By: Matt MacCormack
Anytime you graduate four seniors and lose 70% of your scoring from the year before, the next season is bound to be rife with uncertainty. That’s just what’s transpired for Bill Coen’s Northeastern Huskies in the 2016-17 season.
Calling the Huskies’ season a “roller coaster ride” is an understatement. NU’s 13-9 record might not seem remarkable, but the path they took to achieve it is.
The highs have been incredible, with wins at UConn and at Michigan State, as well as an eight-game win streak that stretched from early December to mid-January. Senior point guard T.J. Williams has exploded into a mid-major superstar after a junior season plagued with injury and inconsistency.
But every coin has two sides, and the Huskies have had their share of difficulties this season, as well. One can’t forget losses to BU, LIU-Brooklyn, Cornell and Stony Brook, or the recent four-game conference losing streak where the Huskies looked incapable of winning away from Matthews Arena.
We’re just past the halfway point of league play in the Colonial Athletic Association, and the Huskies find themselves amidst a crowded CAA middle class. UNCW and College of Charleston separated themselves at the top of the leaderboard, but NU is one of three teams tied for third with 6-4 conference records.
A tough schedule looms, with away games at William & Mary and James Madison this week, and four games total remaining against the top dogs of UNCW and C of C. Another losing streak will likely correspond with a drastic fall down in the standings.
Just past the halfway point of the CAA play, we’re taking the opportunity to look at four key numbers from the Huskies season, and analyze their importance moving forward:
Difference in T.J. Williams’ points per game from this year to last
Last season, Williams averaged 6.8 ppg and started just 19 games for a Husky team that relied more on its four seniors than anyone else. This season, Williams (21.5 ppg, 5.2 assts, 4.8 rebs) has arguably made the biggest leap of any player in the country, leading the nation in year-over-year scoring difference. Williams can thank his ability to get to the free throw line, as the senior is 5th in the country with 141 points via free throws this season. The Huskies go as Williams goes, and the likely CAA Player of the Year will have to continue his dominance for Northeastern to close the year strong.
Number of day-one starters lost to injury
The Huskies have remained competitive without sophomore guard Donnell Gresham (wrist/hand) and sophomore center and preseason All-CAA Honorable Mention Jeremy Miller (leg). Gresham is done for the season, and doubts linger over whether Miller will be back in time for the CAA tournament. One can only imagine how the Huskies’ season would’ve gone with the two standout sophomores. In their place junior guard Devon Begley, who leads the CAA in steals, and sophomore center Anthony Green have stepped up admirably, particularly on the defense end. But will the Huskies have enough firepower to make a run down two dependable contributors?
Average margin of defeat in Northeastern’s nine losses
Say what you want about this NU team; they’ve been in every contest they’ve played this season, losing their average game by just two possessions. The bonus number is 7, as in the Huskies haven’t lost a game this year by more than seven points. It could be because their three freshman (Bolden Brace, Max Boursiquot, Shawn Occeus) each play 20 minutes a game, or because there’s a host of other players getting used to new roles, especially taking into account the injuries.
“We’ve been competitive in each and every game,” Coen said in Tuesday’s CAA teleconference. “There’s been execution flaws on offense and defense that have prevented us from winning at a high level.”
The Huskies can count on being in more close games down the stretch, and you can be sure Coach Coen is hoping to close the gap late in games.
The Huskies’ national rank in free throw percentage (out of 347 teams)
It’s no secret; Northeastern struggles in capitalizing on the “charity” part of the charity stripe. At 67%, the Huskies’ free throw percentage ranks close to the bottom quarter of the country. While Williams has converted his freebies at an impressive clip (141/188, or 75%), the rest of the Huskies combine to shoot under 62%. To make matters worse, all of the Huskies’ losses have been by single digits; their losses have come by a total of 38 points, and in those losses they’ve missed 69 free throws. Make even half of those misses, and NU’s season outlook would be drastically different.