#10- The Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs
In his first season as the head coach of the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs, Tim Craft led his team to a successful year. Gardner-Webb ended the season at 18-15, including a solid conference record of 10-6. The Runnin’ Bulldogs were inconsistent throughout the season and had trouble gaining any clear momentum. They were unable to string together any winning streak longer than three games, but also had no losing streaks longer than three games. Outside of conference play, Gardner-Webb was a subpar 7-8 with its best victory coming in an overtime game against Morehead State. Gardner-Webb lost some games in which they were clearly overmatched against the likes of Xavier, Northwestern, Missouri and Duke. Outside of these games, though, Gardner-Webb made every other game competitive, and could have improved their record by winning a couple of these. Entering conference play at 7-8, the odds of Gardner-Webb doing anything special with the season seemed in doubt. They started 0-2 against Big South teams, before winning two in a row, then losing one, then winning three in a row. The rest of the season went a lot like that, as the inconsistency continued. Again, however, the Bulldogs lost many games by the narrowest of margins, including one 4-overtime loss to VMI, which hurt any momentum they may have been building at the time. At the end of the year, Gardner-Webb defeated Longwood in the first round of the Big South tourney, before falling again to VMI to close out the season.
This season, the Runnin’ Bulldogs will get their fair share of difficult matchups to start the season. This could be an uphill climb, as they face LSU, College of Charleston, Clemson, and most of all #2 Arizona in 4 of their first 5 games. There is no doubt that these games will challenge the team, and all Gardner-Webb should hope for is to get out of the first 5 games with two or three wins. Later, the Runnin’ Bulldogs will get another chance at an upset when they visit Purdue in mid-December. In conference play, all Gardner-Webb can hope for this year is to do again what they did last year, and finish around the same record. Again, some difficult opposition is in store from teams like Coastal Carolina, High Point, and VMI, so not too much should be expected from Gardner-Webb this season in the Big South. Overall, Gardner-Webb should be fairly experienced, as well, as the retain three of their five highest scorers from 2013-2014, including their number 1 scorer from last year Jerome Hill. Gardner-Webb has 3 seniors to go along with a plethora of solid juniors this year, so they will look to use this experience to get a leg up against their opponents. Hopefully, this will help the Runnin’ Bulldogs improve their record from last year a little bit.
Jerome Hill, Junior F – Hill was the leading scorer on last year’s team, contributing 14.4 points per game and adding in 8.5 rebounds per game for good measure. He is an all-around very good player, as he is quick for a forward, even though he is just 6’5”, not a huge height for any forward. He is athletic and quick, and uses these traits to his advantage. This season, he will see an expanded role in the offense and should be able to exploit these skills on a daily basis.
Tyler Strange, Senior G – Strange, a 5’10” guard, averaged the most minutes on the team last year as a junior. He shares the ball very well and runs the offense effectively, as he averaged just about 5 assists per game last year. Again, he will find himself in the starting lineup and will be the catalyst for this year’s squad. If he can learn to become a better scorer, Gardner-Webb and his teammates will benefit greatly from it.
Gardner-Webb will likely not improve much from last season. Although they add 4 new recruits, they also lose 2 of their better scorers and all-around players from last year. Expect them to finish somewhere around 16-13 this season, with a loss in the early rounds of the Big South tournament for a second year in a row.