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NCAA Tournament Team Profile: Get to know the Lipscomb Bisons

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The Bisons are going to the big dance for the first time in school history.

NCAA Basketball: Lipscomb at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

First and foremost: Lipscomb’s nickname is the Bisons, with an “s” at the end. Try not to get them confused with North Dakota State or Bucknell, who are the Bison, singular.

This team lives and dies based off their performance of their best player, a sharpshooting junior named Garrison Mathews. Mathews averages 22.1 points per game on the season, and had an all-time performance in his team’s biggest game of the season, but we’ll get into that later.

Another player to watch on the Bisons is center Rob Marberry, also a junior. Marberry averages 16 points per game, along with 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists. He is the only other player on Lipscomb’s team to average double figures points per game besides Mathews.

How they got here

Lipscomb has been a competitive team in recent years, but they play in an Atlantic Sun dominated by Florida Gulf Coast for the past couple of seasons. The Bisons started out the year by challenging themselves in non-conference play. Although Lipscomb lost road games against Alabama, Texas, Purdue and Tennessee, they kept these games pretty close until the last couple of minutes. Their best effort came against Tennessee, in which they lost to the then-ranked 24th team in the nation game by merely ten points.

Aside from their close losses against Power-5 teams, the Bisons had a couple of good wins in the non-conference. They beat fellow mid-major power Belmont — likely an NIT team — not once, but twice in the “Battle of the Boulevard” rivalry.

As for Atlantic Sun play, the Bisons started out conference play shakily, going 1-3 in their first four games. They reversed course to win nine of their final ten ASUN games, finishing the regular season with a record of 20-9, and 10-4 in league play.

Lipscomb had a bit of a scare in the quarterfinals of the ASUN tournament against a scrappy Stetson Hatters team, but they ended up making their way to the conference championship against Florida Gulf Coast without too much worry.

If you didn’t watch the ASUN championship, then you missed out on one of the more insane college basketball games of the season. Lipscomb started the game with their entire team absolutely on fire, and boasted a 60-31 halftime lead.

That’s right. They were beating top-seeded — and two-time defending champ — FGCU by 29 at halftime.

The second half was a different story. FGCU stormed back to cut a 32-point lead, all the way down to five. The Bisons were somehow able to hold off the Eagles, and earned a hard-fought 106-94 victory.

Most bracketology experts see the Bisons as either a 15 or 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

How they can win in the big dance

The Bisons will need to outshoot their opponent if they hope to earn an upset in the NCAA Tournament. Garrison Mathews has proven to be a dynamic offensive threat, and an elite shooter. Rob Marberry is a force in the paint and will need to continue to do so — even when he is inevitably outsized in the NCAA Tournament. Lefty sharpshooter Matt Rose is a viable third offensive option.

In order to get an upset in March Madness, the Bisons will probably need some contributions from roleplayers as well. Eli Pepper has provided some high-flying highlights in the past week, especially with his dunks in the ASUN Tournament. Michael Buckland has shown some flashes of potential on offense as well. All five of the aforementioned players will need to play a huge role offensively in the Bisons’ NCAA Tournament game if they hope to pull off a major upset.

How they can lose

A few of the Bisons’ glaring weaknesses were exposed in the ASUN championship game. They struggled mightily to break Florida Gulf Coast’s full-court press. On some possessions, Lipscomb couldn’t even get the ball over half-court. This was not an isolated incident either: In Lipscomb’s previous game against FGCU, they folded against the full-court pressure as well.

In the ASUN Championship, the struggle in responding to pressure came as a result of another issue: foul trouble. Point guard Kenny Cooper picked up an early fourth foul in the championship game, and had to sit on the bench for an extended period of time in the second half. Lipscomb will not be able to upset the No. 1 or 2 seed they face in the NCAA Tournament if Garrison Mathews, Rob Marberry, or Kenny Cooper get into foul trouble. The Bisons rely heavily on Mathews and Marberry for scoring, and have proven that they can’t have anyone besides Cooper effectively bring the ball up the court.