Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs
2019-2020 record: 16-16, 11-7 in the Big South
Head coach: Tim Craft
Tenure at Gardner-Webb: 8th season
Career coaching record: 127-106
Home court: Paul Porter Arena
Starters: G Jaheam Cornwall, G Jacob Falko, F Kareem Reid, F Ludovic Dufeal, C Sammy Itodo
Bench: F Christian Alexander, G Anthony Selden, G Jamaine Mann, G Lance Terry, G Anthony Selden
Overview: Now more than a full season removed from their first and only conference title and NCAA tournament appearance in 2019, the Runnin’ Bulldogs are not where they thought they would be entering the 2020-21 season. They followed up the previous season’s undefeated home campaign with a disappointing .500 overall record, although they did find moderate success in conference play before falling convincingly in the Big South tournament semifinals to Winthrop, the eventual champion.
To complicate matters further, Gardner-Webb lost leading scorer and former Preseason Big South Player of the Year Jose Perez in a transfer to Marquette this past offseason. The dynamic scorer’s departure leaves preseason All-Conference guard Jaheam Cornwall to take over in the backcourt, heading up a starting five made up of three returners from last season. Even so, the Runnin' Bulldogs still feel incredibly unknown: the roster is almost entirely comprised of freshmen and transfers, and only four players boast frontcourt designations.
But Gardner-Webb has consistently overperformed in recent years, establishing itself as a perennial contender in the always-competitive Big South. No matter how the puzzle pieces fit together out in Boiling Springs, N.C., the Runnin' Bulldogs will no doubt remain the competitive squad they have become under Craft.
Team ceiling: After an inevitable sloppy start to the season, the Bulldogs regain form: newcomer Jacob Falko slots in nicely next to Cornwall, and veteran forward Kareem Reid anchors a defense that overcomes its limitations just in time to topple Winthrop for the conference title.
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Team floor: The Runnin' Bulldogs struggle to find a replacement for Perez’s scoring and fall back from the pack in the Big South. They find bright spots in young players like Christian Alexander and Anthony Selden, but the team ultimately finishes with a losing record for the first time since 2017-18.