When people think of a resurgence in New York City basketball, they probably think of the New York Knicks or the St. John's University Red Storm, both of whom were a joke the past decade, but have now become no laughing matter. However, there is one team that seems to be overlooked, LIU.
Yes, their school name is Long Island University; however, the Blackbirds are 100 percent Brooklyn. They have two separate campuses, one in Brookville, which is located in Nassau Country, Long Island. Then they have the Brooklyn campus, which is where most of the magic from this 14-4 season has occurred.
The average college basketball fan has probably never heard of the LIU Blackbirds. They play in a notoriously small conference, the Northeast Conference, and have not really been successful in many years. However, they do have a very rich history. Way back in 1939, the Blackbirds were the best team in College Basketball. They finished the season with a record of 24-0 and won the NIT, which at the time was the bigger postseason tournament. They went on to win the NIT again in 1941.
However, in 1951, the Blackbirds were part of the infamous CCNY Point Shaving Scandal, which caused them to cancel their athletic program for six seasons. All the schools involved suffered greatly, including CCNY and NYU, who both became division III athletic schools. However, those days are in the past for Long Island, and now finally, they are becoming the dominant force that they know they are capable of.
The team plays in their newly renovated WRAC (Wellness Recreation and Athletics Center), after recently moving from the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre. The WRAC is a nice, yet small gym, which can fit several thousand fans.
The Blackbirds came into the 2010-2011 season really not knowing what to expect. Their best player from last season, Jaytornah Wisseh, had just graduated and they were welcoming back their big man Julian Boyd, who had to sit out last season due to heart problems. It was thought he may never play basketball again. However, after their first few games it was apparent that this team was special. They started off the season at 4-0, while scoring an average of nearly 88 points per game over that winning streak.
The Blackbirds would go onto lose the next four out of six games, including a one-point loss to conference rival, Robert Morris, who is the two-time defending Northeast Conference Champion. The losing skid would eventually end on December 13th, when the Blackbirds took their talents to Evanston, IL, and lost by 16 to a then-undefeated Northwestern Wildcats team. Since that game, which was 39 days ago, the Blackbirds have not lost.
They have won eight games in a row, five of which were by more than 10, and have averaged more than 85 ppg during the streak. They are currently ranked 12th in the NCAA in scoring averaging at exactly 82 ppg. They also rank ninth in the NCAA in rebounding at 41.1 boards per game.
The Blackbirds, led by coach Jim Ferry, are a balanced team, and although they have a prolific scoring offense, they don't have a single player averaging more than 12.4 ppg. They have four players who average in double figures including Julian Boyd, who also averages nearly eight rpg, along with his 11 ppg. In fact the scoring is so balanced, they have 12 players who average at least two ppg. It's pretty rare that you see a team that uses even 10 players, let alone 12.
The team also has a great mix of young and old. The experience is really there for some players like seniors Kyle Johnson and David Hicks. However, they are really led by a core group of younger players like sophomores Jamal Olasaware and Kenny Onyechi.
With Long Island currently sitting in first place at 6-1 in conference play, including a 16-point win last night over the tough Robert Morris squad, the Blackbirds are red hot and don't seem to be slowing up anytime soon.
It is a shame that nothing that they do in the regular season can really be a boost to getting them into the NCAA tournament, however. In order to get into the NCAA tournament from the NEC, the team needs to win the conference tournament. It is a three-round, eight team tournament that has all its games held at the highest seed. If LIU can win the regular season title, the road to the NCAA tournament will have to go through Brooklyn.
And after all this team has been through, you better be sure that they'll take that.