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Northeastern having a tough time for a few reasons

December 10, 2013 Columns, Your Phil of Hoops No Comments
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BOSTON – Northeastern wants better results than they have had thus far.  Their 2-7 record isn’t a result of not trying or wanting to win.  Part of it is from playing a very difficult schedule, but part of it is also the reality of trying to find the right personnel with a young team at a challenging time.  It has Bill Coen having to manage the confidence the team as they reach the break for final exams.

Anyone who knew Northeastern’s personnel heading into the season knew that the Huskies were going to be different this season.  Departed guards Jonathan Lee and Joel Smith were more than just the heart and soul of last season’s Huskies, so that was a big void to fill.  Who would emerge was far from a given since depth was a concern behind those two last season.  So it’s not a surprise that part of the challenge has been personnel-related.

Right now, Coen is looking for some answers.  He could use the emergence of another player or two, as the Huskies are basically a seven-man team right now and rely on a few starters for heavy minutes.  At this point, the Huskies can hang their hat on double-double machine Scott Eatherton, who hasn’t looked very rusty after sitting out last season as a transfer, junior frontcourt mate Reggie Spencer and sophomore David Walker, who doesn’t appear to be having a sophomore slump.  That’s not a bad start, but they alone can’t carry this team.

There’s a big missing link, and that’s the player who was expected to lead the way in Quincy Ford.  The junior forward had back surgery earlier in the week and will miss the rest of the season.  That means the Huskies can’t play big as easily as before, they don’t have the guy they thought would be the go-to guy before the season, and they can only replace him with several players doing more instead of just one.

On top of it all, Northeastern has had to do this against a very difficult schedule.  Their schedule is rated the 17th toughest in the country according to Collegiate Basketball News, and looking at the names it’s not hard to figure.  The only team they have played thus far that isn’t perceived as a solid postseason candidate is Central Connecticut, who they beat at home.  Everyone else is either a conference favorite or likely postseason team in some way, shape, or form.

The latest case is UAB, who beat the Huskies 74-69 on Saturday night.  Northeastern was right there throughout, even having an eight-point lead at times in the second half.  But down the stretch, it wasn’t hard to tell which team was more experienced as UAB finished the game on a 7-1 run.  The Huskies have now lost five straight, four of them coming against teams either ranked or receiving votes in one of the two polls.

“I thought it was a winning effort tonight, but we’re not getting the results we’re hoping for,” said Coen.  “Each and every time out, we’re learning a little more about ourselves.  We’re competing against some of the best teams and programs in the nation.”

The end result right now is a 2-7 mark heading into final exams.  It’s a real test for this team in terms of dealing with adversity, especially after they had a season-low seven turnovers and a chance against a team that just beat North Carolina.

“It’s baptism by fire, and these guys are learning,” said Coen.  “I know they’re frustrated.  I see a lot of positives out there.  It’s just not enough to earn us a victory.”

Demetrius Pollard has been one of those bright spots, as the junior had shown flashes his first two seasons.  He is shooting 40 percent from long range and has remained a clutch shooter.  Freshman T.J. Williams has started the last five games and appears to be growing, as he now has more assists than turnovers on the season.  No one doubts that a freshman will have adversity at that position, however.

Coen was high on the progress of sophomores Derrico Peck and Zach Stahl entering the season, but neither has been very consistent.  Stahl, in particular, has potential as he has a feel for the game, and as he played more last season including some starts, his lack of consistency is more concerning.

The Huskies haven’t been embarrassed all year.  In fact, the only double-digit loss was at VCU, and they were right in that game for most of it.  But as Coen noted, being close and winning are two different things, and this team is coming up a bit short on the latter.  If they could change that, it could do wonders for the team’s confidence.

“When things don’t go well, you can do one of two things: you can either quit or try harder,” Coen said.  “These guys are committed to trying harder.”

The hope is that the Huskies get some confidence while continuing to improve, and perhaps get a win or two to help with that.  That will be easier said than done, though, with four away from home including trips to Tulane and Vanderbilt and a home date with Richmond remaining in non-conference play.  They may continue to get better, but seeing a reflection of that on the bottom line may still be hard to come by for now.

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