Introducing Cinderella: Liberty heading back to the NCAA tournament

AP Photo/Lee Luther Jr.
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Lipscomb tripped Liberty up in the two teams’ regular-season finale, costing the Flames an outright Atlantic Sun championship. Liberty wouldn’t let the Bisons cost them anything else.

The Flames dominated Lipscomb on Sunday to earn an ASun conference tournament championship and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with a 73-57 victory on their home court. It’ll be the second-straight trip to the Big Dance for coach Ritchie McKay and the Flames, who shot 53.8 percent from the field and 40.7 percent on 27 attempts from 3-point range against Lipscomb.

LEAGUE: Atlantic Sun

COACH: Ritchie McKay

RECORD: 30-4, 13-3 ASun

RELATED: Bubble Watch | Bracketology | Conference Tournaments

METRICS:

  • NET: 70
  • KENPOM: 79
  • TORVIK: 77

PROJECTED SEED: The Flames have put together an impressive season, and they’ll likely get rewarded with a 13-seed for their work.

WHO DID THEY BEAT?: Akron is the only KenPom top-100 victory Liberty has on its resume, but it does also have a Power 5 notch with a win over Vanderbilt.

WHY LIBERTY CAN WIN AN NCAA TOURNAMENT GAME

Maybe the best reason to believe the Flames can win an NCAA tournament game is because we’ve seen them do it recently. Liberty, as a 12-seed, defeated fifth-seeded Mississippi State in the first round last year before losing to Virginia Tech in the second round. Much of the nucleus of that team returned this season, making Liberty a formidable opponent for the high-major it is likely to draw given a defense that is punishing to shooters and excellent on the glass along with an offense that is excellent at converting inside the 3-point arc.

WHY LIBERTY WON’T WIN AN NCAA TOURNAMENT GAME

Last year’s Flames had more experience against high-major opponents, with four games against the biggest programs in the country. This year’s time faced just one, a Vanderbilt team that won three SEC games. The only top-225 KenPom opponent Liberty has played in 2020 is North Florida (167). This team isn’t quite as battled tested as last year’s group. If they play an athletic team that wants to push the pace, that could be trouble, too, for a team that ranks 352nd out of 353 nationally in tempo.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?

Caleb Homesley had one of the best first-round performances of the NCAA tournament last year, going for 30 points on 10 of 16 shooting (including 5 of 11 from deep) to upset the Bulldogs. As a senior this season, Homesley is averaging 15.3 points,  5.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists while shooting 47.1 percent from the floor and 37 percent from 3-point range.

AUTOMATIC BID OUTLOOK

Liberty’s fate, like most double-digit seeds, will likely be tied to the matchup the Flames get from the committee on Selection Sunday. They’re veteran, experienced and have had a wildly successful season. They’ll be entering the tournament with confidence and the knowledge that they can win a game in this format. If they aren’t able to dictate pace, however, the talent gap could be exposed quickly.