Although many College Basketball fans haven't even heard of the Northeast Conference, let alone Long Island University, there is a reason to take notice of these Blackbirds.
After defeating Wagner College 83-79 in overtime on Thursday, the Blackbirds won their seventh straight, 15 of 16, and won their NCAA division one leading 12th road game of the season to improve their record to an outstanding 21-5 (13-2 in NEC). They are now just a win away from clinching a share of the NEC regular season title and an automatic NIT berth.
Led by head coach Jim Ferry, who is in his ninth season in Brooklyn, the Blackbirds are a team that continues to amaze in every way. They are ninth in division one in scoring, averaging 82.1 a game. What's even more impressive is that they don't have a single player averaging more than 12.5 points a game. They have FIVE guys averaging in double figures, led by sophomore Julian Boyd.
They are third in division one in rebounding as well, averaging nearly 42 a game. In addition to that uncanny statistic, they also lead the country in drawing fouls.
And what's great is that most of their core players will be here for years to come. Sophomore Jamal Olasaware has proven that he can help his team in any way it's needed, weather it be scoring or boxing out on the boards.
Guard Jason Brickman is just a freshman, but by watching him play you might guess he is a seasoned veteran, always finding the open man and having the ability to drain the three.
The Blackbirds always seem to find a way to win.
They are certainly a great second half team. Against rival St. Francis (NY), the game was tied with 7.3 seconds to go, before junior guard C.J. Garner drove up the court and hit a fade away jumper, reminiscent of Paul Pierce, with just .6 seconds left on the clock.
All of their losses have come to teams with records of .500 or better with the exception of a road loss to St. Francis (PA). Their biggest loss of the season was to Northwestern on the road, a 16 point defeat.
However, LIU's accomplishments don't end on the court. Last season Julian Boyd had to sit out the whole season with a dangerous heart condition. It was likely that he would never play basketball again. However, that didn't stop the 6'7", 225 pound center from attending all the practices and games. Over the offseason he got the call from his doctor that he was cleared to play, and boy has it made a world of difference for LIU.
Some may wonder how Jim Ferry has been able to assemble such a talented squad, and I'm sure it wasn't easy, but at least he racked up some frequent flier miles.
Only two of the players on the squad are from the NY area. They have four players from Canada, two from Texas, and the rest have homes scattered throughout the United States.
With three games remaining in the conference season, the Blackbirds have a two game lead on Central Connecticut State. The last game of the season, LIU will host the Blue Devils (CCSU) for what could potentially be for the NEC regular season title, which grants you an automatic berth into the NIT, should the school fail to win their conference tournament.
In the NEC, the higher seed will host the game, so LIU would also be clinching home court advantage throughout the eight team tournament.
So, don't look now, but the Blackbirds seem to be swooping their way to the NCAA tournament.