Northeastern's looking to dance

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Northeastern's looking to dance

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

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

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

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Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

LeGarrette Blount knows where he wants to be for 2017. Ever since he re-joined the Patriots in 2014 following a short stay in Pittsburgh, the 250-pound back has been very open about how he wants to play out the rest of his career in New England. 

Those feelings haven't changed, even as he faces free-agency after having recorded the best season of his seven-year career.

"I just want to make sure that I go to this free agency with an open mind, knowing that I definitely want to go back to New England," he told NFL Total Access on Monday. "I love it there. I love the culture. I love the players. I've become close with a lot of the guys. Obviously you know how my running back group is.

"We'll cross that bridge whenever we cross it. On that point, I feel great. I'm in amazing shape. I feel like I could play 100 more years if I have to."

Blount finished 2016 with career-highs in attempts (299) yards (1,161) and touchowns (18). His ability to help the Patriots close games in the fourth quarter was notable throughout the course of the season, and he was among the most effective goal-line backs in the league. His 18 rushing scores are a franchise record.

Toward the end of the season, as Dion Lewis worked his way back into the Patriots offense, Blount had his workload cut into, and his fumble in the Super Bowl was a near-catastrophic moment -- his devastated reaction to which was caught expertly by NFL Films. But a big-picture view of Blount's year would reveal that he  posted the most prodictive "big back" season the Patriots have had in more than a decade.

Blount signed a one-year deal with the Patriots last offseason after seeing his 2015 prematurely ended by way of a hip injury. He turned 30 in December.

Magic Johnson named Lakers president of basketball ops, Kupchak fired

Magic Johnson named Lakers president of basketball ops, Kupchak fired

Magic Johnson was named the Los Angeles Lakers' president of basketball operations after longtime Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and vice president of basketball ops Jim Buss were fired, the team announced.

"Today I took a series of actions I believe will return the Lakers to the heights [late owner] Dr. Jerry Buss demanded and our fans rightly expect,” Jeanie Buss, Jerry Buss' daughter, Jim Buss' brother and Lakers president and co-owner, said in a statement. “Effective immediately, Earvin Johnson will be in charge of all basketball operations and will report directly to me. Our search for a new General Manager to work with Earvin and Coach Luke Walton is well underway and we hope to announce a new General Manager in short order. Together, Earvin, Luke and our new General Manager will establish the foundation for the next generation of Los Angeles Lakers greatness.”

Johnson, the Hall of Famer guard who led L.A. to five NBA titles, said in the same statement: “It’s a dream come true to return to the Lakers as President of Basketball Operations working closely with Jeanie Buss and the Buss family. Since 1979, I’ve been a part of the Laker Nation and I’m passionate about this organization. I will do everything I can to build a winning culture on and off the court. We have a great coach in Luke Walton and good young players. We will work tirelessly to return our Los Angeles Lakers to NBA champions.”

Johnson, part of a group that owns MLB's Los Angeles Dodgers, returned to the organization as an adviser earlier this month. Johnson coached the Lakers briefly in the 1993-94 season, going 5-11. 

Johnson's new job with the Lakers won't change his role with the Dodgers, according to the L.A. Times.

The current Lakers have the third-worst record in the NBA at 19-39 after finishing with the second-worst mark in the league (17-65) last season. Kupchak was named an assistant GM under Jerry West in 1986 and in 2000 took over for West as GM.