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2019 NCAA tournament preview: Liberty

Liberty Flames : 28-6, 14-2 in the Atlantic Sun

Head coach: Ritchie McKay (4th season)

Players to watch: Scottie James (13.1 PPG, 8.8 RPG), Caleb Homesley (12.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG), Lovell Cabbil Jr. (11.5 PPG, 44.5 3PT%)

Season recap: The Flames have steadily improved in each of head coach Ritchie McKay’s four years since taking over the team. McKay, a former Virginia assistant coach, installed the Cavaliers’ signature pack line defense and models his team after Virginia’s deliberate style of play. This approach paid dividends this season as Liberty notched a solid nonconference win at UCLA and rolled through the Atlantic Sun, losing only to Lipscomb and North Florida. The Flames got their revenge on both of these teams in the conference tournament, beating the North Florida Ospreys in the semifinals before knocking down the top-seeded Bisons in the final to secure their tournament spot.

Liberty controls the pace of the game, ranking 349th in KenPom’s adjusted tempo. They have a patient offense that looks for the best shot and refuses to be rushed. Scottie James is the go-to offensive player, but heads a well-rounded attack. The Flames’ pack line defense works to force tough 3-pointers and cuts off easy drives to the basket. 

How they make a run: Liberty works to make teams play at its pace and then grinds them down methodically, capitalizing on a youthful team that forces bad shots.

How they falter: The Flames—which are vulnerable if they fall into an early deficit since their slow style makes it difficult to quickly rally—get behind early, speed up their offense, and then get picked apart in transition.  

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