Day one is in the books. You may be thinking that you already watched North Carolina play yesterday, but that was just the Rhode Island Rams knocking out the Oklahoma Sooners. The Tar Heels will open up their 2018 NCAA Tournament appearance this afternoon against the Lipscomb Bisons. Yes, that’s Bisons, with an “s”.
This will be the second ever meeting for these teams, with the first game happening in 2010. That game was Harrison Barnes’ first time suiting up for the Tar Heels. North Carolina won that meeting 80-66. This will be the first time these two teams have met in the tournament.
Let’s dive into both the Bisons and the Tar Heels.
Finishing the regular season at 20-9 (10-4 A-Sun) and second in the conference, the Bisons needed a strong conference tournament for a chance to play in the Big Dance. Lipscomb accomplished just that by carving up the A-Sun Conference Tournament. They defeated each of their three opponents by double digits giving them a 23-9 finish and thanks to a 108-96 upset victory over Florida Gulf Coast in the championship game, Lipscomb is set to play in the school’s first ever NCAA Tournament.
As a team, they are shooting 45% from the field and 33% behind the three-point line, but keep your eyes on Garrison Mathews. He is the Bisons’ leading scorer at 22 ppg while shooting 47% from the field and hitting nearly 40% of his three point attempts. If there’s normally one to light it up against the Tar Heels, it will be Mathews. Down low, Rob Marberry will present a challenge for North Carolina’s bigs. The 6-8 forward is an efficient shooter scoring 16 ppg and bringing in close to six rebounds. Michael Buckland shares a two-sided bond with the Tar Heels. He played high school basketball with North Carolina’s Theo Pinson at Wesleyan Christian Academy. His older sister, Megan Buckland, played for Sylvia Hatchell and Lady Tar Heels from 2011-2015. She is currently an Assistant Coach for the Presbyterian College women’s basketball team. Overall, the Bisons are a deep team having played 10 players in 30 of their 32 games this season.
Thanks to a strong ACC Tournament with wins over Syracuse, Miami, Duke, and a strong showing against Virginia in the championship game, the Tar Heels find themselves as a two-seed, playing in Charlotte (where the Tar Heels are 11-0 in the NCAA tournament). North Carolina got some seriously good play from senior Theo Pinson during the ACC Tournament, averaging 13 points on 44% (17-39) shooting, 8.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists.
Joel Berry II had a rough showing against Syracuse, but returned to his normal form over the course of the ACC tournament. Luke Maye had a solid tournament, though he all but disappeared against Miami in the ACC Tournament Quarterfinals. Kenny Williams and Cameron Johnson both had good tournaments. Johnson missed most of the Championship game against Virginia when he re-aggravated a hip injury that suffered during the semifinal game against Duke. When Coach Williams was asked about Johnson’s ability to play against Lipscomb, the answer was “full-go.” This is great news because the Tar Heels will need Johnson’s three point shooting if they expect to make a deep run in this tournament. Both Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks had brights spots during the tournament and will need to play an even bigger role for the Tar Heels to be successful.
Lipscomb likes to play a fast-paced game, much like North Carolina. Both teams are averaging over 82 ppg. The Tar Heels will need to make sure that they are not out-paced. Lipscomb will keep this game close in the early goings, but North Carolina’s talent and athleticism will take over and the Tar Heels will pull away late.
UNC - 90; Lipscomb - 78