Tuesday, November 18, 2014

St. John's/LIU Brooklyn Preview

As they open their season tomorrow at St. John's, LIU Brooklyn must prepare for life without Jason Brickman, (Photo courtesy of Bob Dea via Blackbirds Hoops Journal) while Red Storm will hope for another double-double from D'Angelo Harrison. (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)

Following yet another sluggish start that led to a more assertive second half against Division II foe Franklin Pierce University, St. John's is facing its fair share of critics again, and rightfully so, for questioning why it is that the Red Storm cannot dominate a game from start to finish considering the mounds of talent on Steve Lavin's roster.

Yet for the inability to come out like a house on fire, Lavin's players have still managed to silence their doubters in other areas, namely senior guard D'Angelo Harrison. Slighted in Big East preseason Player of the Year voting, the reigning Haggerty Award recipient had perhaps the game of his life Monday night in the Red Storm's 94-81 win, erupting for 31 points and a career-high 17 rebounds in a performance that Georgetown's D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, the choice for the aforementioned Big East honor, would be hard pressed to replicate over a two-game span.

Less than 12 hours removed from a resilient victory, St. John's seeks a 3-0 start against LIU Brooklyn, a one-time mainstay on the November ledger. However, the Blackbirds have not come to Carnesecca Arena since 2009, when Norm Roberts still patrolled the sidelines in Queens, and before three of the four faces of LIU's "Mount Rushmore" in Julian Boyd, Jason Brickman and C.J. Garner arrived, while the fourth; Jamal Olasewere, was merely a freshman.

In that hiatus, the Blackbirds won an unprecedented three Northeast Conference titles before starting a rebuilding process that now enters its second year for a program that will be one of the last teams to contest its season opener. Landon Atterberry, last season's leading scorer, returns for his senior season up front alongside Glenn Feidanga and Nura Zanna; whose older brother Talib may be known to Red Storm fans from his time at Pittsburgh, while Gerrell Martin and Iverson Fleming will guide a backcourt through the difficult transition of replacing Brickman, one of only four players with 1,000 career assists.

Our pregame question and answer session will help the St. John's community get to know LIU Brooklyn a little better, and on this Tuesday morning, there is no better option to turn to in our preview than to the man who covers the Blackbirds unlike any other for Blackbirds Hoops Journal, the one and only Nelson Castillo, who gives us a primer of what to expect from the pride of Downtown Brooklyn:

Jaden Daly: There really isn't a concrete answer for this one, but we have to ask: How do the Blackbirds go about replacing Jason Brickman?

Nelson Castillo: Obviously, you can't just replace a point guard like Jason Brickman and what he did and meant to the LIU program. 1,000-assist point guards just don't come around very often. That said, LIU brought in a couple of freshman point guards who play a different style than Brickman did in Elvar Fridriksson and Jamil Hood. Fridriksson will likely get the starting nod. He is from Iceland and played the prior three seasons in their top-tier pro league. Hood was an MVP as a high school senior last season so both have talent. Both will see playing time. Both like to shoot the ball more than Brickman did, so look for more scoring than assists from these guys. Also, sophomore Iverson Fleming will see time at the point and you may also see the ball at times in the hands of another Iceland freshman in Martin Hermannsson, who can do a little bit of everything. 

JD: LIU Brooklyn is one of the last teams to open the season. Is the later start compared to almost everyone else a blessing in disguise for Jack Perri, or would this team have been better served having competed over the weekend?

NC: I asked Perri that question during the preseason and he definitely feels the late start is a blessing because of how young and mostly inexperienced his team (nine freshmen and sophomores are on the LIU roster) is this season. He is happy to have the extra few days of preparation and practice time before tipping off what will be a tough start to their season. After St. John's, they face Saint Joseph's, Stony Brook and Temple away from home. 

JD: St. John's fans will remember his brother from having seen him at Pittsburgh, but what makes Nura Zanna a unique talent, and how will he adjust in his first season after missing all of last year?

NC: Nura Zanna is very much heralded, and is a popular pick of many (including yours truly) to be this season's NEC Rookie of the Year as a redshirt freshman. Nura is not as big as his brother is, (Nura is 6'7" and 215 lbs.) but in the NEC, he should be a major post presence. It might take him some time to knock the rust off after missing all of last season with a wrist injury, and he missed some time this preseason with a couple of minor injuries. Zanna should help out on the boards and give LIU an inside presence once again, which they sorely lacked last season without recent LIU greats like Jamal Olasewere and Julian Boyd to dump the ball down to. I think he is going to have a very good freshman season if he can stay healthy all year. 

JD: Besides Zanna, what other new faces should we expect to make an impact for the Blackbirds?

NC: I briefly mentioned him earlier, but look for freshman Martin Hermannsson to have a big impact for LIU this season. Just like his fellow countryman and teammate Elvar Fridriksson, Hermannsson played the last few seasons in Iceland's top-tier pro league and was the league's MVP last season, helping his team win a championship. I watched him practice a couple of weeks ago and the kid can do it all. He can shoot the long ball, he can handle the ball, he can penetrate to the hoop, he can dish. He is really impressive, and will be a player Jack Perri will heavily lean on this season. Also, look for sophomores Iverson Fleming and Joel Hernandez to get a lot more playing time and have bigger roles off the bench this season. 

JD: Against a smaller Red Storm lineup, Zanna, Landon Atterberry and Glenn Feidanga may have a size advantage, but against the quickness of St. John's backcourt, does this make them more susceptible to foul trouble?

NC: The tallest player on LIU this season is 6'8", so their frontcourt will have to play smart against a team like St. John's. Last season, LIU was quite frankly terrible defensively. They had one of the worst defenses in the nation due to them having to play mostly zone defense from a multitude of frontcourt injuries that plagued them a year ago. They hope to be better defensively this season with more depth this year, but their relative inexperience will likely make them susceptible to foul trouble, which will hurt LIU if they can play their main frontcourt guys major minutes. Also, Glenn Feidanga has been dealing with an ankle injury all preseason and could be a game time decision whether he plays or not versus St. John's. LIU will need all the front court body they can have against an athletic team like St. John's.

JD: Finally, as the rebuild continues in Brooklyn, how strong are the Blackbirds' chances of returning to the Northeast Conference tournament?

NC: As we start the season, I give them a 50/50 chance at getting back to the NEC tournament this season. I picked them to finish seventh, but many people have them finishing either eighth, which is the last NEC tournament spot, or ninth. If they can stay healthy, which is a big key, and can rebound and defend a whole lot better than last year's team did, this team has enough good young talent to at least get themselves into the NEC tournament. This is a season where this young group will need to learn how to win and how Jack Perri wants them to play. I think a successful season for them would be if they can finish as close to .500 as they can.

No comments:

Post a Comment