Let's be honest -- the only things many of us Spartan fans know about Long Island University in Brooklyn is that Michigan State is playing them Friday night, and they like to run to offense. While those two pieces of information are well and good, more is better. So when John Templon, site runner of a great blog covering small D1 programs in New York City called Big Apple Buckets, wanted to exchange questions with me I jumped at the chance. My questions are in bold, and if you want to read my responses to John's queries they'll be up at Big Apple Buckets after 11:30 today.
1) For the uninitiated (like almost all Spartan fans), give a brief summary of LIU's season.
LIU graduated two 1,000-point scorers from the team that made the NCAA Tournament last season. It took the Blackbirds a little time to adjust to new roles, especially point guard Jason Brickman as the starting point guard. LIU struggled early in the season, losing its first three games, including at Penn State. Things began to turn around as the team got more comfortable, but then star forward Julian Boyd was briefly injured. That led to losses to Columbia and Norfolk State, the latter of which might've cost the Blackbirds a 15 seed.
Once LIU got to NEC play it looked extremely comfortable. They slipped up twice, at Robert Morris and at Monmouth on the final day of the NEC regular season when they'd already wrapped up the league title. The NEC plays the tournament on the home court of the higher seeds, so LIU used its home court advantage at the WRAC in Brooklyn to roll off three tournament victories and claim the automatic bid. During the tournament Brickman played his best basketball of the season and in the final against Robert Morris LIU avenged one of its two NEC losses with a 17-point victory.
2) In terms of tempo, the Blackbirds are the second-fastest team in the nation. What makes their offense so fast and effective?
LIU wants to play really fast because it has athletes at every position on the court. One through five is able to run the court and make plays. The fast pace allows the creativity of Brickman and C.J. Garner to take over games and find teammates open shots.
The Blackbirds are also able to get good shots early in the shot clock thanks to their high-screen action. A lot of the offense is LIU's big men coming off screens around the top of the key. Jamal Olasewere is a unique player who can get to the rim or take jump shots. Brickman has become especially dangerous of coming off the screen and making the right decision to drive and kick, take it to the hole, or give it up early. When LIU's offense is running the best the threes are dropping and the Blackbirds are gunning.
3) I think most would agree Julian Boyd's the best player on this team, and definitely the player MSU needs to watch. Who do you think his game compares to the most?
Boyd has a really unique game. At 6'7" he's not the biggest guy, but as a redshirt junior he's got a big, muscular body, that's able to control the paint in the NEC. This season he added a three-point shot and shot 42.6% from beyond the arc in 47 attempts. He's an excellent rebounder, in fact, LIU relies on him to do a ton of work on the defensive glass. He'll need more help against Michigan State if the Blackbirds don't want to be completely overwhelmed.
I think the best comparison to Boyd that might be familiar to MSU fans is a slightly shorter version of Kansas' Thomas Robinson. They are both excellent rebounders that can block shots and draw fouls as well.
4) For all their strength on offense, LIU hasn't looked great on defense. Is this more due to size, or is it more the style of play?
LIU's defense is a little odd. The Blackbirds never foul. This is partly because they want all their key players on the floor whenever possible. This has a consequence though in that it leads to forcing very few turnovers because it's hard to get steals without fouling. Olasewere is a gambler on the defensive end. If he gets steals he can be a one-man fast break. In general though LIU will be undersized against MSU, which is bad considering even in NEC play opponents shot 48.6% on two-point shots. You can go inside and get easy baskets on LIU.
The other problem with LIU's defense, like many teams that play at a fast tempo, is that it comes and goes. The Blackbirds want teams to try and run-and-gun with them and take shots early in the shot clock, because those probably aren't the best shots you can get against LIU. Thus patience is important against their defensive sets.
5) Lastly, give us the one aspect of LIU that the Spartans have to be most concerned with, and a prediction.
The Blackbirds are one of the best teams in the nation at drawing fouls. Even playing against MSU I'm sure that they're going to be aggressive offensively and try to force the Spartans to guard forwards that are coming at them off the dribble. If LIU can get some of MSU's key players in foul trouble they might be able to level the playing field a bit. The other thing to watch out for is LIU's three-point shooting. The Blackbirds shot 36.8%, but if they shoot over 40% from three they'll have a shot to at least keep it close for a long time.
I think Michigan State has a lot of talent, including Draymond Green, who seems like a perfect antidote to a number of things LIU wants to do. Jim Ferry's team will keep it close through the first half, but I expect MSU eventually pulls away and ends up winning by about 15 points.