By John Torenli
The reaction was atypical, to say the least. But then again, so are these Blackbirds.
Rather than jump for joy or express unadulterated glee over their selection as the No. 16 seed in the West Region for the upcoming NCAA Tournament, the two-time defending Northeast Conference champions from LIU-Brooklyn were instead focusing on a perceived slight.
“It is what it is,” said Blackbirds coach Jim Ferry after learning his team would square off against top-seed and Big Ten champion Michigan State on Friday night in Columbus, Ohio for the opening round.
“I thought maybe we should have been [a higher seed], but so much goes on in that [selection committee] room, you really don’t know,” added Ferry, who watched the annual selection show, along with his players, at a Quiznos Sandwich shop in the heart of the Flatbush Avenue campus.
Last March, LIU was selected as a No. 15 seed and gave second-seeded national powerhouse North Carolina all it could handle in Charlotte, N.C., before succumbing to the Tar Heels midway through the second half.
That was the Blackbirds’ first NCAA Tournament game in 14 years, dating back to the Richie Parker-led 1997 squad.
This will be the first LIU team ever to make back-to-back appearances, and Ferry’s crew isn’t content with a one-and-done appearance, even if no 16th seed has ever knocked off a No. 1.
“That’s probably one of the only positive things about being a 16 seed,” said junior LIU forward and reigning NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd. “We have the chance to make history.”
The Blackbirds went 25-8 overall, 16-2 in the NEC and cruised in last week’s NEC title game against Robert Morris before a capacity crowd at the Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center, where they’ve won 27 consecutive contests – the second-longest home winning streak in the nation.
LIU also ranks third in the entire nation with 81.9 points per game, qualifying it as perhaps the most dangerous No. 16 seed in recent memory.
The Spartans (27-7, 13-5 Big Ten) will hardly be quivering in their sneakers at the sight of the Blackbirds after beating No. 7 Ohio State, 68-64, in Sunday’s Big Ten Championship game to grab one of the four coveted No. 1 seeds.
“Everything they do is about toughness and strength,” Ferry said of MSU, which is guided by national championship-winning coach Tom Izzo. “And they try to bang you inside, they beat you on the glass, and we’re gonna have to get the game going up and down the court, which they don't really do.”
Thus far, the Spartans have remained mum regarding their first-round foe, but Izzo did get caught looking ahead a bit yesterday, sizing up potential second-round opponents number nine Saint Louis and eighth-seeded Memphis.
“I’ve seen Memphis a little bit, and I’ve seen Saint Louis a little bit,” Izzo said. “I’ve had some guys that have played them both, so I'll make some calls on the way home.”
For the Blackbirds, who have never won a tourney game, looking beyond Friday’s 9:20 p.m. tip-off at Nationwide Arena (the game will also be televised locally via CBS and its other tournament affiliates) is not an option.
But neither is accepting defeat.
“We know we belong,” noted a proud and somewhat defiant Ferry. “I think we’ll be a little more focused this year on really being out there, not just happy to be there. We’re going out there to hopefully win a basketball game.”