For the third consecutive season, the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds — the hoops team representing the college that’s halfway from the Manhattan Bridge to Barclays, just before BAM — have made the NCAA Tournament. Well, sort of: The Blackbirds are actually a 16-A seed, and they won’t be in the real tournament unless they beat James Madison tonight in the play-in game in Dayton. (Tipoff is 6:40 p.m. ET on TruTV, which is a network you have on your cable dial even if you don’t realize it — it used to be known as Court TV.) Here are the five things you need to know about the 2013 Blackbirds before you paint your face in support tonight.
1. When Jim Ferry accepted the job as LIU’s head coach in the spring of 2002, the squad had just posted a 5-22 record and still played their home games in Brooklyn’s Paramount Theater — by far, the most unique home gym of any Division I team. But after leading LIU to consecutive NCAA tournaments, Ferry left for Duquesne, handing the reins of the team to his longtime assistant Jack Perri. Even under a new coach, LIU’s game plan is still very similar: a transition game predicated on pushing the ball up the court on makes and misses, forcing the defense to either give up the layup or commit a foul (LIU’s free throw rate is again tops in the NEC) to stop an easy bucket. This makes for lots of points and consistently fun games to watch.
2. Ferry isn’t the only Blackbird mainstay missing from the bench; Julian Boyd, the team’s star and arguably its most athletic player, tore his ACL in mid-December and has missed the rest of the season. While Boyd will likely seek a medical redshirt and suit up next season, his absence forced the team to slightly alter their offensive structure.
3. LIU’s prerogative is to consistently score at the rim, with Boyd the most successful at getting easily to the bucket. According to Hoop-Math.com, 52 percent of his shots were attempted within a foot or two of the basket, but when it was announced Boyd was shut down for the year, LIU began to focus on their perimeter shooting. Nearly 30 percent of the squad’s points come from beyond the arc, and though LIU has continued to impart offensive pressure on opponents, the Blackbirds aren’t getting to the free-throw line quite as often — just 22 percent of their point production is from made free throws, a decrease of nearly 4 percent from 2012.
4. Jason Brickman is the most underappreciated point guard in the country. Brickman’s assist rate, a stat that tracks the percentage of the team’s assists handed out while the junior is on the court, is ranked sixteenth-best in DI (per Ken Pomeroy), and while he does commit a turnover just as easily as he dishes out an assist, Brickman, who never leaves the floor, is in complete control of LIU’s offense. He knows his teammates’ tendencies so well that it seems like he throws passes to spots on the floor without hesitation, knowing they will likely end up in his teammates’ mitts.
5. All right, you just want to know about the mascot. LIU isn’t the only team that has a bird for a mascot in the East Region. Unfortunately, unless LIU manages to defeat not only JMU but Indiana, becoming the first 16 seed to ever take down a one seed, the Blackbirds won’t face the Ibises (of Miami), who are on the opposite side of the region’s bracket.
Anyway, tune in tonight. TruTV is Channel 779 on Time Warner Cable, Channel 58 on Cablevision, and Channel 683 on Verizon Fios.