Here are three things to watch for when LIU Brooklyn (19-13, 12-6 NEC) plays Mount St. Mary's (18-13, 11-7 NEC) on Tuesday night in the Northeast Conference championship game.
Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at the Wellness Center on the LIU campus. You can watch the game on ESPN2.
THREE-PEAT? LIU Brooklyn is attempting to win the Northeast Conference tournament and the league's automatic NCAA tournament bid for the third year in a row. That has never been done in the 32-year history of the NEC. And, since the Blackbirds are the higher seed, they'll host the game -- a big advantage.
LIU, the No. 3 seed, advanced to the title game by coming from behind to beat No. 6 seed Quinnipiac (91-83), followed by a victory at No. 2 seed Wagner (94-82).
Mount St. Mary's, the No. 5 seed, got here courtesy of two road wins -- at No. 4 seed Bryant (75-69) and at No. 1 seed Robert Morris (69-60).
These two teams split their season series, each winning on its home floor. LIU won 86-72 on Jan. 12, and Mount St. Mary's won 83-71 on Feb. 21.
THE BLACKBIRDS: This is LIU Brooklyn's most impressive run yet, considering all that has transpired this season. The Blackbirds have a first-year head coach, Jack Perri, who was promoted from assistant coach after Jim Ferry left for Duquesne following last season. Three of their top four players were suspended for the first two conference games of the season, for their role in an on-campus brawl last fall. And then Julian Boyd, the reigning NEC Player of the Year, was lost after just eight games with a torn ACL.
Jamal Olasewere is now the team's leading scorer and rebounder -- the 6-foot-7 senior forward is averaging 19 points and 8.5 rebounds per game and was just named this season's NEC Player of the Year. C.J. Garner, a 5-foot-10 senior guard, is second on the team in scoring (15.6 ppg), and has poured in 53 points in the first two games of this tourney. Jason Brickman, a 6-foot junior point guard, is the leading assist man in all of Division I, averaging 8.5 per game.
LIU wants to push the pace. The Blackbirds are sixth in the country in scoring (79.1 ppg) and 14th in offensive field-goal percentage (47.9). They're also second in the nation in free throw attempts per game (26.1) and third in makes per game (18.0). But they are 336th (out of 345 schools) in scoring defense (76.6 ppg) and 331st in defensive field-goal percentage (47.1).
THE MOUNTAINEERS: Mount St. Mary's (located in Emmitsburg, Md.) was picked to finish ninth in the NEC in the conference's preseason poll, so the Mountaineers have clearly overachieved. And they are red-hot -- they've won nine games in a row, and 11 of 12. Kudos to first-year coach Jamion Christian, just 30 years old, who was a three-year captain for the Mount and graduated in 2004.
The Mountaineers have a balanced attack offensively, led by Rashad Whack, a 6-foot-2 junior guard who averages 14 points per game. Whack, a transfer from George Mason, dropped 26 points on Robert Morris in the semis. Three other players average between 9.6 and 10.8 points per game.
Mount St. Mary's relies heavily on the 3-pointer -- the Mountaineers are 10th in the country in makes per game (8.5). The Mountaineers are also 29th in the country in steals per game (8.6). But they are dead-last in Division I in defensive field-goal percentage, allowing opponents to shoot 50.7 percent against them. And they are 336th in rebounds per game (29.2).