perhaps the biggest knock on Boursiquot is his fouling, which has limited his minutes in a handful of games. True, he does have a team-leading 90 fouls this season. But his foul total is on par with many other forwards, including those who are undoubtedly receiving DPOY consideration. Nathan Knight has 90, same as Boursiquot. Isaac Kante, often the lone big man in a guard-heavy Hofstra lineup, has 82. Justyn Mutts, who often has the 6’10” Dylan Painter to help him out on defense, has 103. Nakye Sanders and Dennis Tunstall, who lead the way for Pat Skerry’s fearsome Towson defense, have 99 and 81, respectively. Elon has four players with foul totals above 85. Even a few guards are close, including Delaware’s Kevin Anderson and William & Mary’s Tyler Hamilton.
As Coen acknowledged after the Huskies’ final game of the season, foul trouble is an almost inevitable consequence of battling against larger opponents all game. The numbers bear this out. In non-conference play, when either the 6’8” Murphy or 6’9” Eboigbodin typically started and Boursiquot played 22.1 minutes per game, he committed 2.1 fouls per contest. In conference play, when Boursiquot started at the five every game and played three more minutes per contest, the number jumped to 3.3.
Of course he fouls a good amount. It would be almost impossible for a player in his position not to. The fouls do not diminish what he has achieved.
Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year award went to Hofstra’s Desure Buie. The year before it was Northeastern’s Shawn Occeus. Both spent their defensive days hounding the CAA’s best guards around the perimeter. This year, the award should go to someone who did that and more, who stood up against the conference’s most skilled, powerful players and made a big difference, someone who had a tangible, visible impact on every defensive possession.
“Pound for pound, he’s about as tough as they come,” Coen said. “He’s undersized, but they can’t measure his heart.”