The NEC may be considered to be one of the weaker conferences in the country, but that doesn’t mean it’s not exciting. Year in and year out the NEC Tournament provides great surprises and entertainment. This year LIU Brooklyn completed somewhat of surprising run to the championship, upsetting favorite and No 1 seed Wagner on its home floor to earn the league’s automatic bid.
The Blackbirds are under the direction of first year head coach Derek Kellogg who was the previous head coach of UMass for nine seasons. In his debut season, the Blackbirds finished 18-16 overall and 10-8 in NEC play. They come into the NCAA Tournament — their seventh such appearance — on a five-game winning streak, with three of those wins coming in the league tournament. The last time the Blackbirds earned the NEC’s automatic bid was 2013, where they fell to James Madison in the No. 16 seed play-in game.
First and foremost this LIU Brooklyn program would not be where it is if it has not been for experienced senior guard Joel Hernandez. In the conference championship at Wagner, Hernandez had a phenomenal night, leading the way with 32 points. On the season Hernandez is averaging 20.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists on the year. He’s not, however, the only offensive threat for opponents to worry about.
Three other players are averaging double figures in scoring along with Hernandez. These players include his fellow guards Raiquan Clark (17.4 PPG), Jashaun Agosto (11.7 PPG) and Julian Batts (10.0 PPG). LIU Brooklyn’s strength is getting inside and being able to score, as it had the highest two-point field goal percentage (54.2%) during NEC play. The Blackbirds’ slashing, physical backcourt also racked up plenty of free throw attempts, which could keep them in the game against Radford even if shots aren’t falling.
Defense, however, was a major weakness, as LIU Brooklyn finished with the 294th-ranked defensive efficiency in the country per KenPom. But they did just lock down Wagner in the championship, holding the Seahawk to just 0.90 points per possession.
LIU Brooklyn is a team that can beat you if the pace enables it to get up and down with their guard-oriented lineup, which allowed them to build an early lead on Wagner.
In order for LIU to beat Radford, the recipe is simple: Hernandez will need to be on his “A game,” as he was in the NEC championship. But getting a win in the tournament may be difficult for this squad for two reasons, namely lack of length and playing one of the weaker schedules in the nation.