After finishing tied for sixth place in the Northeast Conference last season, LIU Brooklyn will look to make the climb up the conference standings under head coach Jack Perri in 2016-17. However that climb got a bit tougher Thursday, as it was announced that guard Martin Hermannsson has decided to forego his final two years of eligibility and turn pro.
Hermannsson was one of two first team All-NEC honorees for the Blackbirds last season, with redshirt junior forward Jerome Frink being the other. Hermannsson, a 6-foot-3 guard, finished the season with averages of 16.2 points and 4.7 assists per game, shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 36.0 percent from three. Originally on track to return the highest scoring tandem in the NEC, LIU Brooklyn has to account for the loss of their starting point guard and second-leading scorer without much time to do so before classes begin.
With Hermannsson moving on, the Blackbirds will call upon veterans such as seniors Joel Hernandez and Iverson Fleming to carry the load on the perimeter. LIU Brooklyn will also have to account for the loss of guard Aakim Saintil, who averaged 12.6 points and 4.7 assists in his lone season of eligibility. LIU Brooklyn will add two freshmen to its backcourt in Julian Batts and Ashtyn Bradley, and they’ll have an even greater opportunity to earn minutes than anticipated.
For 18 weeks last season Mount St. Mary’s carried a losing record. However, the Mountaineers picked up momentum beginning in March with four straight wins, three of which came in the Northeast Conference Tournament.
On March 11, Mount St. Mary’s ran away with an 88-71 win against top-seeded Robert Morris, dashing the Colonials NCAA tournament hopes for the second consecutive season.
A week later, one day after St. Patrick’s Day, the Mountaineers’ luck ran out, as Albany ended their season with a 71-64 victory in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament. On the same night, Robert Morris head coach Andrew Toole had a postseason game of his own, as the Colonials went into Carnesecca Arena and defeated St. John’s, 89-79, in the first round of the NIT.
Despite the postseason success and a 72-37 (42-11 NEC) record over the past three seasons, Robert Morris hasn’t appeared in an NCAA tournament since 2010 when it nearly upset No. 2 seeded Villanova.
Toole has maintained the success of the program, never finishing lower than third in the conference during his tenure as head coach. There’s an established tradition at Robert Morris with 11 regular season conference titles, but bittersweet success is what is driving Robert Morris during the first few weeks of practice.
“It’s something that pushes us and motivates us,” Toole told NBCSports.com. “We keep saying that if we continually get back to that spot you’ll eventually get over the hump. It’s not easy to get back into those tournament championship games.”
This year more than others there is uncertainty around the league. Many of the top players have graduated, including Robert Morris guard Karvel Anderson, who was named NEC Player of the Year in 2013-2014. Mount St. Mary’s graduated three 1,000 career scorers. Wagner is without the conference’s three-time defensive player of the year, Kenneth Ortiz and Bryant forward Alex Francis, a two-time first team selection, is also gone.
“There is a lot of unknowns,” Toole added. “You look at that teams that return the most, a lot of people are choosing those teams toward the top of the league because they have more proven entities than some of the other groups.”
Central Connecticut State has four starters back, including a healthy Kyle Vinales. St. Francis (NY) returns six of its top nine scorers, including first-team all-conference forward Jalen Cannon. However, both those teams committed the most turnovers in the league last season. St. Francis (PA) has the same starting five as last year, but is this the year for the Red Flash to end a 23-year tournament drought?
Robert Morris, like Bryant, Wagner and Mount St. Mary’s has its personnel losses to overcome, however, each of those teams have the pieces to be in the conversation come March.
By the end of the season, the Colonials were down to just eight scholarship players. Two of those players — Anderson and starting point guard Anthony Myers-Pate — exhausted their eligibility. Fortunately for Toole, all six of those returning players logged 15 or more minutes, headlined by wing Lucky Jones, who averaged 13.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in an all-NEC second team junior season.
The 6-foot-6 Jones has been a stapel in the Colonials lineup, starting 66 of 70 games in the past two seasons. He’s also a reliable big-game player, going for 25 points, nine boards and five assists in a NIT win over the Johnnies in March. The previous year, he scored a team-high 15 points in the monumental win over Kentucky.
“It’s huge [having Lucky],” Toole said. “He’s a guy that is so versatile and can do so many things on the floor, whether it’s rebounding, scoring or defending. He can give us a little bit of confidence as we go into games because we know what we can get from Lucky and we can build from there. Having him on the roster and him as a senior is invaluable to us.”
Will arguably the conference’s top player, six key contributors and a competitive non-conference schedule (North Carolina, Georgetown, Toledo) be enough to push the Colonials over that hump and into the field of 68? In a conference as unpredictable as the Northeast has been over the last few seasons it’s too early to tell. But one thing is for certain, Toole will have his guys ready.
“There are so many teams that can compete for a championship,” Toole said. “If you aren’t prepared or playing with the urgency you need to play with, I think that can beat you. That goes across the board, from top to bottom, in the conference. Like I said, there’s a lot of unknowns. Each and every game is going to be a challenge, as it has been every other year we’ve been in the NEC.
“It’s a long, long process and we can’t take any shortcuts as we build toward conference play because everyone is going to be at their best, everyone is going to try to win those league games and I think everyone believes they have chance.”
Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole has guided his program to back-to-back 20-win seasons, although his Colonials have no NCAA tournament appearances to show for it. For two straight seasons, Robert Morris has been relegated to the NIT following an upset in its conference tournament at the hands of Mount St. Mary’s.
Despite having one of the best young coaches in the nation and arguably the conference’s top player again this season, the Colonials have had trouble navigating through the NEC field, and this season the conference could resemble a minefield.
The Colonials lose the back court of Karvel Anderson and Anthony Myers-Pate, but six returning players, led by all-NEC second teamer Lucky Jones, logged 15 or more during the 2013-2014 season. Toole also brings in a six-man recruiting class (two JuCo transfers), which should help add size up front and depth on the perimeter.
While Robert Morris looks to get back to the Big Dance for the first time since 2010, St. Francis (NY) is looking to qualify for the tournament for the first time in school history. The Terriers bring back six key contributors from a season ago, including all-NEC first team selection Jalen Cannon, who averaged 14.9 points and 8.2 rebounds as a junior. Bryant may be without Alex Francis and his 2,000-plus career points, but Dyami Starks gives Tim O’Shea a go-to scoring option for a team coming off a third-place finish.
One of the conference’s others top scorers, Kyle Vinales, was sidelined with a finger injury for Central Connecticut State last season. The 6-foot-1 Vinales is one of four returners for the Blue Devils, a team looking to jump from the middle of the pack to conference contenders. St. Francis (PA) also returns the bulk of its lineup, led by second-team selection Earl Brown.
Mount St. Mary’s, which reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008, has to account for the loss of three 1,000 point scorers. Wagner will be without the conference’s three-time defensive player of the year, Kenneth Ortiz and second-leading scorer, Latif Rivers. But both the Mountaineers and Seahawks have quality pieces that could continue to make this low-major conference and interesting one to track as the season shifts into March.
PRESEASON NEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Lucky Jones, Robert Morris
As a junior, playing alongside NEC Player of the Year Karvel Anderson, Jones averaged 13.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game, earning all-NEC second team honors. The 6-foot-6 wing will carry a heavy load for Robert Morris this season: on offense, on defense and on the glass. He’s been a stable part of the program’s success from its two regular season conference titles to his 15-point performance in the Colonials’ NIT upset win over Kentucky in 2013.
With Julian Boyd unable to play last season due to a torn ACL, forward E.J. Reed was asked to step forward offensively for the LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds. Reed posted averages of 12.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest in 2013-14, leading the Blackbirds in both statistical categories.
However instead of finding out what Reed would be able to do in 2014-15 under LIU head coach Jack Perri, it’s been reported that the 6-foot-6 forward has found a new school. Reported first by Brad Keith of the Stephenville (Texas) Empire-Tribune, Reed is now a member of the Tarleton State basketball program.
Tarleton State is a Division II school in Texas, meaning that Reed will be eligible to play immediately. Reed proved to be a valuable piece for the Blackbirds last season, but his frequent bouts with foul trouble was an issue that LIU had to navigate in 2013-14 as noted by Nelson Castillo of the Blackbirds Hoops Journal.
Although Reed scoring numbers was respectable, he was constantly in foul trouble, seemingly all season long. He fouled out of eight games this past season and finished with 101 fouls which led LIU Brooklyn and was fourth in the NEC. He also had the knack of committing the bad foul at bad times in games. It just didn’t seem like he made the sort of improvement a lot of people were hoping he would make.
Reed is one of two LIU players reportedly transferring to Division II programs this summer, with reserve guard D.J. Griggs headed to Pace University. According to the Empire-Tribune, Reed’s biggest reason for transferring to Tarleton State is homesickness. Reed is a native of Mesquite, Texas.
“I’m very family oriented, and I’ve been missing my mom, my sister and my nephew,” Reed told the Empire-Tribune. “Those are the people who keep me grounded, so I just needed to get back closer to home.”
With 8:33 remaining in the first half, LIU Brooklyn senior point guard Jason Brickman recorded his third assist of the night as Gerrell Martin sunk a 3-pointer.
For Brickman, that would be his 1,000th career assist, becoming only the fourth player in college basketball history to reach that milestone in the final game with the Blackbirds. He ended the night with 12 dimes — the 18th time this season he’s recorded double-digit assists — which tied his Northeast Conference single-season record 0f 290. Brickman ended his collegiate career with 1,009 assists.
Before Brickman hit the milestone, the illustrious group was limited to only those who starred in the ACC. Brickman joins Duke’s Bobby Hurley, N.C. State’s Chris Corchiani and North Carolina’s Ed Cota as Division I floor generals to amass 1,000 assists.
In his four-year career with LIU Brooklyn, Brickman helped lead the Blackbirds to three consecutive NCAA tournaments after winning the Northeast Conference tournament in each of his first three seasons. LIU Brooklyn will not have a chance as a four-peat this season as the Blackbirds did not qualify for the conference’s postseason tournament.
Brickman ends his senior season averaging a double-double at 11.3 points and 10.0 assists per game. He averaged 9.1 points and 7.8 assists per game. LIU Brooklyn finished the 2013-2014 season 9-20 (4-12 NEC).
When it was reported that LIU Brooklyn senior forward Julian Boyd tore the ACL in his right knee for the second time in his career back in early September, the hope was that he would be able to return to the court at some point in January. If that were the case Boyd, who won Northeast Conference Player of the Year honors in 2012, would certainly provide a boost to the Blackbird front court as the program looks to make a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.
Unfortunately for Boyd and the program that will not be the case, as it was announced by the school on Thursday that he tore the ACL in his right knee for a third time during a non-contact drill in late December. As a result of the injury Boyd’s college career has come to an end.
“I feel so badly for Julian, he has worked tirelessly over the past year to rehabilitate his knee,” LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri said in the release. “He was determined to make it back on the court in whatever capacity he could. He has such an incredible work ethic that you thought if anyone could do it, he could. I just can’t help but feel sick with all that he has gone through and had to deal with over his career.
“He is truly a special person and competitor that helped LIU Brooklyn basketball achieve unparalleled heights.”
Boyd’s LIU career very nearly ended in the summer of 2009, when he was diagnosed with noncompaction cardiomyopathy and forced to sit out the entire 2009-10 season. Boyd came back strong, earning first-team All-NEC honors in both his sophomore and junior seasons (he won NEC Rookie of the Year in 2008-09) and NEC Player of the Year as a junior (2011-12).
Boyd suffered the first of his three ACL tears in a game at Rice in December 2012, forcing him to miss the remainder of the 2012-13 season. With Boyd out of the lineup Jamal Olasewere rose to the occasion, winning NEC Player of the Year honors and helping lead the Blackbirds to their third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. With Olasewere having graduated, LIU’s had to adjust with Landon Atterberry (12.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg), Gilbert Parga (12.2, 3.6) and E.J. Reed (12.2, 4.9) leading the way in the front court.
The possibility of adding Boyd to a rotation that also includes one of the nation’s best distributors in Jason Brickman and Gerell Martin would have been a positive for LIU. But just as importantly, a return would have allowed Boyd to end his LIU career on his terms. Sadly, that won’t happen.