After playing and losing to Virginia in the ACC tournament final Saturday night, North Carolina’s next game will be played against the anti-Virginia.
Lipscomb, the Tar Heels’ first opponent in the NCAA tournament, actually averages more points per game than North Carolina (82.6 to 82.0).
The Bisons – and yes, it’s plural, and they don’t want to hear from any grammarians about it – also don’t have nearly the talent of No. 1 overall seed Virginia. The Bisons are a No. 15 seed, and the No. 2 Tar Heels are supposed to dispatch them with relative ease in Friday’s 2:45 p.m. first-round game at Spectrum Center.
But I’ll give the Bisons this: They sure have some moxie. Listen to these quotes from Thursday’s Lipscomb’s pre-tournament news conference.
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From forward Rob Marberry: “We’re not here just to have fun and shoot around with the UNC team. We always have it in the back of our head and always are going to practice like we’re going to win. That’s what we’re going to come out and do.”
From guard Kenny Cooper, talking about the possibility of an upset: “It’s very doable.”
From Garrison Mathews, the guard who leads Lipscomb in scoring at 22.1 per game and had 43 in one game this season, on his team’s greatest strength: “I would say our 3-point shot. I don’t think they (the Tar Heels) defend very well on the perimeter.”
Hey, if you’re Lipscomb, you have to believe, right? And we all know a “15 vs. 2” upset is possible.
If it happens Friday in Charlotte, it would certainly be an upset of mammoth proportion. Lipscomb is a private liberal arts college in Nashville, Tenn., with an enrollment of 4,585. The Bisons were once an NAIA power, but made the conversion to NCAA nearly two decades ago and are making their first March Madness appearance.
Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander has given his team a crash course in “15 vs. 2” NCAA tournament history – Lehigh over Duke, Florida Gulf Coast over Georgetown and so on. He is also realistic about the talent disparity between the two programs.
“We don’t have a single player on our team that was even considered to be a player for North Carolina,” Alexander said. “And we didn’t recruit a single player on their team because we didn’t think we could go very far.”
In a 10-game series between the teams, the Tar Heels would probably win nine. But what Lipscomb hopes Friday is that this is the 10th game. And mid-major Wofford did beat North Carolina this season, remember. It can be done.
“We’re not here for Lipscomb to be better than North Carolina,” Alexander said. “We’re not going to walk out of here with people putting our programs in the same breath. ...The key is we have to be better than them for 40 minutes one time, that’s it. One time for 40 minutes.”
As for how Lipscomb hopes to do it, the Bisons don’t plan to slow down. They scored 108 points in their conference tournament final win over Florida Gulf Coast to punch their ticket to Charlotte – building a 32-point lead before seeing it cut to five - and they are used to playing fast.
“We always go up and down every practice, so we’re used to running,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “But this is a team that’s going to run back at us.”
“It’s going to be a ‘guns-a-blazing’ game,” Cooper said. “And a whole bunch of fun.”