Sometimes the good guys win.
Sometimes the plans that a basketball coach makes in August or September, when he has more of perception of what he would like than the reality of what he does have, do work out.
Just ask Billy Coen. The Northeastern basketball coach is smiling these days. And shaking his head in amazement, if not admiration. A lot.
Northeastern, you see, is in first place in the Colonial Athletic Association. This isn’t a stop-the presses event The Huskies, coming off a 14-17 overall record and 7th place finish a year ago in the CAA, were regarded as a middle of the pack pre-season pick in a conference which was a little lighter talent wise with the departure of VCU.
But with the Huskies’ 66-64 win over James Madison on Wednesday night, their role changed. At the very least, they will be regular season co-champions of the CAA. One more win by Northeastern or one more loss by Delaware will clinch an outright title for Coen’s team, something that hasn’t happened to a Northeastern team in 20 years.
What is also significant for Northeastern is that one more win by the Huskies or one more loss by Delaware will guarantee Northeastern a trip to the NIT tournament, no matter what happens in the CAA tournament in Richmond next month. Winning the CAA tournament has always been a chore for the northern branch teams of the CAA.
Coen knows he has a good team, not a great team. “We play the same whether it’s the No. 2 team or the No. 11 team,’ said Coen with a laugh on Thursday morning, still savoring the moment of the previous night when the Huskies held James Madison off just long enough to allow freshman David Walker to hit a game winning jump shot with 2.4 seconds left. “”We just survive.”
Coen had a feeling that the Huskies, who are led by a senior backcourt of Jonathan Lee and Joel Smith, had some promise after a trip to Canada over the summer in which the Huskies won 6 of seven games.
“I saw the potential we had,” said Coen. who watched the potential develop steadily through November, December, January and into February.
Coen is one of the soldiers in the coaching fraternity who simply does his job and does it well, without a great deal of fanfare. He came to Northeastern 7 years ago from a long time role as an assistant to Al Skinner at BC and before that at Rhode Island. He was known then as a good recruiter.
Now he is known as a good recruiter who can also coach.
Northeastern, as Coen said, can win or lose against anybody. The Huskies proved it by going on the road and taking down the best of the CAA teams such as Delaware and George Mason as well as James Madison. They also stumbled against such CAA bottom feeders as UNC-Wilmington.
But at crunch time, Northeastern has some basics that have held up and should hold up in March. The Huskies can make three-point shots, they make their foul shots and, led by a veteran backcourt, they seldom get flustered or make major mistakes at crunch time.
From this point on, it looks all like house money for Northeastern. The CAA tournament will be a challenge and Coen can use the motivation of playing for Northeastern’s first NCAA tournament bid since 1991 as a goal.
If that happens, the Huskies can put on their Cinderella shoes as a No. 15 or No. 16 seed and see if there is some magic in March as well.
But those are future dreams and future games.
For now, Coen and the Huskies are doing just fine, thank you.
If the AD’s at major conferences that will be looking for coaches in the Northeast are smart, they will have Billy Coen’s name on their short list.
That too is another story for another time.
For now, it’s enough to say that this week was a win for the good guys.© Copyright 2013 Mark, All rights Reserved. Written For: A Jersey Guy