A founding member of the America East Conference will face one of the conference's new elite, when Northeastern (12-14, 8-8 Colonial Athletic Association) hosts Stony Brook (17-8, 12-2 America East) Saturday at Matthews Arena at 1 p.m EDT.
While they haven't played since March of 2005, the Huskies and Seawolves played nine times in a four-year span when the two teams were members of the America East Conference. The Huskies had won five in a row and six of nine meetings before they left for the CAA after the 2004-05 season. Overall, the Huskies are 4-2 in BracketBuster games.
Northeastern comes into the contest looking for some momentum after losing four of their past five, with their sole win coming against 1-27 Towson University. After a promising start to their conference slate, the Huskies have dropped to 7th place in the CAA and have really struggled against the teams above them in the standings (2-5). Their sole two victories against the teams that stand above .500 in the conference have both come at Matthews Arena, where the Huskies are 6-4 on the season.
Tuesday the Huskies received one of their most balanced performances of the season, when junior guard Joel Smith (20 points) led four Northeastern players in double figures in the team's 71-51 win over Towson. Smith and his co-captain, junior guard Jonathan Lee, have done their best to lead the team and replace former star Chaisson Allen. The pair have combined for 26.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 5.88 assists per game, while starting every game at the guard positions. Both players have been extremely successful beyond the arc and have spent time handling the point guard responsibilities, while serving as the top two options offensively.
Freshmen forwards Reggie Spencer and Quincy Ford have been a much more surprising duo for head coach Bill Coen. After a miserable year in terms of rebounding last season, the two big men have helped Northeastern move to the middle of the pack in terms of rebounding and also have become secondary scoring threats. Ford is averaging 11.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, while Spencer adds 7.3 points and a team-high 5.1 rebounds per game.
While Northeastern has struggled recently, the Seawolves have been red-hot winning 14 of their past 16 games and have some unfinished business coming into Saturday's game. Though Stony Brook has racked up an impressive record, they've yet to beat a nonconference team on the road this season (0-6) and likely won't get another chance after Saturday. Stony Brook is currently tied at the top of the America East with Vermont (12-2) but would lose a tiebreaker due to a worse record against third-place Boston University.
Former UConn assistant Steve Pikell runs a system predicated on defense and rebounding and this team has excelled. The Seawolves lead America East in scoring defense (59.5 ppg) and have outrebounded opponents by 7.1 rebounds per game. While senior point guard and sharpshooter Bryan Dougher (13.1 ppg) gets most of the attention, junior forward Tommy Brenton is the key to the team's success.
The point forward is averaging 7.7 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds per game, while leading the team in assists (81) and steals (39). Brenton is a scrappy, gritty player who gets underneath opponent's skin but it's not an act; the Columbia, Maryland native has an unlimited engine and is the team's best on the ball defender, while also handling the ball on offense.
Prediction: This matchup made a lot of sense to the people in charge of scheduling: similar RPIs, an elite team from a lower conference (America East) against a middling team from a better conference (CAA) and the former conference ties certainly don't hurt. Stony Brook has been the much better team since the beginning of December and pose a serious challenge for the Huskies because of their strengths. While Northeastern is incredibly young and have struggled to score all year, the Seawolves are a veteran squad and pride themselves on their defense. Unless Smith and Lee can both have big days, Stony Brook should come away with a victory.
Stony Brook 72, Northeastern 63