Northeastern's looking to dance


Northeastern's looking to dance

By Mary Paoletti

Bill Coen's Northeastern Huskies deserve some attention.

At 12-3 in league play, NU sits tied with Old Dominion for first place of the Colonial Athletic Association. The CAA win total already matches the program record, set in 2005-06, but Northeastern is hardly content.

The Huskies want to go a little mad this March.

The conference record shows that they're on the right track in the CAA. Of the three losses, one was to Drexel during a five-game losing streak in December. The next league defeat, also to Drexel, broke up a different kind of streak.

Because from Dec. 25 to Jan. 23, Northeastern didn't lose.

The 11-game run was the third-longest winning streak in the country. After a 74-62 victory over VCU, opposing coach Shaka Smart heaped praise on the Huskies.

"They don't beat themselves," said Smart. "Usually when you go through stretches where you've won 10, 11 games in a row, there's a couple games where certain guys maybe just don't have it.

"But it seems like, because of willpower, because of leadership, because of experience, they don't allow themselves to have those types of nights."

There is experience aplenty on Northeastern's roster. Of the players averaging the most minutes -- Nkem Ojougboh, Manny Adako, Baptiste Bataille, and Matt Janning -- are all seniors. The fifth, Chaisson Allen, is a junior.

Leadership on the stat sheet comes from swingman Janning and point guard Allen. Often, the two create a backcourt wrecking crew that demolishes defenses. In the team's Jan. 23 win over VCU, they combined for 31 points, 14 of NU's 27 rebounds, and 9 of its 13 assists. A week later Allen and Janning took advantage of ODU for 36 points (6 of 9 from behind the arc), 13 of NU's 17 assists, and 7 of its 9 steals.

But this is no two-man team.

Freshman starter Alwayne Bigby plays a crucial role as Northeastern's defensive specialist. When the Huskies hosted Georgia State on Feb. 10, Bigby was assigned to shut down Joe Dukes. A transfer from Wake Forest, Dukes is a dynamic guard who entered the game averaging 13.7 points in CAA contests. His point total against Northeastern? Zero, thanks to Bigby.

"I don't think you can have five scorers out there," Coen said. "That's generally not your best team. You have a couple that take pride in their defense and other guys that know they have to put some points up. It all works together."

Coen is not being romantic. Northeastern's success hinges on cohesion on the court that starts in the locker room. The Huskies learned this the hard way when they were being choked by that early losing streak.

An embarrassing 75-60 loss to Western Michigan in a Honolulu holiday tournament was a tipping point. On Christmas Eve, a players-only meeting was called to hash out some issues and a resolution to become a better defensive team emerged.

"It was good for us to be on the road because we had to take a hard look at ourselves," Coen said. "We were together all the time and had to go eat together breakfast, lunch and dinner and figure it out."

It's no coincidence that Northeastern won 15 of the 17 games that followed.

There are still four left to play, and the Huskies hope to rebound from their Feb. 13 loss to William & Mary when they travel to UNC Wilmington tonight. Games against Hofstra and George Mason will finish up the conference schedule.

But before Northeastern can dive into the CAA tournament, there is a BracketBuster to battle through.

On Feb. 20 the Huskies will take on Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs are a fellow mid-major out of the Western Athletic Conference. No matter how strange the non-conference game looks on NU's late February schedule, it could be a huge help. If the Huskies grab automatic entry via the CAA title, a win over LT could earn them better seeding in the national tournament. If Northeastern gets knocked out of league playoffs, a late-season win over the Bulldogs might bolster its case for an at-large bid.

Coen is hopeful. "In the spirit of the BracketBusters, we'd like to play our way into the conversation."

New England is already talking about Northeastern. How far that buzz spreads around the country is up to the Huskies.

Mary Paoletti is on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Youkilis weighs in on Valentine possibly being Japan ambassador

Youkilis weighs in on Valentine possibly being Japan ambassador

Among the reactions to the news that Bobby Valentine was possibly being considered to be the US amassador to Japan in President Donald Trump’s administration was this beauty from Kevin Youkilis. 

Valentine famously called out Youkilis early in his stormy tenure as Red Sox manager in 2012. Remember? "I don't think he's as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason," Bobby V said of Youk at the time. 

The Red Sox traded Youkilis to the White Sox for two not-future Hall of Famers, outfielder Brent Lillibridge and right-hander Zach Stewart, later that season.

Youkilis, now Tom Brady’s brother-in-law by the way, had a 21-game stint playing in Japan in 2014 before retiring from baseball. 


Mitchell rising fast but somehow totally unaware of fantasy football


Mitchell rising fast but somehow totally unaware of fantasy football

FOXBORO -- It seems unlikely that a 23-year-old who has spent much of his life around sports would be unaware of how fantasy football works. But Malcolm Mitchell insisted on Friday that he was that 23-year-old. 

Over the last seven days, Mitchell has been the second-most added player in fantasy leagues behind only Steelers tight end Ladarius Green. The rookie wideout went undrafted in many fantasy leagues before the start of the regular season, but his production has spiked over the last three weeks making him one of a hot commodity for people headed into the fantasy playoffs.

In wins over the Niners, Jets and Rams, Mitchell has caught 17 passes for 222 yards and three scores. 

"I have family members mention it, but I never know what they're talking about," Mitchell said when asked if he was asked about his newfound popularity among fans of fantasy football. "I'm not sure how that works. If someone said it, I'd probably have no idea what it means."

A fewer lockers down from Mitchell is the stall of rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who cut into Mitchell's back-and-forth with reporters joking, "I've got him on my team!"

Mitchell's confusion over the phenomenon that is fantasy football seemed to be genuine as he asked questions about how teams operate and what fantasy free-agency means. 

Those who've picked him up probably don't mind that Mitchell is in the dark on the subject -- and the same goes for the Patriots coaching staff, it's safe to assume -- as long as he continues to do his job as well as he's done it in recent weeks.