Right now, the Northeastern Huskies should be in Europe. For months that had been the flagship event scheduled for an important offseason -- until the program had to cancel the tour over safety concerns. Instead, NU begins a new era of basketball by practicing against one another behind closed doors.
The offseason finds the team looking to fill an enormous void. After bowing out of the conference semifinals last spring, the team lost its most successful graduating class since the mid-80s. Aside from a 2015 NCAA Tournament appearance, the starting quartet of David Walker, Quincy Ford, Zach Stahl and Caleb Donnelly provided all-league talent, stability and leadership.
Without those pillars, head coach Bill Coen (entering his 11th season) is engineering a major overhaul. The international tour could have shed some clarity on player roles, but a few key pieces should undeniably be in the Huskies’ plans moving forward.
Big man Jeremy Miller looks like a star in the CAA for years to come. He was the lone non-senior in the starting lineup last season as a freshman and still made his presence known. Listed at 6’10, he mostly played at the 5, but demonstrated a knack for stretching out the defense with his shooting. Even with all the snipers around him, Miller still managed to hoist 2.5 threes per game and make them at a 37 percent clip. That’s a useful skill in this league because just about every opposing team employs a traditional big man. If Northeastern can consistently draw someone like Hofstra’s Rokas Gustys out of the paint on defense, it unlocks an entire playbook of possibilities. The versatility and impact of NU’s young gun earned him a spot on the CAA All-Rookie team.
Then there’s the big splash that Northeastern made on the recruiting trail this summer. Tomas Murphy, a four-star forward out of Rhode Island, turned down offers from Butler and Pittsburgh to play for Northeastern next season. According to Murphy himself, a personal relationship with Coen and his staff gave the Huskies an early recruiting edge that they never relinquished.
On the court one year from now, Murphy will play alongside Miller to form an intimidating and athletic frontcourt. While playing with Finalnd’s U-19 team this summer, Murphy has shown finesse around the basket and a knack for rebounding at his position. With another year of development and conditioning, he’ll arrive in Boston with plenty of skill.
In the meantime, veteran ball-handler T.J. Williams will manage the game. Last year as a junior, he missed a stretch of the conference schedule due to injury and his absence was obvious. Inconsistency doomed the Huskies last year. Having Williams in the starting lineup should help steady the ship.
The rest of the rotation is less defined, but gives Coen a lot of different options. The team is pretty set at forward -- Jeremy Miller actually gives up some length to two of his own classmates -- but playing those three in various combinations doesn’t seem feasible. Experimenting with Miller as a full-time stretch-4 is something we could see if teams respect that jumper enough to vacate the paint.
Some three-guard sets are also in play. There are a number of unproven underclassmen that could rise to the occasion, but the team really needs another point guard behind or beside Williams.
You don’t need to look back very far to see evidence of Coen finding a way to make the pieces fit. That vaunted class of 2016 was a group of hybrid wing players with possibly redundant skill sets before the coaching staff constructed them into a cohesive unit. With clay to mold for years to come, we’ll soon see what Northeastern unveils to the league.