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

Now, it gets real for revamped Celtics

Now, it gets real for revamped Celtics

CLEVELAND – For the Celtics, the preseason went about as well as expected.
No serious, long-term injuries.


They won every preseason game, even one in which the team’s second unit played the role of starters.
And the chemistry concerns with so many new players, while very real, didn’t seem to be that big an issue.
Still, as good as the Celtics may feel about where they stand, they know it means absolutely nothing unless they get it done against elite, NBA-caliber competition.
The Cleveland Cavaliers.
Opening night.
It doesn’t get much more challenging than that.
And for the Celtics, win or lose, this is going to be a game for them to build upon going forward this season.
“I’m just ready to get going,” said Gordon Hayward. “A lot of things have happened this summer, a lot of buildup. I’m ready to get to the game. It’s going to be a fun matchup, for sure.”
Among the summer happenings was Boston and Cleveland pulling off one of the biggest blockbuster deals of the offseason with the Cavs trading Kyrie Irving to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic while also conveying Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick and Miami’s 2020 second-round pick to complete the deal.
Having spent his first six seasons with the Cavaliers, there’s a certain amount of corporate knowledge that the 25-year-old Irving brings to tonight’s matchup.
“I know a lot about them, they know a lot about me,” Irving said. “There’s plenty of film on all of us, but specifically going back and understanding the way we played last year when I played with them and now how they’re playing with the new guys, understanding how to implement themselves into their new system plus me implementing myself into this system...There’s definitely some benefits on our end, there are some benefits on their end. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Part of the challenge for the Celtics will be developing the kind of on-court cohesion to be successful, which is easier said than done when you’re talking about getting nearly a dozen players on the same page in just a few weeks.
“We have good chemistry as a group,” said Al Horford. “We still have a ways to go as far as keep getting comfortable with each other and keep figuring out our spots. But we feel good with what we have. Our young guys, it’s been remarkable how quickly they’ve been able to come along and be up to date with everything. And our new guys as well. They’re up to date, they know what we need to do. They understand the game plan. It’s been good.”
Players aren’t the only ones eager to get to tonight’s game.
“To have to go into Cleveland with that level of intensity, with that level of attention, distraction, etc. is great,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “It’s great to experience that in game one, a tremendous learning experience for our group, so we’re preparing to play as well as we can. And we know that they’re really, really good. But this is..I’m looking forward to it because I want to find out where we are.”

'People took it the wrong way,' Isaiah says of his Ainge comments


'People took it the wrong way,' Isaiah says of his Ainge comments

Isaiah Thomas told Sports Illustrated last week that he "might never talk to Danny [Ainge] again." And he sounded pretty bitter about his trade from the Celtics to the Cavs.

Now, on the "Road Trippin" podcast with new teammate Channing Frye and ex-Cav Richard Jefferson, Thomas, who is out until at least January with a hip injury, said those comments were misunderstood.


“People took it the wrong way,” Thomas said. “I understand the business, I understand that we’re in position to get traded and sent to other teams and things like that. It’s just how it went down that I didn’t respect. As a man, I feel like if you respected me as much as you say you did, you would have at least informed me about what was going on before it happened. And that’s all I was talking about.

“I’m not tripping off the trade like I got traded to the Cavs and we’re going to win a championship. And at the end of the day, I’m going to be fine with that,” Thomas said. “[Ainge] sent me to an even better situation with a bigger platform. I’m blessed to be in the position, I’m grateful and I’m excited.”

The Cavs host the Celtics tonight in the season opener. 

Jae Crowder, who came to Cleveland from Boston, was also on the podcast and when Frye talked with him about players deserving communication from the front office, Thomas could be heard in the background, saying, “That’s what I’m talking about.”

“I already said what I’m doing," Thomas told Crowder about what he'll do should he run into Ainge. "I’m going to keep it pushing like he kept pushing when he traded me, I’m not going to disrespect him. He’s a man and I’m a man, too. Like, I’m going to go my way. I play for the Cavaliers and that’s what it is.”