The rhythm is familiar, but the details are forever new and worrying. Bill Coen is launching his 14th season as coach of Northeastern men’s basketball team. It begins all over again at the same time of year, in the same historic arena.
“Probably every coach in America is feeling about the same way,” Coen says as he looks ahead to the home opener of Northeastern’s 100th season of basketball at 8 p.m. Friday at Matthews Arena against Harvard. “Very, very anxious, and ready to play against somebody else.”
The Huskies’ 72-67 win Tuesday at Boston University was all Coen could have wanted from their first game of the season. The four key returnees from last year’s Colonial Athletic Association champion made impressive contributions, led by a career-best 39 points from guard Jordan Roland, and a tie-breaking 3-pointer by fellow senior Bolden Brace with 35 seconds left.
Coen was also pleased with freshman point guard Tyson Walker, who contributed 11 points (including an impressive step-back 3-pointer) in his college debut. The Huskies are asking 6-foot Walker to replace 6-foot-4-inch Vasa Pusica, who was first-team all-CAA for the past two years, as well as MVP of the conference tournament that sent Northeastern to March Madness last spring.
Walker was a winner with Christ the King High School in New York, with his prep school last season in New Hampshire, and with his AAU program last summer.
“For a young kid, he has extreme confidence in himself,” Coen says of Walker. “He’s a little undersized in terms of how we normally play with our point guard, but with his instincts and feel for the game and passing ability, he can make an impact right away for us.”
Coen’s program has ranked among the national leaders in efficiency when pushing the ball in transition. He hopes that Walker will help them run more often for easy baskets this year.
“We’re trying to be a little bit more dynamic,” Coen says. “He can make passes with both hands and really can get into the lane with more ball speed than we typically get with our larger guards. He’s very quick and shifty, he can split ball screens, and he can create drop-offs and kick-outs [to the 3-point line]. I think the guys really enjoy playing with him because he’s unselfish and he’s got great vision.”
Harvard arrives as the preseason favorite in the Ivy League, which is rated the 10th-best conference among the 32 in NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball. Most of its experienced team returns around senior point guard Bryce Aiken (22.2 points per game last year) and Seth Towns, who missed last season after being named Ivy League player of the year in 2017-18.
The mainstays of Coen’s nine-man rotation include senior swingman Maxime Boursiquot, who was sidelined by injury last season, and 6-foot-8-inch junior forward Tomas Murphy, who will be asked to line up against centers.
Coming off successive 23-win seasons, Coen is intent on raising expectations. Despite losing five contributors from last year, the Huskies are a preseason pick to finish No. 3 in the CAA.
“The next goal for the program is to not only win a regular-season [CAA] title, and win the conference tournament, but then go on and pull that upset that everyone’s talking about,” says Coen.
Ultimately, he is focused on winning in the NCAA Tournament.
“As a coach, that’s what you’re hoping for,” he says. “Saying it is easy, and doing it is really, really hard. But if we can get back to the tournament over the next couple of years and win a game or two, that would be a fabulous accomplishment.
“I think there’s good growth left in this program. As a university, we can attract the very, very best with what we have to offer. And then if we do a good job coaching them, and getting them ready for the challenges ahead, we can put this program in that position.”