2018 March Madness: UNC Tar Heels begin quest for repeat vs. Lipscomb

By The Sports Xchange  |  March 14, 2018 at 10:18 AM
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The backgrounds for North Carolina and Lipscomb couldn't be much different.

North Carolina is a staple in the NCAA Tournament, not to mention the reigning national champion.

Lipscomb showed up on the bracket for the first time.

The teams meet Friday afternoon at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C.

North Carolina (25-10), which holds the No. 2 seed in the West Region, is appearing in the tournament for the 49th time, a number exceeded only by Kentucky's 57.

North Carolina senior guard Joel Berry II was last year's Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four.

"I think about it, but I'm just trying to enjoy it," Berry said of his career winding down. "I don't have that many more times to come into the gym with this [practice] jersey on."

The Tar Heels are seeded No. 2 for the ninth time, reaching the final four out of that spot in 1981 and 1995. Since 1985, North Carolina is 29-1 in first-round games, falling only to Weber State in 1999.

Lipscomb (23-9) is on an eight-game winning streak.

"We are living history," Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander said, referring to the NCAA Tournament bid achieved by winning the Atlantic Sun Tournament.

North Carolina is 3-3 in its last six games, though the Tar Heels won three in a row last week in the ACC Tournament before falling to Virginia, the NCAA Tournament's overall No. 1 seed, in the title game.

The Tar Heels have some concerns entering the tournament from a health perspective, with perhaps the grueling ACC Tournament taking a toll.

Junior swingman Cameron Johnson has a back ailment. By Tuesday, Johnson wasn't taking part in North Carolina's practices but was expecting to be available for the NCAA opener.

"I think I'm going in the right direction," Johnson said. "I'm pretty happy we play on Friday. It gives me a little bit more time, and then a little bit more time to get back onto the court to get back doing things with the team."

North Carolina coach Roy Williams said: "I think he would be able to play. There's enough [time for healing]."

North Carolina's Luke Maye averages 17.2 points per game and Berry checks in with 17.1.

North Carolina went 13-9 against teams in this year's NCAA Tournament.

The Tar Heels are familiar with the NCAA scene in Charlotte, holding a 33-1 record in NCAA games in their home state. That includes an 11-0 mark in the Queen City.

This tournament could catapult the Tar Heels into the all-time lead in NCAA Tournament victories. They have 123, one shy of Kentucky.

Lipscomb might be prone to want to adopt a high-scoring fast pace that North Carolina prefers. The Bison used that in a 108-96 victory at Florida Gulf Coast to win the Atlantic Sun Tournament championship game.

Now, it's on to face a brand name in college basketball.

"I want us to enjoy the moment while also keeping focused," Alexander said.

In the only previous meeting, North Carolina defeated Lipscomb 80-66 in November 2010 in the Smith Center.

Lipscomb sophomore guard Michael Buckland will be returning to his home state for the game. He's from High Point, N.C., and grew out attending Tar Heels games and pulling for the team he'll face this week. Plus, Buckland's sister, Megan Buckland, played for the North Carolina women's basketball team.

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