There are plenty of reasons to believe that this could be the year for the Lipscomb men’s basketball team to make its first-ever NCAA tournament. However, a tough schedule, multiple injuries and Florida Gulf Coast stand in the way of the Bisons’ dream of an ASUN title.
Those obstacles aren’t keeping coach Casey Alexander from being excited to start the season this Friday against Emory University. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. at Allen Arena.
“It’s about having the mentality of trying to get better every day, rather than looking at the big picture,” Alexander said. “We’re looking at what’s right in front of us and our guys have had a great mentality this offseason.”
Six storylines to watch this season:
How can Lipscomb navigate its tough schedule?
The Bisons scheduled a challenging non-conference slate that includes the likes of Alabama, Texas, Tennessee, Purdue and Navy. Last December, Lipscomb upset Missouri on the road by beating the Tigers 81-76 and also played a tight game with Tennessee – a 92-77 loss in Knoxville.
“We’ll go into each of those preparing and expecting to win,” Alexander said. “We saw last year at Missouri that we can win those kinds of games. The most important thing is to be who we are, no matter who we are playing.”
When will point guards get healthy?
Senior guard Nathan Moran and sophomore guard Kenny Cooper will both miss Friday’s season opener. Moran is still recovering from offseason surgery, while Cooper suffered a lower-leg injury during preseason practice. It’s unclear when either player will be healthy, but Alexander said Cooper could return to the lineup as soon as this weekend.
“We’re behind the eight ball right now because both of our point guards aren’t practicing,” Alexander said. “That will be short term and it will give someone else an opportunity to step up. You deal with injuries throughout the season, so we’re used to it and are trying to make the best of it.”
Is FGCU the team to beat in the ASUN?
According the ASUN preseason poll, the answer is yes. FGCU returns guards Brandon Goodwin (18.5 PPG), Zach Johnson (11.9 PPG) and Christian Terrell (10.2 PPG) and adds Michigan transfer Ricky Doyle and VCU transfer Michael Gilmore. Lipscomb’s games against FGCU (Jan. 18 in Nashville and Feb. 17 in Ft. Myers) will be a good measuring stick for where the Bisons stand in relation to the high-powered Eagles.
Mathews to lead Bisons on offense again
Lipscomb will lean heavily on junior guard Garrison Mathews for point production. The Franklin native averaged 20.4 points per game last season and was named ASUN First Team All-Conference. With Moran out with an injury, Mathews will represent the team’s biggest threat from beyond the arc – he made 89 three-pointers in 2016-17.
Can the Belmont streak be broken?
Lipscomb has lost its last 11 meetings with archival Belmont. The Bruins graduated their top two scorers from last season – Evans Bradds and Taylor Barnette – while the Bisons only graduated one of their top nine scorers in guard Josh Williams. Alexander said he hopes this is the year Lipscomb can get over the hump, but he isn’t losing sleep over the matchup.
“I know [Belmont] is a good team, and we’ll have to play well to beat them,” Alexander said. “Last year we played well enough to win, but we didn’t get the result. It’s a big game, and I certainly want to win it, but that’s just two of the 29 games that we’re playing.”
Two transfers could have big impact
The best offseason news is that Samford transfer Matt Rose and Chattanooga transfer Andrew Fleming are both eligible. Rose was on Lipscomb’s roster last season but sat out due to NCAA transfer rules. Fleming transferred from UT-Chattanooga in May after previously playing for the Iowa Hawkeyes and Ensworth High School in Nashville.
“It’s nice to have two players come in with some experience at the Division I level,” Alexander said. “They’ll give us quality depth and help our team in a lot of ways.”
Projected starting lineup
C- Eli Pepper (29 GS, 168 PTS, 42 AST, 229 REB)
PF- Rob Marberry (33 GS, 419 PTS, 69 AST, 161 REB)
G- Aaron Korn (4 GS, 112 PTS, 24 A, 72 REB) or Matt Rose (DNP – Redshirt)
G- Garrison Mathews (32 GS, 652 PTS, 73 A, 179 REB)
PG- Michael Buckland (0 GS, 146 PTS, 51 A, 91 REB)
Nov. 14 at Alabama 7 p.m.
Nov. 18 at Texas (Time TBA)
Nov. 27 at Belmont 6:30 p.m.
Dec. 4 vs. Belmont 7:15 p.m.
Dec. 17 vs. Abilene Christian 1 p.m.
Jan. 18 vs. FGCU 6:30 p.m. (ASUN home opener)
Feb. 17 at FGCU 6 p.m.
Feb. 22 vs. Kennesaw St. 6:30 p.m. (Final home game)
Photo courtesy of Lipscomb Athletics