|LIU Brooklyn-Radford Preview|
Fans and players have been celebrating since Tuesday when LIU Brooklyn upset top-seeded Wagner to win the Northeast Conference title and an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Since then, the Blackbirds have been waiting around for Selection Sunday to see which team they would play.
Radford had to wait around a little longer to find out their opponent.
The Highlanders won the Big South Conference title on March 4 in dramatic fashion when Carlik Jones swished a 3-pointer as time expired to beat Liberty.
After a long respite, the two can now concentrate on each other as both the Highlanders and the Blackbirds will be looking for their first NCAA Tournament win when they meet Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
The winner of the First Four game will be rewarded with a matchup against East Region No. 1 seed Villanova on Thursday.
"I want to pretty much put us on the map," guard Joel Hernandez told the New York Post late Sunday night. "I feel like not a lot of people in America know about us. I pretty much want to shock everyone and show them that we're a good team, we can compete with any of the best teams out there."
Radford, which has won seven straight, will be making just its third appearance and first since 2009. Neither team was bothered by the long layoff or the short amount of time they have to prepare.
"We're playing in an NCAA Tournament. What is there to mind?" Radford coach Mike Jones said Sunday after he learned of his team's fate. "We're champions of the Big South. Just a blessing that we wanted, but we didn't know we were going to get.
"So at the end of that, you get a special treat, and that's that you get to play in the NCAA Tournament after you win a conference championship. We're excited."
Jones is in his seventh season with the Highlanders (22-12) after spending time as an assistant under Shaka Smart at VCU. He was the architect of the vaunted VCU "Havoc defense" and was on the bench when VCU made its Final Four run in 2011.
Radford's defense is one of the nation's best, allowing just 64.4 points per game -- 15th best in the country.
Ed Polite Jr. leads the Highlanders with 13.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Carlik Jones, conference freshman of the year and hero of the title game, contributes just under 12 points and 3.0 assists per game.
"We're happy to play any extra game we can," Polite told the Roanoke Times. "We love the game. So for us to come together another day to play another basketball game, we're excited for it."
LIU Brooklyn is embracing its long-shot Cinderella story. The Blackbirds (18-16, 10-8 NEC) enter the tournament with the second-most losses of any team -- Texas Southern is 15-19. Nevertheless, their enthusiasm is no less than any other team in the tournament. They got hot when it counted, having won a season-high five straight.
"We're just excited to have a chance to represent the conference and LIU Brooklyn in the NCAA Tournament," Kellogg said.
The Blackbirds are led by Hernandez, who averages 20.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. Running mate Raiquan Clark has solid size at 6-6, scores at a 17.4 per game clip and leads the team with 7.1 rebounds per game.
Hernandez scored 32 points in the Blackbirds' title-clinching game over Wagner.
"On the court I'm hungry," he said. "I feel like I have stuff to prove so when I get on the court I like to show people what I'm capable of doing. Just in case I had any doubters out there, I just want to prove them wrong and stuff like that."
The Highlanders were planning to bus to Dayton late Sunday, trying to beat the onset of another snowstorm.
Jones said the Highlanders and Blackbirds are similar.
"They're like us," Jones said. "They weren't picked to win, so they're going to be hungry."