Liberty University, a school, once famed for banning dancing on campus is now playing in the Big Dance for the first time since 2003. The Flames are representing the A-SUN conference and will play five seed Mississippi State in San Jose as a 6.5-point underdog.
How did they Get Here?
Liberty secured an automatic tourney berth by upsetting Lipscomb in the A-Sun Championship game. The Flames won their first conference tournament as members of the ASUN. The Flames earned a 12-seed and finished No. 58 in the NET Rankings. The Flames enjoyed a very successful season where they won 28 games without losing consecutive contests all season. In the non-conference, Liberty beat UCLA in Pauley Pavilion and played competitive games against Vanderbilt, Alabama, and Georgetown.
Where is Liberty?
Liberty is an evangelical, Christian university located in the small town of Lynchburg, Virginia. Liberty is the world’s second largest Christian university. holding over 15,000 undergraduates on campus while an additional 110,000 take classes online. The school was founded by television evangelist Jerry Falwell and his son Jerry Farwell Jr. currently runs the university.
Some people might say Liberty is in the center of MAGA country after the university was named the most conservative school in the United States in 2018 by Business Insider. The school made national news when it hosted various political rallies and speeches for President Donald Trump during the 2016 election, and has given a platform for other political speakers over the last several years.
Player to Watch: Scottie James
James became a college basketball household name for his theatric flop in the final minutes of the ASUN Championship. James has the potential to have an excellent career in the WWE, but it’s fair to say he is a great basketball player as well. James is the heart and soul of this Liberty team leading them in points (13.1 per game) and rebounds (8.8 per game).
James plays an essential role in Liberty’s game plan, as they like to play through James in the post. Additionally, James is one of the most offensively efficient players in the country shooting 67 percent from the field and displaying an offensive rating that ranks him No. 45 nationally, per KenPom.
What Liberty Does Well
Liberty is another team Virginia team that loves to play slow. They rank 349th in adjusted tempo and 340th in possession length, holding the ball for an average of 20.5 seconds per possession, per KenPom. Liberty is very efficient offensively, as they are No. 12 nationally in effective field goal percentage and No. 57 in offensive efficiency. Liberty does a great job moving the ball well, and they find open shots for their shooters. The Flames can get hot from three — the team shoots 36.6 percent from behind the arc — and they have three guys in their lineup that are shooting over 40 percent from three. Defensively, the team is terrific for a group of their size and athleticism. Liberty does a great job of defending deep shooting teams, and they can keep teams off the offensive glass.
Can they win?
Liberty is currently the biggest underdog as 12-seed, and their +230 odds on the money line gives them about a 27 percent chance to win according to Vegas. Mississippi State will have trouble stopping Liberty’s three-point barrage. Expect the Flames take a significant lead early.
However, expect the Bulldogs to adjust and dominate the interior. Liberty will play good enough defense to keep them in striking distance until the very end. But Liberty will get killed on the second chance buckets, and they won’t be able to get any second points on their own. Mississippi State freshman Reggie Perry will be the X-Factor. If Liberty stays hot for a majority of the game they can pull off the upset.