I know, I know. When you looked up Long Island University the first time for 2011 NCAA March Madness, you read that:
A. The Blackbirds won the automatic bid of the Northeast Conference—a league ranked 18th in the RPI,
B. They were the only team in the NEC with an RPI in the top 100,
C. They lost all three games against teams with an RPI in the top 100,
D. They had a strength of schedule of 258, and
E. They're playing NORTH CAROLINA...IN CHARLOTTE!
Nevertheless, I believe the Blackbirds absolutely have the chance to win. Instead of being shocked when the talking heads break the news to you late Friday night, change your bracket NOW so that you can be smiling when it happens instead.
LIU can score.
You want to run? They can run. You want to lock down the lane? All five players on the floor will take turns draining three-pointers. You want to deny them on the perimeter? The nation's leader in free throws attempted will go banging inside and begin their "And One" parade. Don't forget that they are also the fourth-highest scoring offense in the country at 82.6 points per game. The Tarheels are tough in the paint, but LIU doesn't need to go there to score.
The Blackbirds have scored 80 or more points 24 times in their 32 games this season. The Tarheels? Just 12.
The key to LIU's success this year is that they are a team of interchangeable parts. More importantly, the players have totally bought into head coach Jim Ferry's ultimate basketball platoon system.
There is no one person to stop on offense. North Carolina will need to stop all five players on the court. And if they do, Ferry will simply look down his bench and sub. My prediction is that at least eight Blackbirds will see action within the first six minutes of play, regardless of the score.
Tune in, it's a thing of beauty to watch. For example, when an LIU player commits a foul, he knows to immediately head to the bench, and his replacement is already on his way to the scorer's table. Back-to-back fouls do not happen. Foul trouble is no trouble at all for the Blackbirds. And by the way, Jason Brickman led the NEC in assists as LIU's backup point guard.
Finally, let's rate the hometown crowd "advantage" for what it is: a non-factor. These kids go about their daily business walking around Brooklyn. They simply don't scare that easily, a fact further confirmed by their 13 straight road wins.
And as soon as LIU takes their first lead of the night, I'm fairly confident that the Duke fans in the arena will sit up and take notice. And once the three-point barrage begins, the Blue Devil faithful might even get loud.
Last time I checked, they enjoy rooting against the Tar Heels.