Gardner-Webb Bulldogs

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NCAA Tournament 2019: Instant Analysis South Region


The South Region is led by some top seeds who were bounced early in the NCAA tournament last season as Virginia and Tennessee look to redeem themselves after strong seasons.

The South Region is led by No. 1 seed Virginia. Following last season’s stunning loss to No. 16 seed UMBC in the first round, the Cavaliers will get a chance to redeem themselves against No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb, the champions of the Big South.

The No. 8/9 matchup is a matchup between SEC and Big 12 as Ole Miss and Oklahoma battle. The Rebels were one of the most pleasant surprises of any team in the field this season while Oklahoma has won some games down the stretch to earn another bid.

Wisconsin draws the No. 5 seed as the Ethan Happ-led Badgers get a major test in No. 12 seed and Pac-12 Tournament champion Oregon. Although the Ducks struggled during the regular season — particularly after the loss of star freshman Bol Bol — they’re a dangerous team with two recent wins over Washington.

ANALYSIS: East | South | West | Midwest

The No. 4 seed is Kansas State as they are still hoping to get senior forward Dean Wade (foot) healthy enough to play in the NCAA tournament after he missed all of last season’s Elite Eight run for the Wildcats. They’ll face No. 13 seed UC Irvine, the champions of the Big West.

Defending champion Villanova drew no favors from the committee with the No. 6 seed. There hasn’t been a No. 6 seed in the Final Four since 1992 as the Wildcats will have an uphill battle to make the Final Four for the third time in four years. They draw No. 11 seed Saint Mary’s as the Gaels gained a lot of momentum in winning the WCC title over No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

Earning a surprising share of the Big Ten regular-season title this season, Purdue draws the No. 3 seed as they get a tough first-round opponent in No. 14 seed Old Dominion.

The committee also didn’t help No. 7 seed Cincinnati as the Bearcats had an impressive showing in an AAC title-game win over Houston on Sunday. The Bearcats will face No. 10 seed Iowa in a clash of styles and tempo.

After falling short in the SEC tournament title game, No. 2 seed Tennessee gets a matchup with No. 15 seed Colgate — a program making its first NCAA tournament appearance in 23 years. Although the Raiders feature the Patriot League Player of the Year in forward Rapolas Ivanauskas, they’ll face one of the best frontcourts in the tournament with the Vols’ veteran combo of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.

Sunday’s Things to Know: Houston wins AAC title; three autobids earned; bubble madness in the Big Ten

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The final regular-season Sunday in college basketball had some drama as a major conference title was decided. On the postseason side, three more autobids were also claimed while the bubble had some action as well.

Houston runs past Cincinnati to claim AAC regular-season title

Houston earned its first regular-season conference title since 1992 with a convincing 85-69 road win at No. 20 Cincinnati. The No. 12 Cougars poured on 48 second-half points as they went on a 35-12 run to put the game away. Corey Davis Jr. scored a career-high 31 points while freshman Nate Hinton produced a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds — knocking down some key three-pointers to ignite the comeback run.

For the fourth time in the last six games, Houston scored at least 85 points, which is a notable accomplishment considering the Cougars generally prefer to play on the slower side (232nd in adjusted tempo on KenPom). Houston already has a top-15 defense, so if its offense is getting hot before the postseason, then it’s a trend to keep an eye on during Championship Week.

Autobids handed out to Bradley, Gardner-Webb and Liberty

Sunday didn’t have very many regular-season games left. But there were plenty of conference tournaments to keep track of with three autobids being handed out in traditionally one-bid leagues.

The Big South kicked the autobid day off as Gardner-Webb earned its first NCAA tournament bid in school history by knocking off Radford for a true road win. With back-to-back true road wins during the conference tournament, the Bulldogs certainly earned their way into the Field of 68 with two difficult wins.

Things got crazy during the second half of the Missouri Valley Conference title game shortly after as Bradley rallied from an 18-point second-half deficit to stun Northern Iowa. A day after knocking out a Final Four team from last year in Valley No. 1 seed Loyola, the Braves followed it up with their eighth win of the season in which they were trailing at halftime to come back and win. This will be Bradley’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006 when they stunned the nation as a No. 13 seed who made the Sweet 16.

Finally, Liberty gutted out yet another road win for a team in an autobid situation by advancing in front of a sold-out crowd at Lipscomb. A high-level game featuring two teams who deserve a real look from the NCAA tournament committee, the Flames are back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2013. While Liberty is a potentially-dangerous double-digit seed, Lipscomb remains on the bubble as they have a long week of waiting ahead.

The bubble gets crazy in the Big Ten

Among bubble teams playing on Sunday, things got especially chaotic in the Big Ten. Indiana began the conference’s bubble day with a home win over Rutgers. Winners of four consecutive games, the Hoosiers have played their way back into the serious at-large discussion after a mid-season freefall.

Later in the afternoon, No. 21 Wisconsin outlasted Ohio State for an overtime road win that brutally hurts the Buckeyes’ bubble profile. Rallying from 23 points down to tie the game and force overtime, this was a golden opportunity for Ohio State to add some insurance by getting another Q1 win. Instead, they’ve dropped three straight games as the slide continues entering the postseason.

These two results mean that Thursday’s Big Ten tournament matchup between Indiana and Ohio State will have massive implications for the bubble. Both of these teams appear to be teetering right on the edge of the cut line as this result could ultimately put one team in while leaving the other team out of the proceedings.

Introducing Cinderella: Gardner-Webb earns the autobid in the Big South

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Gardner-Webb is heading to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history as they went on the road and knocked off Radford for a 76-65 victory. The Bulldogs pulled off one of the toughest feats in college hoops by winning back-to-back road games as the underdog during the Big South conference tournament.

Knocking off the nation’s leading scorer in Chris Clemons and Campbell in the previous round on Friday night, Gardner-Webb followed that up with a convincing win over Radford on Sunday afternoon. DJ Laster got rolling early for the Bulldogs against the Highlanders as he scored 30 of the team’s first 44 points to finish with a career-high 32 points.


COACH: Tim Craft

RECORD: 23-11, 10-6 in the Big South


  • KENPOM: 183
  • NET: 185

PROJECTED SEED: Gardner-Webb likely projects as a No. 16 seed.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: Senior guard David Efianayi is the team’s leading scorer as he’s putting up 18.5 points per game while shooting a blistering 41 percent from three-point range on the season. While Efianayi is the team’s leader, he has other weapons to turn to on offense. Freshman Jose Perez (15.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.0 apg) has emerged as a capable all-around player while senior forward DJ Laster (13.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) showed how dangerous he can be in the Big South title game. Sophomore Nate Johnson (10.0 ppg) is the team’s fourth double-figure scorer. All four of those players also shoot at least 37 percent, or better, from three-point range.

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: Gardner-Webb knocked off two ACC opponents during the regular season with road wins at Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. The Bulldogs also had Q1 losses to Furman, VCU and Virginia Tech during the regular season. Losses to Eastern Illinois and Arkansas state represented the only two Q4 losses of the season for Gardner-Webb. A shaky

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Three-point shooting could be the key for Gardner-Webb pulling off a UMBC-like upset of a major powerhouse. Shooting 37.9 percent from three-point range as a team on the season, the Bulldogs are 32nd in the country from distance. Gardner-Webb also has options from a shooting perspective with four players who canned at least 35 three-pointers on the season.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: Gardner-Webb doesn’t have a lot of relevant men’s basketball history but the school did help produce current Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann. A former assistant (2002-2008) who later returned as head coach for three seasons (2010-11 through 2012-13), Holtmann left the program to become an assistant, and eventual head coach, at Butler.

FINAL THOUGHT: UMBC set the recipe for beating a No. 1 seed last season by making a lot of perimeter shots and blitzing an ice-cold Virginia team early. While Gardner-Webb is unlikely to win as a potential No. 15 or No. 16 seed, the potent perimeter shooting they bring to the table makes them an intriguing deep upset candidate — depending on opponent.