Liberty Flames make NCAA men's basketball tournament even before playing in Atlantic Sun finale

Liberty clinches first NCAA tournament spot before even playing conference final (2:51)

Liberty clinches the Atlantic Sun's automatic berth to the NCAA tournament because its opponent in the final, North Alabama, is ineligible to participate. (2:51)

Liberty will face North Alabama in the Atlantic Sun tournament championship game Sunday, but it already has clinched a spot in the NCAA men's basketball tournament even before stepping on the court.

The Flames beat Stetson 77-64 in the semifinals Friday in Jacksonville, Florida, and since North Alabama -- a school transitioning to Division I athletics -- is ineligible for the NCAA tournament, Liberty was granted the league's automatic berth.

North Alabama joined the Atlantic Sun and commenced its move from Division II to Division I in the 2018-19 season. Per NCAA rules, a Division II program making the jump to Division I cannot compete in the NCAA tournament until it has completed the four-year transition requirement.

The potential scenario that unfolded for Liberty was anticipated entering the tournament, but most assumed the conference's regular-season champion ultimately would have to go through a different ineligible team -- Bellarmine, not North Alabama, which went 1-7 in its final eight games of the regular season before making a run to the conference tournament title game, including a win against Florida Gulf Coast in the semifinals.

Bellarmine, which began its transition from Division II to Division I this season, finished second to Liberty in the conference's regular-season title race before losing to Stetson in the first round.

In back-to-back games against North Alabama last month, Liberty won 74-54 in both matchups.