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NCAA Tournament profile: Get to know the Northeastern Huskies

Northeastern has experience and momentum. Is that enough to topple Kansas?

NCAA Basketball: Northeastern at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Representing the Colonial Athletic Association in Salt Lake City, the Northeastern Huskies are set for an intriguing matchup against the Kansas Jayhawks. Although the Huskies don’t have the prolific individual talent of some CAA peers, fans around the conference know how good this NU team is playing. Bill Coen’s group is experienced, has a terrific combo of guards, and are winners of 12 of their last 13 games.

Let’s take a look at what makes this team dangerous.

How’d they get here?

Northeastern started the season as preseason favorites to win the CAA. As has become somewhat of a tradition under Coen, they played a tough non-conference schedule highlighted by games against Virginia Tech, Syracuse, and Vermont. The Huskies came up empty in those contests, but they did get a neutral court victory over Alabama and a road win at Harvard to highlight their out-of-conference season.

Despite their preseason billing, NU spent most of the conference season chasing first place. As the Huskies dealt with injuries to starters Vasa Pusica and Shawn Occeus, Hofstra became the story of the league for some time, even defeating Northeastern in dramatic fashion during a 16-game win streak. But the Huskies had the last laugh, snapping Hofstra’s win streak in Boston and finishing just one game back of the regular season champions.

In the CAA Tournament, the 2 seed Huskies dominated a pesky UNCW team in the first round, came back in the final minutes to beat Charleston in a 2018 championship game rematch, and then held off Hofstra to complete their wire-to-wire season by cutting down the nets.

What do they do well?

In short, making threes and taking threes away from their opponents. The Huskies have three starters who hit better than 40 percent from outside, and as a team they hit about 10 treys per game. Most of these shots come out of the pick and roll operated by point guard Vasa Pusica. With 6’10 center Anthony Green rolling to the basket for a lob, Pusica can float a pass to his big man, take it himself, or find shooters Bolden Brace and Jordan Roland on the wing ready to catch and shoot. It’s a really tough set to guard for 40 minutes.

Defensively, the Huskies can stay glued to their opponents. They contest everything, move their feet well and have great length from Brace and Occeus to make life difficult for opposing perimeter players.

Players to Watch

Vasa Pusica is the maestro behind Northeastern’s balanced and versatile offensive attack. The senior point guard knows when to shoot and when to pass, and at 6’5 he can see passing lanes all over the court. He’s a two-time All-CAA First Team selection and will rarely exit the court.

Jordan Roland is a George Washington transfer that gave Northeastern another shooter this season. He’s second on the team with 14.7 points per game, and served as the team’s top offensive option in the games that Pusica missed. Roland has the ability to swing a game if he gets hot from deep. He shot 41 percent from outside for the season and already has a pair of 20+ point games this month.

Bolden Brace and Shawn Occeus are two wing players that helped Northeastern power through the CAA Tournament. Brace is another shooter, but also a smart player who can grab an offensive rebound, or hit a late possession shot if his teammates are covered. Occeus was last year’s CAA Defensive Player of the Year. He missed all of February with an injury, but came off the bench in the three tournament games to give the Huskies a lift and guard the opponent’s best player.

How Far Can They Go?

Northeastern checks a lot of boxes for a mid-major team to bet on in March. Experienced and talented guards, a great coach in Bill Coen, shooters and depth down the roster, it’s all there. Kansas doesn’t seem to be intimidating anyone, but they can do some things to frustrate the Huskies. Crowding and cutting off the vision of Pusica really stagnates the offense and can cause turnovers. Northeastern would also rather play the game at a slower pace and not have to defend in transition against a more athletic team. I like the Huskies a lot compared to the other 13 seeds, but picking them over a blue blood is tough.