It may feel or seem like a long time ago now but let’s rewind the clock back a little bit. All the way back to November. The LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball team went that entire first month of the season winless, an 0-4 November.
The losing continued on into the first week of December. The Blackbirds had started off the season 0-6. In that opening losing streak, they played a couple of hard-fought games against St. John’s and Temple. They played a couple of games where if the ball had bounced a little differently, there wouldn’t have had an 0-6 start to begin with in close losses to Saint Joseph’s and Lehigh.
With nine freshmen and sophomores on this season’s LIU Brooklyn roster, head coach Jack Perri knew back in October at NEC Media Day that the challenge of this season would be to be patient with this young group (Kenpom.com has LIU as the 12th least-experienced team in the nation this season) and hope they would show maturation as the season went along.
“Having so many new guys. We only have one guy who was here from our championship run so it’s really like completely starting over.” said Perri about his team back in October. “You’re almost like building a culture all over again. It’s being patient. I get it, you got to be patient this year especially early on.”
After the slow start, patience was definitely needed. But there were positive signs during that opening season losing streak that made you believe this team was closing in on a breakthrough and all they need one win to get it going.
That win came on the road against Maine and it was first of four straight wins for the Blackbirds. In three of those four wins, it was freshman Elvar Friðriksson who led LIU in scoring.
Prior to the winning, it was freshman Nura Zanna who led the team in rebounding in three of their opening six games. The foundation for success later in the season was beginning to be built during the tough opening of their season.
After closing a rather challenging non-conference schedule at 4-7 after a thorough beating by the hands of Hofstra, LIU entered into another new unknown for many on the roster, conference play.
The 1-3 start to the NEC season (all at home) showed that if this team didn’t start maturating and playing better and in quick order, then they were going to find themselves being spectators during NEC tournament time for the second season in a row.
After the three-game losing streak which put LIU at 4-9 for the season and 0-2 to start NEC play, Jack Perri started making changes and started putting some of these young guys under the fire and see how well they would come out of it.
The first thing was moving sophomore guard Joel Hernandez into the starting lineup and having senior forward Landon Atterberry come off the bench.
Then he started using his bench more and started giving more minutes to freshmen Trevin Woods, Trevon Woods, and Jamil Hood and cut down some of the minutes to over-used Martin Hermannsson and Elvar Friðriksson.
He continued using sophomore Iverson Fleming off the bench and you could see his confidence and consistency grow to the point, he was finishing out games for LIU.
He also got back a big piece in sophomore Glenn Feidanga who was out hurt for a good part of the season. Also, Nura Zanna began flourishing and has even started avoiding fouling out of games, in particularly of late. Martin Hermannsson started finding consistency and confidence back in his game. Recently, Elvar Fridriksson has started to regain the form he started the season at which was at one of the team’s top players.
Since the 0-2 start to NEC play which also culminates with insertion of Hernandez into the starting lineup along with the other changes, LIU is 6-4 in conference. After the 0-6 start, LIU has gone 10-7 since. Their defense has greatly improved as the season has gone along. During the opening 0-6 losing streak, LIU gave over 1.0 points per possession to each opponent. Since that start, LIU has allowed over 1.0 points per possession just five times in seventeen games.
The biggest sign of this team possibly showing maturation is from the time after the game where they showed their youth and immaturity in losing to Mount St. Mary’s at Barclays Center in a game they had a 21-point lead in the first half and a 17-point lead in the second half and lost. Since that terrible loss, they have gone 4-2. They started by winning the games they should win in wins at FDU and against CCSU. Then this past week, getting two huge home wins against upper tier NEC teams in Robert Morris and Saint Francis U.
Yet, there is still work to be done. They have lost to Bryant twice (although by a combined nine points) and got handed a lesson by cream of the crop St. Francis Brooklyn in a spanking of youth vs. experience.
They now face their biggest challenge of the season as they come down the stretch of the season. They play three pivotal road games in the next three games that could decide how their march to March will go with games at Robert Morris, Saint Francis U. and Mount St. Mary’s.
For this team to take the next step in their progression, they have to come out of these three games with minimum of one win. If they could get two wins, if could set them set up for a chance at getting a first-round home game in the NEC tournament. Three losses though would put the pressure squaring on them as they head into the final games, just to keep their current position and avoid the eight-seed or even worse if FDU suddenly has a hot streak in them that could see them overtake LIU and leave them out completely.
People often forget, it is not easy winning with a mostly young and fairly inexperienced team. The ups and downs are fairly steep with young teams like LIU. Yet, they have an opportunity to show how much they have grown over the course of this season. It will a difficult task, no doubt but they may now be ready to take as the signs of maturity has slowly taken shape. As one saying goes, “Maturity begins to grow when you sense your concerns for others outweighing your concerns for yourself.” That maybe the case with this season’s Blackbirds. The story has yet to be written.