Postseason Preview: Northeastern vs. Delaware, CAA semifinal

The game: 5. Northeastern (11-20 overall, 7-9 Colonial) vs. 1. Delaware (24-9, 14-2), at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, NBCSN.

In-league efficiency: Northeastern: -.02 (1.00 pts/poss, 1.02 allowed); Delaware: +.08 (1.11 pts/poss; 1.03 allowed)

One key chart:

Northeastern_offensive_efficiency_2013-14Eighteen minutes against Georgetown aside, Northeastern’s offense has not been particularly potent this year; the Huskies averaged almost exactly a point per possession this season, below the national average of about 1.05. But in scoring 90 points in 76 possessions on Drexel in Saturday’s quarterfinal, the Huskies had their second-most efficient offensive performance of the season — and unlike January’s 70 points in 57 possessions against Hofstra, this one came against a good defense.

Five minutes in, the Huskies trailed 11-4, but from then on they were unstoppable; taking 44 free throws helps (including quite a few in extended desperation time), but Northeastern also shot 52 percent from the floor. Scott Eatherton had a double-double at halftime and finished with 23 points, while Zach Stahl added 19 and 12. Sixth-year senior Chris Fouch put on a second-half show (26 of his 30 points on 9-13 shooting), but it wasn’t enough to overcome a 14-point halftime deficit.

Superior mascot: It’s hard to think of any animate mascot (i.e., not the “colors”) that wouldn’t be superior to a Blue Hen. The name apparently has origins in cockfighting, but today, hens are primarily just a source of food — and I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable eating this, nor anything that came out of it. Compared to Northeastern’s Huskies, this is not a fair fight.

Critical matchup: Eatherton vs. Carl Baptiste. The Blue Hens have an undeniable advantage on the perimeter, with Jarvis Threatt, Davon Usher and Devon Saddler all capable of changing games. To hang with Delaware, the Huskies will need to own the paint. In this year’s first meeting, Baptiste shot 9-for-9 with a double-double; in the second, he wasn’t as efficient but at least held his own against Eatherton. Delaware won both games despite missing Threatt.

History: March 4, 2011: Delaware 60, Northeastern 58. Several of today’s players likely watched this game as committed recruits, but Saddler is the only one who played the last time Delaware and Northeastern played in the postseason; he scored 13 points on 6-10 shooting, including a three-pointer with 2:45 remaining that broke a 54-54 deadlock for good. The Hens lost to second-seeded Old Dominion in the quarterfinals.

One thought on Northeastern: It says a lot about all-conference voting that Scott Eatherton can be named the CAA’s Defensive Player of the Year, score 15 points per game as his team’s primary offensive option … and not make the first All-CAA team. In today’s City of Basketball Love story, Eatherton and Northeastern coach Bill Coen were okay with the selections, but I think they’re selling the forward short. Defense is half the game, especially for big men, who are more involved in help defense and rebounding, and yet it always seems to get only a token thought in all-league voting (not just the CAA). If the CAA coaches really thought Eatherton was the best defensive player in the league, is he really not better overall than someone like William & Mary’s Marcus Thornton, whose offensive numbers were slightly but not overwhelmingly better?

One thought on Delaware: I know that it’s partly a function of the pace at which Delaware plays — 72 possessions per game, eighth-fastest in the nation — but I’m still amazed that the Blue Hens had two players, Usher and Saddler, average more than 20 points per game in league play. Even without Saddler, Delaware dropped 80 points at Villanova and nearly won, a performance that looks even better now than it did then. If the Blue Hens win their next two games, some ulcer-inducing game film will await whichever 3-4-seed draws them.

Winner gets: #2 Towson or #3 William & Mary, for a trip to the Dance; save for Northeastern’s mini-upset of #4 Drexel, the CAA bracket has held to form thus far. Northeastern was swept by the Tribe but took one game from the Tigers — a weird affair in which the Huskies scored nine points in the first 18 minutes of the second half, yet still won on David Walker’s buzzer-beating three. Delaware swept William & Mary and split with the Tigers.

Prediction: Pomeroy has Delaware winning 77-72; I don’t see Northeastern scoring quite that many, but I can also see the Blue Hens’ guards having slower legs on a back-to-back. I’ll say Delaware, 70-63.

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