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Catching up with NU basketball’s non-conference opponents

December 29th, 2011

Though only about a third of the games have been played, this is a good time of year to step back and look at where the Northeastern men’s basketball team is at. The majority of the non-conference schedule has been played, with the exception of a tilt at Vermont on Friday and the BracketBusters game against a still to-be-determined opponent in late February. After winning three of their first four, the Huskies have  now dropped six straight and head into the weekend of the new year with a 3-7 overall record, including one conference game.

It’s a slate that features just two power conference teams, in St. John’s (Big East) and NC State (Atlantic Coast), but it has proven to be yet another challenging non-league schedule nonetheless. That is not to be unexpected, however, as Bill Coen tends to schedule strong mid-major opponents to prepare his team for the challenges of the Colonial Athletic Association. Before the season started, nearly every one of these games could have been considered winnable – some more than others, but none that Northeastern seemed to have absolutely no shot at winning. After the victory at St. John’s, it seemed like the Huskies would be on a roll and even the tougher games like NC State, which many expected to be a loss to begin with, seemed more winnable than they had.

Here’s an update on each of the ten teams Northeastern has played so far this year, plus a look at the Huskies’ next opponent, Vermont – click the team name to read our recap from each of those games (all records are through Wednesday, December 28):

Boston University: 4-8 (1-3 home, 0-0 America East) – 82-74 win (OT)

After starting the season on a 4-game losing streak, the Terriers won their next four over Rhode Island, CAA members Hofstra and Delaware, then Boston College to even their record. They have lost all four since then, with two games remaining before AE play begins at Vermont on January 5 (at La Salle, 12/29; at Quinnipiac, 12/31). Just two of the losses have come by fewer than seven points, while only one of the wins was decided by more than seven (75-61 at BC).

University of Massachusetts: 10-3 (6-0 home, 0-0 Atlantic 10) – 83-67 loss

In contrast to BU, the Minutemen started with four wins, lost three of five including a 1-2 record at the Paradise Jam in the Bahamas, and are currently riding a four-game win streak. Each of the recent wins have been close, but all of the team’s first six wins were decided by double-digits including a 36-point blowout at BC and a 30-point trouncing of Towson. They’ll have one more non-con game vs. Central Connecticut (12/30) before opening their A10 slate vs. Fordham. UMass will then finish their out-of-conference schedule at La Salle before returning to Atlantic 10 play for the rest of the regular season.

Southern Illinois: 3-8 (1-2 away, 0-0 Missouri Valley Conference) – 64-57 win

It’s been a tough season in Carbondale, where the Salukis fell to Division II Ohio Dominican to start the year before a 19-point loss at the hands of Saint Louis and a trip to Boston that resulted in yet another loss at Matthews Arena. The three wins were all decisive, but came against Chicago State (0-13), Northern Illinois (0-11) and SIU-Edwardsville (2-7). The only OOC game remaining for SIU is the BracketBusters game, as they start MVC play at Evansville on Thursday.

St. John’s: 7-5 (7-1 home, 1-0 Big East) – 78-64 win

With a similar pattern to UMass, the Red Storm opened the season with three straight wins, including their season opener against William & Mary in the 2K Sports Classic, before dropping five of six with three more wins since their last loss. They have already started Big East play with a 91-67 win over Providence on Tuesday that saw Moe Harkless post 32 points, a record for Big East freshmen in his conference debut. Their only non-conference game remaining is UCLA on February 18 – although with the Big ‘East’ expansion, the Bruins will probably be joining the conference before too long.

La Salle: 8-4 (5-0 home, 0-0 Atlantic 10) – 68-51 loss

By looking strictly at the record, an 8-4 mark might be a surprise for the team picked to finish last in the A10. However, despite a few blowouts, their 26-point win over Bucknell (8-6) is perhaps their most impressive. They also defeated CAA foe James Madison, 92-83, and smoked the still-winless Towson by 36. The losses are actually the brightest point of optimism for La Salle, after staying within seven at Villanova and four at Pittsburgh, and falling to an underrated Delaware team by just four on the road. The Explorers have two non-con games, next vs. Boston University on Thursday, then two A10 games before their final OOC game of the year at Penn.

*Old Dominion: 6-6 (1-2 away, 1-0 CAA) – 69-59 loss

The Monarchs started with a 63-46 drubbing by Northern Iowa (10-2) at home. Three straight wins, including the first win by a CAA team over a power conference team in a 68-66 victory over South Florida, and just a 10-point loss to #2 Kentucky in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off at Mohegan Sun seemed to have ODU back on track before a 10-point overtime loss at home against Vermont. After that game, they beat East Carolina and Northeastern, lost to Fairfield, Central Florida and Richmond (OT), then beat Virginia Military Institute. They’ll host #8 Missouri on Friday before returning to CAA action at James Madison on Monday.

Bradley: 5-8 (4-3 home, 0-1 Missouri Valley Conference) – 79-68 loss

Another team of streaks, the Braves started 2011-12 with three wins, then lost four in a row, won two, and have lost their last four. The latest streak started with a 73-68 loss at Drexel. That run also includes a one-point loss vs. Western Carolina, an 11-point defeat at the hands of #19 Michigan, and a 90-51 shellacking by Wichita State at home to open the MVC portion of their schedule. With the exception of BracketBusters, each of their remaining games will be against conference opponents.

Princeton: 6-7 (3-4 away, 0-0 Ivy) – 71-62 loss

The Ivy Leaguers started by winning just one of six, then won five of six. Their only game since the trip to Boston on December 18 resulted in a 4-point loss at Siena. The Tigers are in a stretch of 11 straight road games against Division 1 opponents when they won’t play any home games during the months of December and January with the exception of The College of New Jersey (Division III) on January 8, lasting from December 7 at Rutgers to February 4 at Yale. They’ll have a pair of games in Tallahassee, against Florida State on Friday and Florida A&M on Sunday, then their tune-up against TCNJ before opening the Ivy schedule at Cornell on January 13.

Louisiana Tech: 7-6 (5-0 home, 0-0 WAC) – 56-53 loss

A team that has been up and down over the past few years, a weak schedule has the Bulldogs looking like they’re back on the up – for now. They haven’t lost a home non-conference game since December of 2007, though they’ve had several close calls this season. Each of their last four wins, which were all at home, came by three points or fewer with a one point, double overtime win over Northwestern State. After Arkansas, who La Tech lost to by 14 in their last game, the only teams with much name recognition are Wyoming, McNeese State and Arkansas-Little Rock. According to RealTimeRPI.com, their strength of schedule ranks 306th in the country. They have two more non-conference games before starting WAC play, including NAIA Spring Hill on Thursday (their second non-Division 1 opponent after D-III Mississippi College to start the season) and Southern Methodist on Sunday.

North Carolina State: 8-4 (6-2 home, 0-0 ACC) – 88-59 loss

New head coach Mark Gottfried has the Wolfpack energized and in control, exciting fans and local media with a strong start to the 2011-12 season. The ‘Pack has three games left before starting their league schedule, with their next tilt coming against Campbell in their on-campus gym, the Reynolds Coliseum (instead of the RBC Center, their normal home arena). With no bad losses, a win over Texas and a couple other decent victories, NC State looks to keep rolling into conference play and hopes to make some noise in a weak ACC.

Vermont: 6-7 (1-3 home, 0-0 America East)

The Catamounts have a solid balance in the difficulty of their schedule. After beginning the year with a two-point defeat at South Florida, they bounced back with wins over Dartmouth and Marist. A loss to Long Island was followed by an overtime win at Old Dominion and a home victory over Siena. A five-game losing streak may look like a rough patch, but that included a 7-point loss to Harvard (in the week preceding the first-ever appearance in the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls in program history), a 4-point loss to Quinnipiac and a 1-point loss to Iona are nothing to be ashamed of. The contest against Northeastern will be their last before traveling to Stony Brook, last year’s AE runner-up, to open the conference slate.

For those wondering what next year’s non-conference schedule will be like, it is very similar to this one. Not all of the opponents will be the same, but BU, UMass, La Salle and Vermont are expected to make a return trip to Boston, while the Huskies will travel to Princeton. In addition, UNC Asheville owes a return to Northeastern as part of the BracketBusters contract from last year, and NU will be playing in the Great Alaska Shootout over Thanksgiving break against a field that will be announced in March or April. They will also have a road BracketBusters game, leaving room for just two more opponents to reach the total of 27 games plus the tournament allowed by the NCAA.

In the coming days, we’ll evaluate the team’s performance as they head into the meat of the conference schedule. In the meantime, be sure to tune into WRBB Sports as we bring you live action of three Huskies athletic events this weekend, including the basketball team’s game at Vermont on Friday and a pair of hockey games at the Mariucci Classic in Minnesota.

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