Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs: 23-11, 11-6 in the Big South
Head coach: Tim Craft (6th season)
Players to watch: David Efianayi (18.3 PPG, 41.4 3PT%); Jose Perez (15.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG); DJ Laster (13.7 PPG, 56.0 FG%)
Season recap: Gardner-Webb certainly didn't look like a mid-major capable of an NCAA tournament run at the start of its season. The Runnin' Bulldogs dropped five of their first seven games, including a nearly 30-point drubbing at the hands of then-No. 15 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. But Tim Craft's squad pulled things together, knocking off a pair of ACC teams on the road—Gardner-Webb beat Georgia Tech by 10 in Atlanta and then made the 114-mile trip to Winston-Salem to upset Wake Forest.
Still, the Runnin' Bulldogs were fighting an uphill battle. After finishing fourth in the Big South during the regular season, they had to go to Buies Creek, N.C. for a neutral site game against High Point in their conference tournament opener. Gardner-Webb escaped the Panthers before getting a rematch with top-seeded Campbell, which beat the Runnin' Bulldogs earlier in the year, and Chris Clemons—the nation's leading scorer. Craft and Gardner-Webb pulled the shocker on the road and then had to travel to Radford, where once again, the Runnin' Bulldogs won away from home to sneak into the NCAA tournament with the automatic bid.
Gardner-Webb, led by a pair of players in their final years of eligibility—David Efianayi and DJ Laster—will hope to make Boiling Springs, N.C. proud as it takes on its first-ever NCAA tournament. The Runnin' Bulldogs only reached the NCAA Division II tournament back in 2000, but boast a couple of notable alums, including NBA All-Star Artis Gilmore and John Drew.
How they make a run: Gardner-Webb keeps it going away from home and pull off what would undoubtedly be the biggest stunner in program history to make it to the Round of 32.
How they falter: The Runnin' Bulldogs simply lack the firepower and talent to keep up with a high-major opponent as they are comfortably dispatched in their first NCAA tournament game.