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Northeastern has promise next season, but clear room for improvement

March 4, 2012 Columns, Your Phil of Hoops No Comments

RICHMOND, Va. – You can only survive so many turnovers for so long, unless you’re playing out-of-this-world defense as well or shooting the lights out when you don’t give the ball away. Northeastern did neither of those on Saturday night, and as a result the Huskies are headed home after an interesting season.

Northeastern managed to hang in early on despite VCU out-playing them. The Rams forced 11 turnovers in the first half, a number of them coming in the early minutes, but they never got a big lead. The Huskies were able to tie it at 26 at halftime thanks to holding the Rams below 40 percent from the field while they shot over 47 percent. VCU also turned the 11 turnovers into just nine points, so the giveaways weren’t hurting the Huskies yet.

They were still within striking distance in the second half as the early minutes were just like the first half, but after the first media timeout the game changed as VCU started turning the turnovers into easy baskets. Northeastern shot over 51 percent for the game and was even on the boards with VCU, but they turned the ball over 25 times and VCU shot over 45 percent. VCU finished with 25 points off turnovers.

Northeastern was a difficult team to project coming into the season. They weren’t a young team anymore, with a lot of this year’s roster having played good minutes last season, but they had just one senior – Niagara transfer Kashief Edwards, who was eligible immediately by way of the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule. Inexperience ruled in the frontcourt, but fortunately for the Huskies they had veterans in the backcourt.

The freshmen forwards were promising, as Reggie Spencer and Quincy Ford got better as the season went along. Spencer made an instant impact, helping the Huskies knock off cross-town rival Boston University in the season opener with a double-double to lead a 52-32 rebounding edge. The backcourt was an area of concern as the season went along, mainly due to a lack of depth. There were three games where Jonathan Lee and Joel Smith were the only guards who played for the Huskies, although that issue was somewhat alleviated by Ford’s ability to play like a guard. Still, Lee and Smith played a lot of minutes for this team, and might have been better at times if the minutes could have been cut down by better options off the bench.

Turnovers were a problem for this team, at some times more so than others. The Huskies gave the ball away more than 15 times per game, although they cut that number down slightly in CAA play. Saturday was the eighth time this season they had 20 or more turnovers, and only once in those games did they come out on top.

“When we’ve lost, I think that’s been the primary reason,” said head coach Bill Coen. “We were even on the boards today, we shot a decent percentage, but didn’t get enough shots, and that’s a concern.”

The Huskies will again have experience in the backcourt next season, but as of now questions will still remain about depth. They also lack a true point guard, as Lee has admirably tried to play the position but is not a pass-first player. That takes nothing away from his improvement or his defensive ability, but it’s far from an ideal mix and the lack of depth hurts.

With more experience, perhaps next season’s team will be less prone to the kind of losing streaks they had. While they won three straight on two occasions, they only once had a longer streak (four games) while having to endure losing streaks of six and four games. Some of that is because they didn’t exactly play an easy schedule in non-conference play, but some of that goes on the team as well because the better teams win some of those games.

Next season is one with some promise for Northeastern, with everyone back but Edwards. However, Saturday’s game, played against another team that will return a lot, shows that if they are to be a contender, they need to improve significantly.

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