Long Island's Jack Perri has little head coaching experience -- this is his first year as the head coach of a team at the Division I level -- but he has a chance to catch the attention of national audiences when he takes his Blackbirds team to the NCAA tournament next week.
Perri took over for longtime LIU coach Jim Ferry, who accepted the head coaching position at Duquesne last offseason. Perri has great familiarity with the LIU program, having spent seven seasons there as an assistant for Ferry, and he did not inherit a bad situation. The Blackbirds earned trips to the NCAAs in each of the last two seasons, winning a total of 38 Northeastern Conference games (including conference tournament play) in the process.
Perri inherited a lot of experience from those NEC title teams, including the top three scorers on last year's squad. But the Blackbirds lost their leading returning scorer, Julian Boyd, to an ACL tear in December. Despite the significant loss, LIU nonetheless put together a strong season and won the NEC tournament title for the third year in a row, becoming the first school in league history to accomplish that feat.
The absence of Boyd will surely be felt in the NCAA tournament, because some of his strengths helped to cover up the team's weaknesses. He is an outstanding defensive rebounder, which LIU desperately needs, and his size, not to mention his ability to score efficiently and disrupt opponents' shots, is tough to replace for a team lacking effective big bodies.
But Perri's team is still a dangerous one. The Blackbirds rank among the nation's top 20 in both three-point field goal percentage and two-point field goal percentage, so they have the capability to shoot well and put a scare into a higher-seeded team. Jamal Olasewere and C.J. Garner present challenges to opponents because they score efficiently in a variety of ways, and if LIU is to make a run this postseason, they figure to be the biggest reasons why.
The road won't be easy for Perri and company, though. SB Nation bracketologist Chris Dobbertean currently projects the Blackbirds as a No. 16 seed and has them playing in one of the First Four games. LIU hasn't had any luck in the NCAA tournament over the last couple of years, losing its opening-round games by double-digit margins. This veteran-led group has one more chance to change that.