LIU Brooklyn heard its name called on Selection Sunday for the third year in a row. And for the second year in a row, there were mixed emotions.
Twelve months ago, the Blackbirds were disappointed to be a No. 16 seed, after being a No. 15 seed the year before. This year, the Blackbirds weren’t just given a No. 16 seed -- they have to participate in a play-in game, just to enter the main bracket of 64 teams.
LIU will take on James Madison in Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday night. The winner gets No. 1 seed Indiana.
"I feel like some of the guys were disappointed," point guard Jason Brickman said. "But I'm excited. It's one of the only games being played that night, we get to play on national TV, and we have a chance to win our first tournament game. So I'm excited to play."
Unlike the past two years, LIU (20-13, 12-6) wasn’t the Northeast Conference regular-season champion. The Blackbirds finished in a three-way tie for second place, two games behind Robert Morris, but won the NEC tournament.
LIU also was just 5-7 in nonconference play, including ugly losses to St. Peter’s (9-21, 3-15 MAAC) and Lamar (3-28, 1-17 Southland).
"Not surprised at all," coach Jack Perri said about his team’s seeding. "We had some bad losses early on."
On the bright side, the Blackbirds have a much better chance of picking up an NCAA tournament victory, courtesy of their play-in status.
James Madison (20-14, 11-7) finished in fourth place in the Colonial Athletic Association, but pulled a big upset in the CAA tournament final, taking out top seed Northeastern, 70-57.
It’s a balanced squad -- four players average in double figures, none more than 12.7 points per game. But this is new territory for the Dukes -- it's James Madison’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1994.
LIU, on the other hand, is in familiar territory. Its top three players will all be playing in their third consecutive Big Dance.
"The experience of the seniors and myself, being here before, is just going to help calm everyone down," Brickman said. "We're going to be able to go out and play confidently."
Brickman, a 6-foot junior, is the leading assist man in the entire nation, dishing out 8.5 per game. His primary targets? Six-foot-seven senior forward Jamal Olasewere (18.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg), the NEC Player of the Year, and 5-foot-10 senior guard C.J. Garner (16.1 ppg).
The Blackbirds are the No. 5 scoring team in the country (79.5 ppg), and No. 2 in free throw attempts (26 per game).
They’d be even more dangerous if they hadn’t lost forward Julian Boyd, last year’s NEC Player of the Year, to a torn ACL back in December.
A matchup with the Hoosiers on Friday would be fun. But LIU has some work to do first.
"We have a chance to play against a like opponent, and have a chance to get a win," Perri said. "We're excited."