The wait is finally over for college basketball fans.
The Lipscomb men’s basketball team begins its quest for a second consecutive ASUN championship on Tuesday when Sewanee pays a visit to Nashville.
Lipscomb is loaded with experience, but that means expectations are high. The ASUN tabbed the Bisons as the preseason favorite to win the league, and numerous media outlets also have projected Lipscomb to return to the NCAA tournament.
“Regardless of how last season went, which everyone still wants to talk about, we’d still be ready to play and excited about what’s ahead,” Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander said. “It’s a fun group and a group that has a lot of potential.”
Here are five storylines to watch as Lipscomb begins its season:
Can the Bisons recreate last season’s magic?
Championship seasons usually require the stars to align, and that’s exactly what happened for Lipscomb last year. The Bisons swept Belmont for the first time since the 2009-10 season, finished atop the ASUN with a 10-4 conference record and knocked off Florida Gulf Coast on the road to take the league title in front of a national TV audience.
With each of its top six scorers returning, it’s reasonable to assume that Lipscomb’s offense could be improved in 2018-19. Couple that with the attrition that other ASUN teams have experienced during the offseason and it’s easy to see why the Bisons have been tabbed as the favorite.
“We’ve got a new team with a new schedule and a new season,” Alexander said. “Our only goal is for this year’s team to be as good as this year’s team can be.”
Will Lipscomb’s senior class give them the edge in tight games?
In games that come down to the wire, Lipscomb will have experience on its side. The team boasts five seniors in Garrison Mathews, Rob Marberry, Nathan Moran, Eli Pepper and Matt Rose.
Three juniors – Kenny Cooper, Michael Buckland and Andrew Fleming – also bring significant minutes played to the lineup.
That experience will be critical when facing teams of equal stature, including Belmont, FGCU and North Florida. And fortunately for journalists covering the team, there will be no coaching clichés and excuses related to having a “young” team.
Has Garrison Mathews taken the next step in his development?
Mathews enters as the ASUN Preseason Player of the Year after averaging 21.7 points per game last year.
The 6-foot-5 guard has increased his offensive production each season, and Alexander said he believes that Mathews has elevated his game to an even higher level this offseason.
“He has taken the next step,” Alexander said. “More than that, I’ve been really pleased with his effort and consistency. Those are things that our team needs from him.”
While Marberry (15.9 PPG) and Cooper (10.1 PPG) are solid offensive players, Mathews is the team’s go-to scorer, and his improvement could lead to even more victories for Lipscomb this season.
How much will Nathan Moran contribute after returning from injury?
Fifth-year senior guard Nathan Moran sat out the entire 2017-18 season while rehabbing from multiple hip surgeries. He took a redshirt last year and is now healthy and set to return to the Lipscomb lineup.
“I’m really excited,” Moran said. “I’ve practiced a lot, so getting to play [in games] will be a lot more rewarding.”
It remains to be seen just how quickly Moran can return to his form from the 2016-17 season, when he averaged 11.1 points per game and shot nearly 42 percent from beyond the arc.
“I’ll never have a problem with him being out on the floor, I know that,” Alexander said. “He’ll be an important player for us whether he’s starting or coming off the bench.”
Will the freshmen see any playing time?
Newcomers Jake Wolfe, Alex Jones and Jackson Strates join an experience-heavy Lipscomb roster, meaning the trio of freshman likely won’t play major minutes right away.
Strates tore his ACL in preseason practice and is out for the season, but Alexander said he trusts that each of the freshmen could deliver if called upon.
“We think it’s the best class that we’ve had,” Alexander said. “It’ll be tougher for them to play because of the experience we have returning. But they’ll be a great asset for this year and especially beyond.”
Redshirt freshman center Ahsan Asadullah is also set to make his collegiate debut after missing last season with an injury.
Projected starting lineup
C – Eli Pepper (33 GS, 229 PTS, 64 AST, 261 REB)
PF – Rob Marberry (33 GS, 526 PTS, 62 AST, 192 REB)
G – Garrison Mathews (33 GS, 715 PTS, 58 AST, 180 REB)
G – Michael Buckland (28 GS, 231 PTS, 98 AST, 130 REB)
PG – Kenny Cooper (31 GS, 312 PTS, 121 AST, 78 REB)
First men off the bench:
G – Nathan Moran (DNP – Redshirt)
F – Matt Rose (7 GS, 272 PTS, 31 AST, 95 REB)
Nov. 15 vs. Belmont 6:30 p.m.
Nov. 20 at TCU 7 p.m.
Dec. 4 at Belmont 7 p.m.
Dec. 12 at Louisville 6 p.m.
Dec. 21 vs. Vermont 7:15 p.m.
Dec. 30 at Clemson 2 p.m.
Jan. 9 vs. North Florida 6:30 p.m.
Jan. 24 vs. FGCU 6:30 p.m.
Jan. 29 at Liberty 6 p.m.
Feb. 13 vs. Liberty 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 20 at FGCU 6 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Lipscomb Athletics