Give me Liberty or give me… an appearance in the NCAA tournament?
Teams with 20 victories are usually guaranteed an appearance in March Madness, but the Liberty University men’s basketball team broke the mold. Liberty, a team with 20 losses, is headed to the NCAA tournament for only the third time in the school’s history.
You might ask how a team like the Flames found its way to the Big Dance while other teams with more wins sit on the sidelines. The answer to that question has to do with the tournament’s format.
Of the 68 teams that make the NCAA tournament every year, automatic bids are given out to most of the Division I conferences, including the Big South, the home of the Flames. Liberty won the Big South postseason tournament, guaranteeing the school an invitation to the NCAA.
Okay, so you might wonder how a private school from Lynchburg, Va., founded by the Reverend Jerry Falwell in 1971 and with close to 6,000 students today, rose through the ranks to pull off something that had not been done since Coppin State in 2008. That is the only other school to make an NCAA tournament appearance after losing 20 games in a season.
Liberty might wonder that itself. The Flames dropped their first eight games and got off to a 4-10 start before Big South play even began. Big South play wasn’t much better, as the school went 6-10 in league play and finished the regular season with an 11-20 overall record.
Then came the Big South tournament and with it the true definition of March Madness.
Liberty rattled off four victories in a row with wins over Coastal Carolina, High Point, Gardner-Webb and Charleston Southern. How impressive was this? Consider that Coastal Carolina finished fourth in the Big South Conference’s South Division but High Point won the North Division and Charleston Southern and Gardner-Webb went 1-2 in the South.
Knocking off two division champions is the stuff March Madness is made of every year.
Liberty does have three double-figure scorers in John Caleb Sanders (14.2 points per game), Davon Marshall (13.4) and Tavares Speaks (13.1). It was Sanders that lit up the scoreboard for 19 points against Gardner-Webb and 27 points against Charleston Southern.
Liberty made tournament appearances in 1994 and 2004, losing in the first round both times.
It is likely, because of Liberty’s record and the relative weakness of the Big South, that the Flames will end up in Dayton, Ohio, for one of the “First Four” games on Tuesday, March 19. If you are a fan of Liberty basketball, wouldn’t it be a thrill, win or lose, to say that you got to see the Flames play in a basketball game?
March Madness is an opportunity to see teams like Liberty and other Cinderella programs in action, and more and more people are headed to venues every year to see the NCAA tournament play out. Imagine what it would be like if you were seated in an arena watching teams like Liberty live out their dream.
You can learn more about how to do this by taking part in the 21st Century Car Insurance Sweepstakes. Have some fun with alternative bracket ideas and download your bracket here and find out how to live out the dream along with the teams taking part in the NCAA tournament.
March Madness is a fun time of year. You never know what will happen before the tournament starts and during the event itself.
Sit back and watch the magic, and while you are at it root on Liberty as it lives the dream.