College Sports

Northeastern’s Vasa Pusica to test KU in NCAA Tournament: ‘He’ll be a challenge’

Bill Self reacts to the Jayhawks’ No. 4 seed in NCAA Tournament

Kansas coach Bill Self reacts on March 17, 2019 to the Jayhawks' No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament and the possibility of playing in Kansas City.
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Kansas coach Bill Self reacts on March 17, 2019 to the Jayhawks' No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament and the possibility of playing in Kansas City.

Thanks to online services such as Synergy Sports Technology, there’s plenty of tape available on NCAA Division I schools big and small.

Thus, Kansas has all the material it needs to dissect the game of — and marvel at the talents of — a player such as Northeastern’s Vasa Pusica, the No. 13 seed Huskies’ leading scorer entering Thursday’s NCAA Midwest Regional first-round game against No. 4 seed KU, which will tip off approximately 3 p.m. at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.

“He’s a big guard and he is a good guard,” KU coach Bill Self said Monday on the Big 12 coaches teleconference.

Pusica, a 6-5 senior point guard from Belgrade, Serbia and graduate of Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kan., has averaged 17.8 points, 4.2 assists and 3.9 rebounds in 26 games his senior season.

One of various Huskies to miss time because of injury earlier this season, the first-team all-Colonial Athletic Association selection has made 49.7 percent of his floor shots.

He’s made 57 of 142 threes (40.1 percent) and 107 of 127 free throws (84.3 percent).

“He’s certainly scored at all levels,” Self said of scoring inside, mid-range and beyond the arc. “We switch a lot so naturally he could be guarded by our point guard (6-2 Devon Dotson) a lot of the possessions or to finish the possessions. He’ll be a challenge,” Self added of Pusica, “but with Marcus Garrett and Quentin Grimes we feel we have two pretty athletic guards as well.”

Pusica played two seasons at San Diego before transferring to Northeastern. He scored 21 points in an 82-74 CAA Tournament title victory over Hofstra last Tuesday.

He and his teammates had been denied an NCAA bid last season after losing in overtime to College of Charleston in the 2018 league tourney final.

“Coming over from Serbia six years ago, and finishing my career this way ... it is a dream come true,” Pusica told CBS Sports. “I mean everybody in the world knows about the NCAA Tournament. Growing up in Serbia I used to watch a lot of those games. Those games are televised all over the world. I know how much this means to the university and those guys (teammates). It’s an amazing feeling.”

Northeastern this season defeated Alabama, 68-52, and Bucknell, 96-78. The Huskies lost to Syracuse, 72-49; Virginia Tech, 88-60 and Davidson twice (71-59, 78-69).

““I think we’re ready for it,” Pusica told “We already faced teams like them and we know what to expect.”

Pusica expressed confidence in an interview with the Boston Herald:It’s Kansas. There’s not much to be said about them other than they always get Top 100 guys, they have No. 1 picks every other year. So we’re definitely facing a talented team, but I think they’re definitely beatable, and I think we’re the perfect team to beat them.”

He noted to “We want to win. We want to make a run. We’re not satisfied with just making the tournament.”

Coach Bill Coen — his No. 14 seed (23-10) Huskies lost to No. 3 seed Notre Dame, 69-65, in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament — knows his team is enthused about playing KU (25-9).

“Who wants to play, Kansas, right?” 13th-year NU coach Coen joked to “Sometimes the matchups and magic … once you are in, anything can happen.”

Self says Northeastern, which has won seven straight games — including wins over UNC Wilmington, College of Charleston and Hofstra in the conference tournament — is “on a roll.”

“Everybody that won their league championship is on a roll. You can say the same things about other teams in our bracket,” Self said of the Midwest Regional. “New Mexico State (30-4, winners of 19 in a row) is on a serious roll. Auburn (26-9, eight wins in a row) is on a serious roll and Northeastern is on a serious roll. That’s what happens when you have winners of your conference tournament. They all won three or four games in a row minimum.

“Certainly we know we are playing a hot team. We know we are playing a team that is at full strength.They obviously had injuries early on (to Pusica, plus junior guard Shawn Occeus, senior forward Jeremy Miller and some others) that kept them from being full strength. We know they are playing their best ball. We know it’s going to be a hard game and certainly a challenge.”

More on Pusica

Pusica averaged 9.3 points and 5.0 rebounds a game his senior season at Sunrise Christian, which at the time was coached by current Minnesota assistant coach Kyle Lindsted. Sunrise with Pusica went 17-4 and had a final ranking of No. 14 in the country in the USA Today Super 25 poll. He was a member of the Serbian Junior National Team that won the gold medal in the 2013 U-19 league.

Occius confident

Junior guard Shawn Occius to on KU: “We don’t really care if people write us off or pick us. We know we’re able to beat teams like (KU). So when we do, I just hope they don’t try to run on the bandwagon. We’re a confident bunch, and we’re confident we can beat any team in this country.”

Lawson honored

KU forward Dedric Lawson was chosen to the U.S. Basketball Writers Association All-America third team, the USBWA announced Monday. First-team members: R.J. Barrett, Duke; Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga; Ja Morant, Murray State; Grant Williams, Tennessee and Zion Williamson, Duke.

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