Can LIU shock the world and earn a spot in NCAA Tournament lore on Friday? The Overtime! blog is on the case.

After a whirlwind week following its NEC men’s basketball title game victory, the Long Island men’s basketball program is set to vault into the national conscience.  In just two days, the bright lights of CBS will be shining on the Time Warner Cable Arena floor in Charlotte, NC and the network’s top team of Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Tracy Wolfson will be on hand when the Blackbirds hit the floor to face national power North Carolina in second round NCAA Tournament action.

Can LIU shock the world?

In the long history of the NCAA Tournament, only four #15 seeds have knocked off #2 seeds.  Former Robert Morris coach Mike Rice was unfazed by the long odds when his team rolled into Providence for a matchup with second-seeded Villanova in the 2010 tourney.

“We’ve repeated to our guys the list that (includes) the No. 15 seeds beating No. 2,” Rice said at the time. “There’s four of them. We have the list, and they’d like to join that list. We’ve talked a little bit about that stuff.”

The Colonials stepped on the floor that day believing they could pull off the upset, and came within a whisker of doing just that as Villanova escaped with a 73-70 overtime victory that left Wildcat head coach Jay Wright impressed.

“You deserved to win,” Wright told Rice as they crossed paths after the game. 

“The whole building gave them a standing ovation,” continued Wright.  “I did too.  That’s what you love about the NCAA Tournament.”

The NEC has had other near misses in NCAA games with long odds.  In 1983, Robert Morris dropped a two-point decision to #5 Purdue, and in 1985, Fairleigh Dickinson came up just short in a four-point loss to #1 Michigan, a game that was chronicled years later in the New York Times.

In more recent vintage, Central Connecticut State played #2 seed Iowa State even for nearly 35 minutes before succumbing, 88-78, in the 2000 NCAA Tournament.  In 2006, Monmouth gave top-seeded Villanova all it could handle in Philadelphia before a late run lifted the Wildcats a 58-45 victory.  A year earlier FDU trailed by just one point at the half against Illinois, the overall #1 seed in the tournament, before falling, 67-55.  Some NEC fans might remember this memorable moment from that game, which elicited an iconic “Oh My!” from legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg.

Moments like these – regardless of the game’s outcome – are not fleeting.  They live on for the players, their families and the program’s supporters.

The questions remains, however, can LIU string together enough “moments” to earn a spot in NCAA lore?

The Blackbirds are not your typical #15 seed.  LIU is just the second 27-win team in NCAA Tournament history to be seeded as low as 15th and enters the game with a national-best 13-game win streak.  The Blackbirds put up points in bunches (fourth in the nation in scoring), get to the free throw line better than any other team in the country (over 30 attempts per game) and rebound with the best of them (third in Division I with nearly 42 per game).

They will need to bring their best to beat a North Carolina squad that is peaking at the right time, and features two of the nation’s top freshman in Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall.

The last time we saw the Blackbirds, the celebration was on in Brooklyn.

But after all the press conferences and hype are behind them, it will all come down to 40 minutes on Friday.  LIU has been granted the opportunity to perform on a national stage against the ultimate opponent.

Do you believe?

Well, at least one famous fan – albeit a new one – does.

Go Blackbirds!

(Posted on March 16, 2011).

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