2015-16 LIU Brooklyn Men’s Basketball Preview

The 2015-16 LIU Brooklyn men's basketball team going through their paces at a recent practice. (Photo: Instagram - @liubasketball)

The 2015-16 LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball team going through their paces at a recent practice. (Photo: Instagram – @liubasketball)

How quickly times flies. The 2015-16 college basketball season marks year four of Jack Perri head coaching era at LIU Brooklyn. Last season, Perri had to guide one of the youngest team in the nation and with that LIU went through a streaky, up-and-down season in which the Blackbirds finished 12-18 overall and 8-10 in the Northeast Conference.

One of the major benefits of last season was the ability to give playing time and experience to a group mostly consisting of freshmen and sophomores. Now as sophomores and juniors, these players are going to be looked upon to take the next step in what could very much be a wide open year in the NEC and help bring along what on paper could potentially be the best class of freshmen Perri has brought in his four seasons at the helm.

What could be more fuel for optimism for this season’s LIU team is that this team doesn’t have a single senior on their roster which means this could potentially be the start of a cycle where this group will be together pretty much for the next two seasons which could mean some exciting times could be returning once again to Downtown Brooklyn.

First, LIU will have to answer some important questions as they head into this upcoming season. Who is going to running the point for LIU with the departure of Elvar Friðriksson? Who now becomes LIU’s main threat from deep with the departure of All-NEC shooting guard Gerrell Martin? What will this season’s starting five look like? Which of the newcomers can have a great impact of this season? Some of the answers to a few of these questions will be answered early on, others may take into NEC play to get an answer. The sooner Jack Perri can find answers to these questions and more, the possibility of this team finding success sooner rather than later and making a run at another NEC championship come March could be something that can be realistically achieved this upcoming season.

One thing Perri should have an abundance of this season which hasn’t always been the case during his head coaching tenure is depth. LIU could potentially have the deepest team since the 2010-11 team that started their historic three consecutive NEC championship run of a few years back.

This season’s team consist of a full complement of thirteen scholarships players as well as three walk-ons for a grand total of sixteen players on this season’s roster. That is the most players Perri has had to his disposal since he became the Blackbirds head coach back in 2013. The quality of this roster could match the quantity, one that is could be very high if health is not an issue and individuals show they have made progression in their game in the offseason.

With eight newcomers, six of whom are freshmen, and no seniors, LIU will continue to be a pretty young team once again but the experience factor exist this season with the eight returnees that wasn’t really the case last season.

Time now to take a closer look at the 2015-16 LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds:

Returning Starters

Martin Hermannsson looks to lead what could a very balanced LIU attack. (Photo: Bob Dea-BHJ)

Martin Hermannsson looks to lead what could a very balanced LIU attack. (Photo: Bob Dea-BHJ)

LIU Brooklyn returns back just one starting guard from last season in sophomore Martin Hermannsson. It was another busy offseason for the 6’3″ guard in which he was once again a member of the Icelandic senior national team and played in the 2015 FIBA European Championships. Hermannsson shook off a slow start to his LIU career last season to finish second on the team in scoring at 10.1 points per game behind Gerrell Martin. Hermannsson led the team in minutes played at over 31 minutes per game. His versatility to play either of the guard positions was a pleasant surprise and something we could see again at times this season. He struggled with his outside shot last season, hitting on 27.5% of his threes but now with a year of Division I play under his belt, I would expect his three point numbers to be more like what he was used to back in Iceland. Look for a strong season out of him.

The other of two returning starters is redshirt sophomore Nura Zanna. He started in all thirty games for LIU in his first season on the court for the Blackbirds. There were times last season in which Zanna showed us why many people picked him as a possible NEC Rookie of the Year after missing an entire season due to a wrist injury. There were spurts in which he was literally unstoppable in the paint. What hurt him last season was he just couldn’t keep out of foul trouble. His 111 personal fouls were 28 more than the second-most player on the team. The big man fouled out of ten games. But even with his foul woes, he led LIU in rebounding at 6.3 boards per game. He only finished with one double-double a season ago but missed out on five addition double-doubles by either a basket or a rebound. If he can stay out of foul trouble this season which is a huge if, his numbers should see a nice increase and the double-double could come in bunches.

Potential New Starters

Jack Perri has three openings to his starting five for this upcoming season. The openings are in the point guard position, the third guard position out on the wing and at the four spot in the front court.

The one player that will likely have a starting position already locked down is redshirt junior Jerome Frink, the 6’7″ forward who transferred to LIU from Florida International. Frink averaged 9.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in his 63 games played at FIU. Frink started in 56 games and all 31 games of his sophomore season. He had better numbers his freshman season under now Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino in which he scored 10.2 ppg and grabbed over six rebounds per game. His numbers took a dip his sophomore season under current FIU head coach Anthony Evans and after that season, he decided to transfer and come to LIU. Frink skills set will likely remind most LIU fans of former NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd. He has tremendous athleticism with above average strength and should likely furnish inside for LIU. Although not as strong a three-point shooter as Boyd was, he can make a three-point shot and likely will find himself at the free throw line quite frequently. He has All-NEC first team potential for this season.

Joel Hernandez is primed for a huge junior season as his role expands. (Photo: Bob Dea-BHJ)

Joel Hernandez is primed for a huge junior season as his role expands. (Photo: Bob Dea-BHJ)

Junior guard Joel Hernandez will likely take over the starting spot left behind by the graduation of Gerrell Martin. Hernandez played in all 29 regular season games last season including making 14 starts. He increased his scoring output up to 8.0 ppg last season with the increased playing time. His shooting numbers last season left a bit to be desired though with 39% shooting from the field, 52% from the foul line and 29.4% from three. I believe with the work he put in this summer on his game and now as one of the veterans on this team, he could be in line for a big jump this season. He played a lot out of position last season because Perri had a ton of faith in his abilities and wanted to give him playing time. He showed great explosiveness on several big dunks a season ago and will likely see flashes of that once again this season. He is going to depended on to give them so muched needed outside scoring at times and needs to do a better job making his free throws. If so, he has potential to get on an All-NEC list this season.

At the point guard position, it will likely be juco transfer Aakim Saintil who will get the nod. The 6’0″ point guard has a season of division one experience under his belt when he played his freshman year at South Alabama before transferring to Williston State College in North Dakota. In juco last season, Saintil averaged 12.1 points, 5.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game. He shot 48.2% from the field and 39.2% from three last season. He also had a 2-to-1 assist/turnover ratio and showed he not only has quick feet but quick hands as well with over two steals per game. Saintil adds an element of speed and quickness at the point guard position which is something LIU hasn’t had since CJ Garner graduated in 2013.

Veteran Reserves

Junior guard Iverson Fleming will likely once again remain in his role as LIU’s backup point guard. With Fleming, LIU has a veteran point guard Perri can trust coming off the bench who can potentially provide a spark. It will be important for him to limit the turnovers and make his outside shots and drive to the basket and draw fouls on opposing point guards.

Junior forward Glenn Feidanga missed the team’s first 13 games last season due to an ankle injury. He played well upon his return and had several nice moments off the bench including a pair of near double-doubles in NEC play. He played for the Central African Republic senior men’s national team this summer at the FIBA African Championships. He should once again be first off the bench in reserve of Nura Zanna at the five spot and will see his fair share of playing time this season.

Trevin (L) and Trevon Woods (R) should both see increased minutes as LIU's outside shooters. (Photo: Bob Dea-BHJ)

Trevin (L) and Trevon Woods (R) should both see increased minutes as LIU’s outside shooters. (Photo: Bob Dea-BHJ)

Twin sophomore wings Trevin and Trevon Woods will be big keys to LIU success this season as potentially the best and most consistent outside shooters for the Blackbirds this season. Trevin Woods played in 29 games last season all off the bench and averaged 4.2 points and 3.5 rebounds while shooting nearly 33% from three. Trevon Woods played in 22 games off the bench and come on strong towards the end of the season and finished with 2.3 points and 1.5 rebounds averages. Trevin though will likely miss the start of the season with a knee injury he sustained over the summer and it’s still unknown how much time this season he will miss. With this being the case, it’ll provide Trevon with an opportunity for more playing time while his brother is out. Both will need to have better shooting numbers from outside the arc this season on a team that is going to look upon them for their outside scoring.

Freshman Class

Last season, Jack Perri and his coaching staff went out and brought in five freshmen who played key parts throughout the season. This season, four more freshmen arrive in Downtown Brooklyn looking to contribute and make an impact in year one of the collegiate careers.

LIU added three freshmen forwards in 6’8″ Julius van Sauers, 6’9″ Ganlandou Cisse and 6’7″ Kwe Askew.

Julius van Sauers comes to LIU w/ international experience with the Netherlands senior and U-20 teams. (Photo: LIU Athletics)

LIU freshman Julius van Sauers (Photo: LIU Athletics)

Julius van Sauers comes to Brooklyn from the Netherlands. He participated this summer with the Netherlands’ under-20 national team which played in the 2015 FIBA Under-20 European Championships. The 20-year old van Sauers’ experience in international play as well as parts of the last two seasons in a league back home gives him a nice leg up on the competition for minutes off the bench behind Frink. He has a chance to make an impact this season.

Another forward who has a chance to contribute and make an impact as the season goes along is the tallest player on the team in Ganlandou Cisse. Cisse played at top high school program in Roselle Catholic in New Jersey where he played along side Kentucky freshman Isaiah Briscoe and South Carolina freshman Chris Silva. Cisse should be a presence on the boards and as a shot blocker.

Kwe Askew is considered the most raw of the three freshmen forwards. His game is going to take some time to develop and blossom at the division one level but the coaching staff loves his potential and work ethic so far.

The only freshman guard on scholarship is Raul Frias. The 6’1″ shooting guard will face stiff competition for playing time in year one with so many guards returning back this season. He should see minutes as a reserve behind Hermannsson when he gets into foul trouble or just needs a breather. He can shoot the ball from outside as well as attack the basket.

Walk-Ons

LIU added two more walk-ons and have three walk-ons on the roster this season. Guard Mark Parisi returns for his second season. The sophomore made two brief game appearances last season. Freshmen guards Mitchell McMullen and Raiquan Clark both had good high school careers and should provide addition depth in both practice and gameday.

Coaching Staff

LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri. (Photo: Bob Dea-BHJ)

LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri. (Photo: Bob Dea-BHJ)

Jack Perri enters his fourth season as LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball head coach and begins his eleventh season overall at LIU. Perri is 41-52 in his first three seasons as head coach with one NEC championship back in year one of his head coaching tenure.

In the offseason a couple of changes to his coaching staff needed to be made after a couple of departures. Longtime assistant coach Jason Harris left LIU to become the head coach at UMass-Boston. Assistant coach Mark Calzonetti left LIU after three seasons to return back to Iona.

With the departures, Jim Mack, who last season was LIU’s Director of Basketball Operations, was promoted to assistant coach. He begins his second year at LIU. Perri went out and brought in assistant coach Kenyon Spears who is coming from the University of New Orleans and enters his first season with the Blackbirds. Assistant coach Chuck Bridge is now the longest tenured assistant coach on Perri’s staff. He begins his fourth season with Perri and sixth season overall with LIU.

Season Outlook

If you ask Jack Perri, he will tell you his program is entering year two of a rebuilding phase. Yet, this team enters this season with more experience than last season’s team did entering last season. So although some might look at this season as them building on what they did last season, others will look at this season as the first of a real opportunity to be competitive in the NEC and give themselves a realistic chance at going after an NEC championship.

For that opportunity to happen, LIU will need to establish every player’s role on the team early on. This is deep LIU team, one of the deepest in a long time. If every player buys into whatever role that are given from the outset, this team could surprise and have the potential to do some damage along the way this season.

No seniors means new leadership roles for a couple of guys. Joel Hernandez and Iverson Fleming have been a couple of the early frontrunners in this department. I believe Hernandez in particular is in line for a great junior season as he sees his role change this season.

Don’t be surprised to see an outstanding season out of Martin Hermannsson. I think he will be much more comfortable from the outset and now he knows what to expect from the division one college game. I will not be surprised if he is on an All-NEC first or second team by season’s end.

The expectations for Jerome Frink are high. In watching him at one of LIU’s practices recently, I believe the expectations are justified. If he stays healthy, he is going to provide a lot of goods on the interior for the Blackbirds. This is one position LIU upgraded in a major way from last season.

The two biggest questions entering the season are what to expect out of the point guard position and who will LIU be able to count on with perimeter shooting. Aakim Saintil looks to have the inside track to the starting job. He seems to have the speed, quickness and ball handling skills in which LIU can get back to playing at a higher tempo more accustomed to what Perri would like to play. As to where LIU is going to get points from the outside, Hermannsson and the Woods twins have to play a big factor. The other guards will also need to hit open looks but the consistency from outside will need to come from Hermannsson and the Woods twins with Hernandez, Fleming and Frias playing a factor to a smaller degree as well.

This freshman class will likely have their opportunities to make an impact this season with Julius van Sauers possibly leading the way. Ganlandou Cisse and Raul Frias will likely have their moments in games especially as the season goes along.

LIU defensively was much better last season than they were the previous season in which they were absolutely terrible. With that said, there is still a ways to go with this team on the defensive end and the potential is there this season to crack the top half of the NEC in some defensive categories along with a possible return of LIU’s high octane offense, this has the looks of LIU looking like a strong candidate to be a sleeper in the NEC and possible contender come March

Five Games To Look Out For

1. @ Fordham – Tuesday, December 8
2. @ UMass – Tuesday, December 29
3. @ Mount St. Mary’s – Saturday, January 2
4. vs Robert Morris – Thursday, January 7
5. vs St. Francis Brooklyn – Saturday, January 23

Prediction

It seems like the consensus so far from some of the NEC predictions already out is that LIU will finish somewhere in between third and fifth in the conference. I’m in agreement with this. I believe LIU has a top four NEC team which means at minimum they will host a first round NEC tournament game at the Steinberg Wellness Center come March.

My gut tells me that LIU finishes third in the NEC behind Robert Morris and Mount St. Mary’s and goes 12-6 in the NEC and finishes the regular season with an 18-11 record which would a six-game improvement over last season.

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