Oct. 27, 2006
The only problem with winning a conference championship is the pressure to repeat the next season.
Such is the case for the Lipscomb Bisons and head coach Scott Sanderson. Last season the Bisons were 15-5 in the conference, tying to the Atlantic Sun regular season championship. They finished second to Belmont in the conference tournament, earning a berth in the National Invitation Tournament, the first postseason play for the Bisons.
Preseason polls have pegged the Bisons as a close second to Belmont for the conference title.
"In our three years in the league we have always finished higher than where we were picked," said Sanderson. "We have been picked second this year. All that is is just opinion. We are going to do everything in our power to try to win the league again."
The Bisons were the top defensive team in the conference last season. Sanderson thinks the team will be even better defensively, but he also wants to see a slight boost in scoring.
"We are going to be a good shooting team," said Sanderson. "We are going to be a better passing team. Last year we scored 72-to-73 points a game. I feel like we need to score six-to-10 more points a game, combined with our defense, teams will have trouble catching us.
"We should be much better defensively. And the last two years we have been the best defensive team in the league."
The Bisons were approximately 29 seconds away from the tournament title and their first NCAA berth. They lost 85-66 at the University of Texas-El Paso in the first round, but gained a great deal of confidence in the process.
"We have confidence," said Sanderson. "That is so important for players to go out and expect to win. They have to play with confidence and passion. At the same time we are not going to allow them to get too confident."
GUARDS WILL SET THE TONE
Sanderson expects his team to once again be strong at the guard positions, but is worried about the inside game.
"The majority of teams at this level have their strength at the guard positions," said Sanderson. "We also have great depth at the guard spots. "
Returning at point guard is senior Trey Williams, who led the team with 3.9 assists per game last season. Williams made an impact on the Bisons last season, but Sanderson is expecting even more this time around, including a more consistent shooting performance.
"Trey worked like crazy on his shooting during the off-season," said Sanderson. "He is shooting the ball much better. He is a very good decision-maker. He is a very tough on-the-ball defender. As good as he was last year, I think he will be even better this season."
Senior Brian Fisk, a preseason selection to repeat as a member of the All A-Sun Team, is back at the No. 2 guard along with his 16 points per game average, second on the team.
"Brian is one of our toughest competitors on both ends of the floor," said Sanderson. "He is our lock-down defender. He is going to guard the best player on the other team. He expends a lot of energy defensively, but offensively he has done a very good job for us as well."
Also in the backcourt will be junior LaKory Daniels, who came on strong in the A-Sun Tournament and earned a spot on the A-Sun All-Tournament Team.
"LaKory was another guy who burst onto the scene late in season," said Sanderson. "We hope he can pick up where he left off. He can really shoot the ball. We expect him to be a much better defender. He is very athletic. He understands what we are trying to do now. We expect him to have a solid year."
Newcomer Devon Seaford will also see time at the point guard spot. Seaford has demonstrated solid knowledge of the game and is also a threat to score from the perimeter.
"Devon is a point guard who can really shoot the basketball," said Sanderson. "This will be a good year for him to play behind Trey Williams and learn what a point guard does at the Division I level. He has played against top competition his entire life. We expect him to make a major contribution as a freshman."
Sophomore Michael Lusk performed well as a freshman last season. He averaged 4.6 points a game and 2.5 rebounds per game. He will be expected to show improvement in both areas, especially as a rebounder.
""Michael is a very good defender," said Sanderson. "He was our best player on the Canada trip. He is guy who had to get five or six rebounds a game for us. We look for him to be a more consistent and complete player."
A trio of walk-ons will provide depth at the guard spots with returning junior Will Mantlo welcoming senior JanAndre Williams, brother of Trey and a former manager for the team; and freshman Blake Giles.
""Blake is a tough-hard nosed kid," said Sanderson. "He is a very good defender. He competes at a high level.
"Will is a pretty good shooter. He understands what we are doing and why we do it. He is a smart player. He is a very vital part of our team.
"JanAndre is a very good shooter. He knows how to play. He is a great person to have on our team."
The Bisons will use a four-guard line-up this season, much like they did last year.
"We have size," said Sanderson. "We have strength. We have quickness. We have guys who can shoot the basketball. We have very good drivers. We have five or six guys who can play on a high level.
"Practices are competitive because they are fighting for playing time. That is going to bode well for us throughout the season."
THE ARD FACTOR
The better junior forward Eddie Ard gets, the more he works to improve his game. He has been selected to repeat as a member of the All A-Sun Team this season and also is the preseason prediction by the league's coaches and media to be the A-Sun Player of the Year. Several other preseason magazines have also given him that honor. "He continues to improve because he knows he has areas where he needs to improve," said Sanderson. "He is hungry to be the best player he can be. I don't know if he is the best player in the league, but he is one of the best players in the league for sure. For the most part he has been pretty consistent."
Ard returns as the leading scorer for the Bisons, edging out Fisk with 16.2 points per game. He is the top returning rebounder with 5.4 per game, a number that will also have to increase this season if the Bisons are to accomplish their goals.
"As good as Eddie has been he has gone to another level," said Sanderson. "He has always been a talent with the ball. But he has learned to play without the ball. We have to make sure he maximizes his potential. He is always in here working on his game.
"Eddie has added a different element to his game each season. He has so much versatility. He is able to shoot the three-pointer consistently. He has always been a very good driver. He is becoming a very good free shooter."
Freshman Michael Teller will also get some time on the perimeter. He has no feat in throwing up a 3-pointer and his techniques solid, something expected from a player with an Indiana high school pedigree.
"Michael is an excellent shooter," said Sanderson. "His first game in Canada he knocked down five 3-pointers. He has a knack for getting open. He understands positioning. He can rebound the basketball. He also has to be a very good position defender."
Freshman Brandon Moore is also expected to get some playing time at the No. 3 or No. 4 spot.
"Brandon is a very athletic wing player," said Sanderson. "He can shoot the mid-range jump shot. The quicker he learns what we are doing and why we are doing it, the quicker he will be a help to us. Like Eddie Ard when he first game to us, Brandon has a huge upside."
Red-shirt freshman Israel Kirk has proven to be a strong defender, but is working to become more of an offensive threat.
"Israel is a very good rebounder. He can defend. His learning curve is also going to be important to him."
ON THE REBOUND
Center Shaun Durant averaged a team-leafing 7.2 rebounds a game last season and forward Cameron Robinson chipped in with 5.3 per game. They have both completed their eligibility leaving a huge gap on the boards.
"Most teams in this league don't have a proven post player on both ends of the floor," said Sanderson. "Losing both of those guys inside is kind of scary. We are not going to have a post player who is going to get 10 rebounds every game.
"We have to have somebody step up in the low post to reach the goals we have set for out team which are to win our league again and have a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament."
"Jason does some things offensively that we have not had in the past," said Sanderson. "He is a very, very good passer. He has nice moves in the low post. He can face you up and go by you. He can make the 10-to-12-foot jump shot. He has to be a good rebounder for us this year."
Pfaff also improved as the season progressed. He put in his best performance in the NIT game with UTEP with six points.
"Thomas is going to be one of our most improved players," said Sanderson. "He had a great summer. He got a lot stronger. The biggest thing is he got a lot more confidence. He played a lot in the UTEP game in the NIT and he played well. It was a tough, physical game which is what he likes.
"I think he is going to have a breakout year for us. He has a little bit better feel for what we are trying to do. We are excited about what we expect his contributions to be this year."
Daniel has to shake off two seasons of inactivity. He sat out his freshman season at Auburn and then had to sit out last season at Lipscomb after making the transfer.
"Ryan has a very good feel for the game, but he has to work on his conditioning," said Sanderson. "He understands how to play."
Rebounding becomes even more important to the Bisons as they make plans to play a more up-tempo style.
"We will play quicker in transition," said Sanderson. "The only problem playing faster is can we rebound. For the most part this year we are going to play four guards again. They are our veteran players and the strength of our team.
"Our point guards should get one rebound every eight minutes they are on the court. Our swing players should get one rebound every six minutes. Our big kids inside have to get one rebound every four minutes. If we play faster they should be able to reach those rebound quotas."
Sanderson is never shy about loading up the schedule and this year is no exception with visits to three Southeastern Conference teams _ South Carolina, Alabama and Vanderbilt on the schedule.
Adding to the challenge is trip to the University of Missouri and home-and-home contests with the University of Evansville.
"I try my best to schedule according to our team," said Sanderson. "Every year your team is different. This year with so many guys coming back I felt like it was very important to play a demanding schedule."
The games against Missouri, South Carolina, Alabama, Vanderbilt and Evansville are expected to pay dividends as the Bisons seek a return to postseason play this season.
"Even though we came close we didn't win against Kentucky, Tennessee or Auburn last year," said Sanderson. "But our players really enjoyed the atmosphere and I think it made a difference for us in the conference."