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Getting to know: Northeastern basketball (NCAA Tournament)

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Northeastern head coach Bill Coen watches over practice on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Teams practiced and gave interviews to media members before Thursday's opening round games.

Northeastern head coach Bill Coen watches over practice on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Teams practiced and gave interviews to media members before Thursday's opening round games. by Nick Krug

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.

Log on to KUsports.com for our live game blog coverage and follow the KUsports.com staff on Twitter: @KUSports @mctait @bentonasmith & @SJacksonLJW

BREAKING DOWN NORTHEASTERN

TOP PLAYER

No. 4 — G Vasa Pusica | 6-5, 210, rSr.

Northeastern guard Vasa Pusica shoots during practice at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Wednesday, March 20, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Northeastern guard Vasa Pusica shoots during practice at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Wednesday, March 20, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) by Associated Press

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.”

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 1 — G Shawn Occeus | 6-4, 195, jr.

Northeastern guard Shawn Occeus (1) pulls back for a dunk on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Teams practiced and gave interviews to media members before Thursday's opening round games.

Northeastern guard Shawn Occeus (1) pulls back for a dunk on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Teams practiced and gave interviews to media members before Thursday's opening round games. by Nick Krug

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.

Northeastern guard Jordan Roland (12) pulls back for a shot on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Teams practiced and gave interviews to media members before Thursday's opening round games.

Northeastern guard Jordan Roland (12) pulls back for a shot on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Teams practiced and gave interviews to media members before Thursday's opening round games. by Nick Krug

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.

Northeastern center Anthony Green (30) pulls back to dunk on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Teams practiced and gave interviews to media members before Thursday's opening round games.

Northeastern center Anthony Green (30) pulls back to dunk on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Teams practiced and gave interviews to media members before Thursday's opening round games. by Nick Krug

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.

VEGAS SAYS…

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

Comments

Len Shaffer 8 months ago

What's scary is not just that this type of team has caused problems for KU this year, but that this type of team has caused problems over the years in the tournament as well. An experienced team with a lot of good shooters is just the type of dangerous mid-major that should scare the hell out of every Jayhawk fan.

Marc Frey 8 months ago

Yes, Last year vs Villanova and prior vs Oregon. Both teams torched us from the 3 and sent us to the offseason.

Chad Smith 8 months ago

With all due respect, make any sort of comparison between Northeastern and last year's national champion and a 2017 final four team who lost to UNC by 2 is not quite the same thing. Kansas has much better talent than Northeastern.

Robert Brock 8 months ago

Is Northeastern as good as Iowa State? Doubtful...

Dirk Medema 8 months ago

Coach's record with multiple days to prepare for a team is right up there with his success out of timeouts.

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