Tom Zamonski (@tomzamonski)
Entering the week, Delaware was one of two CAA teams with a perfect conference record. However, the Blue Hens were clipped and now only one team remains perfect in league play: Northeastern. The two will square off Saturday in the conference’s top game of the weekend.
Delaware’s first CAA blunder came at the hands of Towson on Wednesday night. The Blue Hens (8-9, 3-1) were unable to shut down Jerrelle Benimon as he collected his NCAA-leading 12th double-double of the season leading the Tigers to a 69-66 victory.
Northeastern (10-7, 5-0) defeated Hofstra 65-60, stretching its season-long winning streak to five, all victories over CAA opponents. The 5-0 start in conference play is the best for the Huskies since winning six in a row to open the 2008-09 season.
For Delaware to put a blemish on Northeastern’s CAA record, the Blue Hens need to slow done arguably the conference’s top guard duo in Joel Smith and Jonathon Lee.
Smith is sixth in the CAA in scoring, averaging 15.9 points per game. The senior guard has reached double-figures in points in all but four games this season and has eclipsed the 20-point mark seven times. The Leander, Texas native and preseason All-CAA Honorable Mention is sixth in the league in assists with three per game.
Lee has returned to the Northeastern lineup after missing the first nine games of the year with a foot injury. Since his return, the Huskies are 6-2 in the eight games the senior guard has played. Lee is averaging 12.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, and 4.3 apg. The Flint, Michigan product was selected to the preseason All-CAA First Team.
Northeastern’s top rebounder is Quincy Ford. The sophomore leads the team with 6.2 per game. Ford is averaging 13.2 ppg on 44.2 percent shooting; his most notable make was when he hit a double-pump three with 1.9 seconds to send the Huskies’ game against Drexel into overtime.
The game could be a high-scoring affair as Delaware is the top scoring team in the CAA (69.4 ppg), while Northeastern is third (67.9 ppg).
It will be a clash of styles as the Huskies rely heavily on their guards. Northeastern is efficient on threes- second in the CAA at 34.5 percent- and generates steals to create stops on defense, first in the league with 8.4 per game. However, the Huskies are last in the CAA with 34.2 rebounds per game as a team.
The Blue Hens depend more on their bigs. Delaware has shot poorly from behind the arc- 10th in the conference at 29 percent- but is third in the CAA in rebounding at 41.1 per game.
Delaware and Northeastern will tip off on Saturday at 2:00 from the Bob Carpenter Center.
Jake Fischer, a credentialed media member for the Northeastern Basketball program and CAA Men’s basketball, gave CoBL some insight on the Huskies through a question and answer session. Fischer, a journalism major at Northeastern, is the CAA columnist for RantSports.com’s NCAA Basketball section.
TZ: Northeastern has one of the best guard tandems in the CAA with Joel Smith and Jonathon Lee. How can Delaware contain the two?
JF: You are correct in saying that Joel Smith and Jonathan Lee are perhaps the best guard tandem in the CAA. This year, the team’s co-captains are collectively averaging 28.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 3.0 steals per game. In order to contain them, Delaware must play a man-to-man defense and throw relentless pressure on these ball-handlers, even outside the three-point arc.
TZ: Northeastern is in the bottom of the conference in rebounding and near the bottom of the CAA in field goal percentage defense. How much does the Huskies’ defense rely on the ability to create turnovers?
JF: Their defense relies on turnovers and rotations more than any other aspect of that side of the ball. Head coach Bill Coen knows that his team is small and is susceptible to rebounding struggles. The way to prevent rebounding struggles is being super-aggressive on the perimeter and forcing turnovers before the ball enters the paint. Expect a lot of 1-2-2 three-quarter-court and 3-2 zone half-court defensive looks from the Huskies in this one.
TZ: The Huskies are 6-2 in the 8 games since Lee’s return. How much better has Northeastern been since the senior has returned to the lineup?
JF: Northeastern is clearly playing more confidently with Lee back. As a senior and co-captain, Lee provides tremendous ability and leadership on the floor. Having that figure on the court not only makes teammates more comfortable, but also more confident that the overall team can be successful. That morale undoubtedly leads to a more natural flow on offense.
TZ: Besides Joel Smith and Jonathon Lee, who is a player to keep an eye on in Saturday’s game?
JF: In this game, keep an eye on Quincy Ford. The sophomore out of St. Petersburg, Fla. is coming off a 24-point game against Hofstra on Friday in which he made a career-high 11 field goals. While Ford is 6-8, he has inside moves like a forward but guard skills that allow him to thrive on the wing. As Jamelle Hagins will most likely guard Reggie Spencer down low, look for Ford to constantly force a mismatch offensively with either the smaller Josh Brinkley or bigger Carl Baptiste defending him.
TZ: Northeastern is undefeated in the CAA and has road wins at Towson, Mason, and Drexel. What has been the key to their success, especially on the road?
JF: The key to their success on the road has definitely been coaching and defense. While on some nights shots might not fall, defense always travels and so does coaching. Northeastern has been able to defend and force turnovers and make with ease on the road. Against George Mason, Drexel and Towson, the Huskies were vicious on the defensive attack and it showed as Sherrod Wright, Drexel as a team and the Tigers’ shooters all struggled mightily. Coen has been doing an excellent job preparing his players to know their role on the road and has made terrific in-game adjustments to help his team succeed.