Northeastern’s Offense Enhanced, But Not Invincible

The top reason Northeastern is tied for the Colonial lead at 5-1 is a resurgent offense. In conference play last season, the Huskies ranked seventh of nine teams in offensive efficiency en route to a 7-9 record. With mostly the same personnel, the Huskies have scored 1.09 points per possession to date, second-best in the CAA behind co-leader William & Mary (and ahead of Hofstra). But as Detroit proved in an 81-69 overtime victory Monday, Northeastern’s offense can be defeated by teams that protect the paint.

The Huskies’ improvement has been simple: They’ve made more shots. Northeastern has slightly regressed in three of the four factors, but its effective field goal percentage has jumped to 52.8%, top-50 in the nation. The Huskies’ accuracy has improved on two-pointers, three-pointers and free-throws, and their top five returning players have all become more efficient:

eFG% Eatherton Walker Williams Stahl Spencer Team
13-14 56.3% 48.3% 41.4% 44.9% 47.8% 48.0%
14-15 61.5% 53.3% 51.1% 52.6% 48.5% 52.8%

 

T.J. Williams is one of several improved shooters for Northeastern this season.

T.J. Williams is one of several improved shooters for Northeastern this season.

Williams, a sophomore, is Northeastern’s most improved player this season. The 6-3 point guard has turned into a legitimate outside threat, taking more three-pointers and making 39% of them, while also becoming a better finisher at the rim. Those gains have been partly offset by more turnovers and 58% foul shooting, but Williams’ evolution into a more complete player has made the Huskies’ offense more versatile.

The same is true of the return of forward Quincy Ford, a 35% three-point shooter who missed most of last year with back surgery. After playing much of last season with at most one or two outside threats on the floor, the Huskies now have three at all times (including reserves Devon Begley and Caleb Donnelly). That allows Northeastern’s post players, led by Eatherton, to specialize near the rim instead of taking 16-footers to space the floor.

With more offensive options, the Huskies have been able to pass more effectively (as they did for a key three-pointer against Hofstra). After posting a below-average assist rate last season, this year’s team has assisted more than 60% of its field goals, often a hallmark of a good-shooting team:

Northeastern_assists_eFG

48% of Northeastern’s shots this season have come at the rim (seventh-best nationally), while just 27% of shots against Detroit have been taken there (28th-fewest), setting up the key contrast in Monday’s game. Detroit won that battle in the first half, holding Eatherton without a shot and forcing lots of jumpers. The Huskies’ first-half eFG% was 38%, and only three of their nine field goals were assisted.

Northeastern_Detroit_shot_chart_1H

“They just didn’t leave Scotty,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “They fronted him, backed him, they play a bit of a switching man-to-man, and they doubled him. We didn’t do a good job of recognizing that … we came out and shot 13 threes in the first half, which really isn’t us.”

Northeastern got back to its roots in the second half, attacking the paint and drawing free throws, and its efficiency improved. But the Huskies wore down in overtime, missing their first five shots and losing by 12. Spencer missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury, while Ford shot 0-7 while battling a stomach flu.

Northeastern_Detroit_shot_chart_2H

Forcing the Huskies to shoot from outside isn’t a foolproof strategy — it backfired for Boston U. (when Northeastern shot 9-23) and Santa Clara (11-22). But for future CAA opponents, starting with 4-2 James Madison on Thursday, it’s a good place to start.

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