Getting to know: Northeastern basketball (NCAA Tournament)
Two teams with contrasting styles will square off in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, which is admittedly the beauty of March Madness.
Northeastern, the No. 13 seed in the Midwest region, will play a four-guard lineup that generates most of its scoring production from 3-point range. Fourth-seeded Kansas, meanwhile, has the talent advantage in the frontcourt and will try to get a bulk of its points from inside.
The Huskies (23-10) are also looking for their first win in the big dance since 1982. The Jayhawks (25-9) have won their last 12 NCAA Tournament first-round games, a string which started in 2007.
Northeastern needed to win the Colonial Athletic Association tournament just to be here. KU, meanwhile, has made 30-consecutive NCAA Championship appearances, which is the longest active streak.
The game, set for approximately 3 p.m. Thursday, will be televised on TNT with Andrew Catalon (play-by-play), Steve Lappas (analyst) and Lisa Byington (reporter) calling the action.
Series history: This is the first time these two programs have ever met.
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BREAKING DOWN NORTHEASTERN
No. 4 — G Vasa Pusica | 6-5, 210, rSr.
Northeastern has a ton of balance, but Pusica is the most-dangerous weapon on the offensive end.
Pusica, who played high school basketball at Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kansas, leads the Huskies with an average of 17.8 points per game. He’s also averaged 4.7 assists per game in his two seasons with NU, which ranks third in program history.
Pusica has connected on 57 3-pointers this season, and is a big reason why Northeastern has already netted a school-record 9.8 triples per contest.
“Kansas is a big name, so we know we are facing a talented team,” Pusica said. “We are talented as well. We are experienced. I feel confident coming into tomorrow’s game.”
No. 1 — G Shawn Occeus | 6-4, 195, jr.
Injuries forced Occeus out of the lineup twice this season, as he missed 19 games in total.
On the year, Occeus is averaging 10.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists and a team-leading 1.4 steals. Occeus, who was the CAA Defensive Player of the Year last season, returned during the conference tournament last week. He didn’t start any of the three games, but logged 32 minutes in the championship game against Hofstra.
The Huskies have not played particularly well on the defensive end this season, but it has been trending in the right direction for them since Occeus returned.
“We buckled down the last half of the season. Whoever was on the court was ready to play and step into their roles,” Occeus said.
No. 12 — G Jordan Roland | 6-1, 171, rJr.
In his junior campaign, Roland is averaging 14.7 points per contest for Northeastern.
Roland has connected on a school-record 97 shots from long range this year, which is 40 more than any other NU player. Five times this year, Roland has connected on the rare four-point play. His four-point plays have come against Virginia Tech, Davidson, Syracuse, Delaware and UNCW.
“If you are going to knock someone off, I’d rather it be a program with as much history as Kansas,” Roland said.
No. 30 — F Anthony Green | 6-10, 252, sr.
Green will be the last line of defense against a Kansas team that likes to get points in the paint. Green, who has a Big 12-like frame at 6-foot-10, 252 pounds, has started in all 33 games for Northeastern.
The Huskies run four guards around him and like to call a lot of lobs with the big man. Green has recorded 75.9 percent of his team’s slams with 63 total dunks this year. Only six players in the country have recorded more dunks this year.
"I think it helps me a lot, it makes it easier for me to go one-on-one in the post if I get that opportunity,” Green said of the smaller lineup. “If teams start to double, or have a bigger guard that sinks, I can just kick it out to one of our guards who is ready to shoot it."
In his final year, Green is averaging 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 68.4 percent from the floor, and has recorded 25 blocks.
ONE THING NORTHEASTERN DOES WELL
The Huskies can shoot the ball at high rate. Northeastern’s effective field goal percentage of 57.2 ranks fifth in the nation, according to KenPom. NU also shoots 38.8 percent from long range, which is the 13th-best clip in the country.
ONE AREA NORTHEASTERN STRUGGLES
Although Northeastern has improved on the defensive end, its overall numbers are still quite poor. Opposing teams are hitting 52.5 percent of 2-point shots against the Huskies. KU should be able to get plenty of points in the paint.
MEET THE COACH
Northeastern is coached by Bill Coen who is 224-96 in his 13th season as a head coach, all at NU.
Kansas has been considered a 6.5-point favorite over the last two days after opening up as an 8.5-point favorite. I understand that this type of team has caused problem for KU, but Northeastern doesn't’ have the same athletes as those teams. I’ll gladly cough up the points, since the Jayhawks will win by double-digits.
My prediction: Kansas 79, Northeastern 65