Sunday March 3, 2013

His basketball team may not be the most talented in Massachusetts, but of all the coaches in the Commonwealth, Pat Duquette's team might have the best chance to get an NCAA Division I tournament bid.

The Northeastern University men are the top seed in this week's Colonial Athletic Association tournament for the first time. The Huskies finished the regular season losing to Old Dominion on Saturday.

"We felt good about the team we had coming back, but we're pleasantly surprised too," said Duquette, a Dalton native who played at Wahconah and Williams College. "I don't know if we would have predicted to get off to that good of a start ourselves."

That good start was an 8-1 start in CAA play. Northeastern's outstanding regular season gives the Huskies a first-round bye and will play in the semifinals a week from today in Richmond, Va.

The Huskies finished 19-11 and 14-4 in the CAA.

"We've just got a lot of good pieces that have come together, that are playing well together," Duquette said, "and we knew we had the potential to do that. It just came together a little sooner than we thought."

Duquette is in his second season as Bill Coen's associate head coach. The two of them have a long association, dating back to their days on Al Skinner's staff at Boston College.

When Skinner was fired at BC and new coach Steve Donahue elected to bring in his own staff, Duquette migrated from Chestnut Hill to the Back Bay.

In those three years, Coen and Duquette have helped lead Northeastern to its first league title since earning a North Atlantic Conference co-championship in 1992-93. The North Atlantic Conference is now the America East Conference.

Coming into the preseason, the Huskies were picked fifth in the 11-team CAA. More traditional league powers Drexel and Delaware were 1-2, while that Old Dominon team that came to Boston on Saturday brought a 4-25 record after being picked to finish fourth.

"Our first signature win was at George Mason," he said. "We went down there in the first conference game and beat them on the road. I think we knew at that point we had the potential to be pretty good."

In the preseason, I was part of a state basketball media poll and voted Northeastern second behind UMass. While Derek Kellogg's Minutemen might have a tougher time getting out of the A-10 than Northeastern could have trouble in the CAA, I still believe the Minutemen would win in an on-court matchup -- which UMass did back in December.

There is no doubt, however, that Northeastern is at the top of the heap in Boston.

"There's so much going on in the city itself, it's easy to get swallowed up by all the other activities," Duquette said. "All that matters really to these kids is within the campus. That's what they feel every day going to classes. On campus, there's clearly more of a buzz."

All this success for the Huskies might mean something at the end of the season. There will be a lot of coaching jobs available. Coen could become a candidate for a higher-profile gig, or Duquette might get his chance.

"Being able to win at a job is one of the most important things, even more than what level it is or what conference it's in," he said. "In the back of my mind, I know I'm ready and I'd like to be a head coach. The right opportunity has to come around."

To reach Howard Herman:
hherman@berkshireeagle.com,
(413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman.