Three Thoughts: Northeastern 68, Navy 44

Navy gave it the old service academy try Saturday night against Northeastern, keeping the game close for most of the first half, and actually tying it at 20 with five minutes left. But the Huskies were clinical in the second half, showing why they’re the current Colonial favorites by dismantling Navy on both sides of the floor, 68-44, in the second semifinal of the Hall-of-Fame Tip-Off Classic at Mohegan Sun.

Northeastern outrebounded Navy 38-16 and looked like a veteran, experienced squad because, of course, they are. As Kevin Whitaker pointed out last week, Northeastern’s offense – even with a breakout season from St. Francis Univ. transfer Scott Eatherton – left plenty to be desired – as the Huskies finished 11-21 overall (7-9 in the Colonial). And they’ll have plenty of chances to test themselves with a very challenging non-conference slate, including a fairly fascinating (at least for me) Springfield bracket final Sunday against Manhattan.

Here are my thoughts:

Northeastern senior Scott Eatherton throws down three dunks Saturday night against Navy.

Northeastern senior Scott Eatherton throws down three dunks Saturday night against Navy.

Life is easy when you make shots –  In addition to the rebounding dominance, Northeastern finished 8-of-16 from behind the arc, and is currently shooting at a solid 48.1% on a season from out there. That kind of percentage will be tough to maintain, but with Eatherton drawing as much attention as he does, many of the shots were uncontested, leaving Navy with a dilemma that everyone in the Colonial will face this season: To double or not in the paint? If you do, juniors David Walker and Quincy Ford (who missed last season – except for two games – with injury). Scouting tip: Ford and Walker have combined for 22 of Northeastern’s 26 three-pointers this season. “It felt like they were really pressuring our guards a lot, because they weren’t getting good looks early in the game, and they’ve been shooting so well,” Eatherton said. “It’s kind of nice because either the guards will do it or the bigs will do it. If it goes down low, if they double us, we can kick it out to the guards and vice versa. It’s nice to have some versatility.”

Navy will battle, but it’s an uphill climb again –  Ed DeChellis is now 20-74 in his 3+ years in charge of the Midshipmen, which sounds terrible, and surely isn’t what he wanted when he came from Penn State. But their schedule has been brutal, to say the least, Michigan St., Notre Dame, and Providence before Northeastern. The injury list is just mindboggling. It was bad enough to lose junior Kendall Knorr (knee) and sophomore Tim Abruzzo (ACL), but then sophomore Michael Brown broke his jaw in practice (he might be back in the next few weeks), and finally starting forward Worth Smith dislocated his kneecap against Michigan St. That diagnosis was actually good news, as with a 6-8 week window for recovery, he could be back for the majority of Patriot League play. So if they can get relatively healthy by January, who knows? But this doesn’t look like a breakout year for Navy.

Sunday’s final is very tasty – It will probably go little noted nationally, but if you’re reading this you probably agree. Manhattan is among the MAAC favorites, and will bring its energy and pressure against the pick to win the CAA, who prides itself on being composed and running their sets. Can Manhattan’s depleted inside game deal with Eatherton? Will Northeastern able to be able to pick apart Manhattan’s aggressive zone? If you’re fascinated like me, the game is on ESPN3 at 8 p.m. “Manhattan is an outstanding program,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “They play with a ton of energy, and it’s a little unorthodox, they get up and pressure you, then they fall back into a trapping zone. We’re going to have to take very good care of the basketball and match their energy if we’re going to compete.”

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