This is the second in what will be 10 preview capsules as we prepare for this NEC season! Click here for our preview on our #10 team: the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights.
Head Coach: Jack Perri, 3rd Season (29-34, 16-18 NEC)
Last Season: 9-20, 4-12 (NEC), Failed to qualify for NEC tournament
NEC Preseason Poll: 8th out of 10 teams
State of Program: Even younger than before (Rebuilding)
Starters Returning: 2
Key Loss(es): E.J. Reed (12.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg); Jason Brickman (11.3 ppg, 10 apg); Gilbert Parga (7.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Troy Joseph (23 starts, 6.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
Incoming Players: Martin Hermannsson (G), Elvar Frioriksson (G), Trevon Woods (G/F), Trevin Woods (G/F), , Jamil Hood (PG), Jerome Frink (F – Jr., must sit out), Jonathan Tshibuy (F – Jr.)
Projected Starting Lineup:
G: Elvar Frioriksson (Fr.)
G: Gerrell Martin (Sr., 12.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 44% 3PT, 86% FT)
G: Martin Hermannsson (Fr.)
F: Landon Atterberry (10.8 ppg, 52% FG, 4.1 rpg)
F: Nura Zanna (R-Fr.)
Key Reserves: Glenn Feidanga (F/C), The Woods Twins (G/F), Iverson Fleming (G), Joel Hernandez (G), Chris Carter (F), Jamil Hood (PG)
The Storylines: Two seasons ago LIU was on top of the NEC, but almost everyone associated with the success of that team has left the program. For the 2013-14 season everything was built around the passing wizardry of Jason Brickman. The offense flowed through the 1,000-assist man, as he kept the engines running on time for LIU. Unfortunately, Brickman now plays for Dynamo Moscow and an offense that only managed to score 1.02 points per possession (8th in the NEC) last season will need to almost completely recreate itself.
Nevertheless, the offense should be adequate. Even though three freshman are projected to start, they all possess immense potential. Shooting guard Martin Hermannsson was the MVP of Iceland’s Domino League and averaged 14.5 points, 3.9 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 27.2 minutes per game. He, along with teammate Elvar Frioriksson, also played for Iceland’s men’s national team.
Redshirt freshman Nura Zanna will also give LIU a new dimension in the post that the Blackbirds haven’t had since Kenny Onyechi. He’ll be a player that can absorb the ball down low and potentially command double teams, freeing things up for Landon Atterberry and Gerrell Martin, the Blackbirds best returning scorer. Even without someone to take the pressure off of Martin, he’s been an efficiency monster with an offensive rating above 114 each of the past two seasons.
In a sense the Blackbirds are a victim of the NEC they helped create. Jim Ferry was pushing tempo and forcing teams to into difficult defensive situations for quite some time. It was how LIU built their title winners, but at least in conference play there was a competent enough defense to complement it. (And get the stops that led to all those fast breaks.)
That defense disappeared last season as the Blackbirds allowed an astounding 1.15 points per possession in conference play, the worst in the league. Teams feasted on the Blackbirds’ zone — shooting 39.1% from three and turning the ball over on just 14.7% of possessions, both NEC worsts. If the Blackbirds can get healthy perhaps they’ll put up better defensive numbers. In particular the Woods twins and Zanna profile as players who should be able to help the Blackbirds get more stops than they managed last season, although keeping rookies from fouling on the defensive end is always a challenge.
Uncertainly looms, but the Blackbirds certainly have more (healthy) talent and youth on the roster this season. One season after a quiet goodbye for Brickman in the home finale against Bryant, already eliminated from NEC tournament contention, LIU should at least be able to compete for a spot in the eight-team postseason field.
John – There’s a lot of talent on this team, but it’s young. That said, I believe that the Blackbirds are going to make the NEC tournament and they’ll be a team no one wants to play come 2015-16. The easier non-conference schedule, which includes a home-and-home against New Hampshire, could give the youngsters a confidence boost too. (11 wins, 7-11 NEC)
Ryan – The health of this team still isn’t great, yet the freshmen will gain critical experience this season. Once E.J. Reed, Troy Joseph and Gilbert Parga weren’t returning, Perri and his staff started to target the 2015-16 season as the next opportunity the Blackbirds will be truly competitive. For now, LIU fans can hope the newcomers show most of the promise we’ve come to expect. (10 wins, 6-12 NEC)