The good news for the Northeastern men’s basketball team and the fans reaching for Tums: You’re not alone and it could be worse.
Contrary to what anyone watching the Huskies on a regular basis might think, they are not the unluckiest team in the country. Of course, Northeastern — which has suffered all six of its league losses by six points or fewer, including five one-possession games, and has eight such losses overall this season, including six by three points or fewer — doesn’t have to look far to see bottom.
According to KenPom.com, only two of the nation’s 353 Division I teams are having worse luck than Northeastern through last night: UT-Arlington, which has endured eight losses by six points or fewer and four by three points or fewer, ranks 352nd in the luck ratings while VMI, which has absorbed eight losses by six points or fewer and three by three points or fewer, ranks last.
Through last night, the Huskies, UT-Arlington and VMI were three of the nine Division I teams with at least eight losses by six points or fewer. Utah Valley is the only team with nine, though it ranks a mere 307th in luck at KenPom.com. Old Dominion (339th in luck) is the only other school with six losses by three points or fewer.
Nor are the Huskies enduring an unprecedented run of bad luck amongst CAA teams. Over the previous five seasons — since the league moved back to 10 teams in 2014-15 — a total of seven teams had at least eight losses by six points or fewer with at least six of those happening in the league. Drexel, James Madison and Towson all did it most recently in 2017-18, with James Madison’s 10 total losses by six points or fewer standing as the most any team has experienced under the new alignment.
But those are full season totals and Towson finished 8-10 while James Madison and Drexel were among four teams that tied for last place at 6-12, which suggests the Huskies need to turn things around quickly to ensure they finish higher than seventh place. The top six teams receive a first-round bye in the CAA Tournament.
The most interesting semi-recent comparison for Northeastern — which won the CAA last season but lost Vasa Pusica and Anthony Green to graduation as well as underclassmen Shawn Occeus to the pros and Donnell Gresham via the grad transfer route — might be the 2012-13 Drexel squad.
The 2011-12 Dragons were the regular season champs and won 19 straight games before falling to VCU, 59-56, in the title game at the “neutral site” Richmond Coliseum. Despite a 27-6 record and a KenPom.com ranking around 40, Drexel was left out of the NCAA Tournament and was relegated to the NIT, where it advanced to the quarterfinals.
The next season, sans star forward Samme Givens, Drexel lost 10 games by six points or fewer, including seven in the league, on its way to going 13-18 and 9-9 in the CAA and drawing the fifth seed in a league tournament limited to seven teams due to the APR issues at Towson and UNC Wilmington and the imminent exits of Georgia State and Old Dominion.
Are Northeastern’s issues in close game and their rotten luck rooted in trying to replace a valuable missing piece or two? The Huskies still have at least eight games on their schedule — seven in the regular season and at least one in the CAA Tournament — to try and find the answer.
And fortunately for the Huskies, who are off tonight before visiting Hofstra this weekend, the history of their rivalry with the Pride favors the more desperate team.
Fifty-three weeks ago Saturday, Northeastern and Hofstra faced off in Boston in the only game of the week for both schools. The Huskies snapped the Pride’s 16-game winning streak — and reignited the CAA race — with a 75-61 victory.
On Jan. 2, 2018, Hofstra edged Northeastern 71-70 to avoid starting 0-2 in CAA play. On Jan. 21, 2017, the Pride stopped a six-game losing streak — its longest under Joe Mihalich — by beating the Huskies, 78-73.
On Feb. 5, 2011, the Pride snapped a three-game losing streak with a 78-75 win over the Huskies. Hofstra didn’t lose another conference game until the tournament semifinals.
Almost a year earlier, on Feb. 23, 2010, the Pride moved over .500 in league play for the first time since the season opener by upsetting the Huskies, 73-62, in Boston. The win was the highlight of a second half in which Hofstra went 8-1 to finish 10-8 in the CAA.
On Jan. 17, 2009, Hofstra avoided falling three games under .500 in the CAA by handing Northeastern its first league loss with a 57-52 win in Hempstead. On Feb. 13, 2008, the Huskies continued a late-season surge and moved two games over .500 in league play by beating the Pride, 62-53, for their fifth straight win.
Can history repeat itself? For the Huskies, that’d sure beat reciting the same refrain they’ve been humming all season long.