We must be dreaming, right Niner fans? Football is coming in 2013 (if the world doesn’t end first), we have stadium renderings to drool over, and a Men’s Basketball squad that is off to its best start since the 1994-1995 campaign that took us to the Big Dance. There is certainly no reason to expect the party to stop tonight when the Niners host the Runnin’ Bulldogs of Gardner-Webb.
So far this season, Charlotte is 2-0 against canines which doesn’t bode well for G-W. Gardner-Webb (3-3, 0-1) last played in Halton Arena during the 2007-2008 season and took an 83-51 beating at the hands of a 20 point performance by Leemire Goldwire and double-doubles chipped in by Charles Dewhurst and Charlie Coley (who also gave us a memorable breakaway slam from nearly the free throw line.) That Niners team was probably not as complete as our team this year, and the Runnin’ Bulldogs are definitely worse than they were in the last meeting between the two clubs.
The Bulldogs have yet to win a game against a Division I opponent, sporting 3 wins over Division III Covenant College, and Division II schools Montreat and Methodist. Against Division I schools, the Bulldogs have played to their ability (aka “scrubs”), taking their lumps against UNC-CH on a night when senior guard Grayson Flittner scored a season-high 32 points on 10/19 shooting including 9 treys in a 93-72 loss. The Runnin’ Bulldogs then lost back to back home games against a surprising 9-1 Western Carolina team (75-59) and most recently, a heartbreaker to a below average UNC Asheville team (58-56) starting Gardner-Webb off at 0-1 in Big South play.
Gardner-Webb will look to Flittner and fellow senior Auyrn MacMillian, a 6’8” Aussie averaging nearly a double-double, contributing 9.3 ppg and 9.2 rpg per night, to lead them into the valley of death. Head Coach Rick Scruggs is not afraid to go deep into the bench so that all his scrubs can feel the embarrassment of playing against real Division I basketball players; more than 10 players are averaging minutes in the double digits per game. However, nobody other than Flittner averages more than 9.3 ppg. The Bulldogs aren’t a particularly poor shooting team from the field at 44.9% but they shoot an abysmal 56.8% from the charity stripe and an unimpressive 32.9% from Bowden-Land.
The Niners are coming off a 42 point blowout of the WSSU Rams in which Niner Fans witnessed the much-anticipated debut of junior forward An’Juan Wilderness who has been recovering from a strained calf. Wilderness was a bit rusty, as to be expected. He didn’t take a single shot, but in true Wilderness style, chipped in 6 rebounds. The Swagger Award winner for the game was Chris Braswell, who notched his 4th double-double of his young career, with 16 points (on a perfect 7-7 shooting) and 15 rebounds. Shamari Spears’ 17points and Gokhan Sirin’s 11 points showed excellent scoring balance yet again, something we haven’t seen much in recent years as Forty-Niner Fans.
This matchup, much like the last one, should be a beatdown. G-W is not going to get their first Division I victory on Saturday, no matter how hard they try. Charlotte is a far superior team on both ends of the floor and the addition of Wilderness only adds to the superiority with more physicality and fresh legs. This game really shouldn’t ever be close, as long as we don’t lose focus over the next two games and start thinking about Old Dominion too soon. This game will be another great tune-up for Wilderness, and we’ll probably see a lot of experimentation with lineup changes to see how he fits in. Our bench guys should get some good PT and valuable experience as well. This will probably hurt our defense some, but Charlotte rolls to 8-1: 84-63
-Job Fickett (letsgoNINERS11)
Keys for Gardner-Webb:
- Attempt to contain our frontcourt
- Get into transition quickly to take advantage of Charlotte’s suspect perimeter defense
- Keep Charlotte off the free-throw line
Keys for Charlotte:
- Continue the balanced scoring attack
- Transition defense must improve
- Don’t lose focus and start looking forward to ODU and GT, we must take care of business against the teams we should