34 Teams in 34 Days: LIU Brooklyn

Outlook: A new era begins with Derek Kellogg now at the helm of the Blackbirds. Their strong backcourt returns but with question marks in the frontcourt and off the bench, do they have a realistic chance at making a run at the NEC title this season?

Last Year: 20-12 overall, 13-5 (2nd in NEC)

Who’s in: Zach Coleman (F), Jamall Robinson (G), Eral Penn (F), Shyheim Hicks (G), Craig Owens Jr. (G)

Who’s out: Jerome Frink (F), Iverson Fleming (G), Glenn Feidanga (F), Nura Zanna (F), Kwe Askew (F)

Key Non-Conference games: @ Fordham (11/13), Stony Brook (12/4), Fairfield (12/10)

It was an eventful offseason for the LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball program. Coming off their first 20-win season since 2012-13 after rebuilding for the last three seasons, LIU Brooklyn announced on March 20 that Blackbirds’ head coach Jack Perri would not be retained after five seasons.

Thus began a lengthy search for their new head coach which ended on April 18 when the school announced former Massachusetts head coach Derek Kellogg as the 14th head coach in the program’s history.

In between, the program saw shake-ups up-and-down the roster.  Redshirt senior forward Nura Zanna decided to leave as a grad transfer for Houston. Sophomore point guard Julian Batts announced he would be transferring, and sophomore point guard Jashaun Agosto entered his name into the 2017 NBA Draft although he did not sign with an agent.

After Kellogg’s arrival, Batts reversed course and decided to stay and Agosto decided to withdraw from the NBA Draft and return back to school, avoiding having to totally rehaul the point guard position once again.

Kellogg then went to work adding players to the roster, bringing forward Zach Coleman (0.8 ppg) with him from UMass as a grad transfer. He also added forward Jamall Robinson (3.8 ppg) as a grad transfer from Hofstra. He also brought in a late 2017 addition in forward Eral Penn out of Baltimore.

LIU Brooklyn will need to replace a lot of firepower that was lost after last season including replacing NEC Player of the Year Jerome Frink and third-team All-NEC performer Iverson Fleming in addition to the loss of Zanna.

The Blackbirds will have back redshirt senior guard Joel Hernandez who went down with a broken wrist in the season opener against John Jay and was lost for the season. Hernandez was primed to have a big season after a breakout season in 2015-16 which saw him average over 12 ppg and grab 4.6 rpg while finishing with a 102.4 offensive rating.

All-NEC rookie team selectee Jashaun Agosto (11.2 ppg) had a very good year as a freshman and will be looked upon to even be more productive in his sophomore campaign to help compliment Hernandez in the backcourt.

Agosto’s partner in the backcourt for the majority of last season was sophomore Julian Batts who played well in a more complementary role but figures to be a bigger part of the offense for the Blackbirds this upcoming season. Batts led the team in three-point field goal percentage shooting 39 percent from behind the arc.

A player that came out of nowhere last season for LIU was junior forward Raiquan Clark (6.2 ppg). The 6-foot-4 guard/forward was a spark plug off the bench and began seeing increased minutes as the season went along with his slashing offensive game and his work on the glass. It’ll be a surprise if he is not a starter from game one this season.

If LIU is to repeat or even surpass the win output of last season, they are going to need bigger contributions from the likes of Raul Frias, Julius van Sauers, and Ashtyn Bradley. Both Frias and van Sauers played in all 32 games for LIU last season and combined to make 17 starts but really didn’t take full advantage of their starting opportunities. Both players will really need to step up as they head into their third year with the program. Bradley could see more playing time as a sophomore and will need to shoot better than the 32 percent he shot last season.

One late addition to the roster is junior guard Craig Owens Jr., a junior college transfer out of West Los Angeles Community College who is originally from Louisville, Kentucky. Owens averaged 17.3 ppg in 48 career games.

Offensively, much will likely not change from the Blackbirds’ time under Perri. They will look to continue to play fast and put up points. The question, as it seems to be year after year will be, are they are going to be strong enough defensively to keep teams at bay and win games? We will have to wait and see but Kellogg’s UMass teams were a top 100 defensive efficiency team in four of his nine seasons.  

The Blackbirds will play a 13-game non-conference schedule in which their most challenging games are opponents from the AAC (Tulane) and from the Atlantic 10 (Fordham). LIU will play five games against America East teams including two games against Hartford. The Blackbirds will fly the coup to Jamaica for the inaugural Jamaica Classic before Thanksgiving. LIU will see the NEC defending champ Mount St. Mary’s for the first time at home on New Year’s Eve and then travel to face NEC preseason favorites Saint Francis U. in the first game of the new year. The annual Battle of Brooklyn game against rival St. Francis Brooklyn will be hosted by LIU this season on the final weekend of the regular season.

If you would have asked me back in the beginning of April, I would have told you that dark times were ahead for this program but much credit has to go to Kellogg. He came in and almost immediately turned a situation that was looking rather bleak with several pending roster changes into only losing one player due to transfer. Although, Kellogg will have to figure out what his rotation is going to look like during the preseason and non-conference play, he has more pieces to play with in guys like Hernandez, Agosto, Batts, Robinson, and Coleman which he probably wasn’t sure he was going to have the day he was announced as the new LIU head coach.

Finding guys to replace the production they got out of guys like Frink, Fleming, and Zanna last season won’t be easy, but there are options on this Blackbirds team that can get the job done. The supporting cast will need to play a pivotal role for LIU to repeat what they did last season and make a deep run come March. LIU will need to play to their strengths this season which is in the backcourt and if they get decent production out of their frontcourt from guys like Coleman, Robinson, and van Sauers, LIU could be a really good team once again this season and a threat in the chase for the NEC crown.

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