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31 days ‘til opening day: Quietly, Gardner-Webb is on track under Tim Craft

NCAA Basketball: Gardner-Webb at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Nov. 10 couldn’t come soon enough.

As we slide through the final weeks before college basketball returns, we’ll look at one storyline about the upcoming season that lines up with the number of days until opening day. Keep coming back to see if we have the creativity and dedication to pull this off. No promises.

It’s Oct. 10 and we’re just 31 days from opening day.

Gardner-Webb was in the college basketball spotlight this summer.

Well, at least ostensibly. When Chris Holtmann made the move from Butler to Ohio State, plenty of ink went into reflecting on his roots as a head coach: Gardner-Webb. Holtmann spent three seasons in charge in Boiling Springs, taking over a program that his boss said had been “stagnant.”

Here’s what we wrote when he left GWU for an assistant position at Butler in 2013.

The trickle down effect of Brad Stevens leaving for the Boston Celtics continues to ripple throughout college basketball. In a crushing blow to Gardner-Webb the Bulldogs head coach Chris Holtmann has decided to leaving the Boiling Springs, North Carolina school to join Brandon Miller's Butler staff.

Holtmann has revitalized the a Gardner-Webb program that had not had a winning season since 2006. In building a roster over two year's Holtmann went 21-41 through his first two years, but reaped the benefits of his hard work with a 21-13 season this past year and a CIT birth.

Holtmann, a former assistant at Ohio, was the 2013 Big South Coach of the Year.

As it turned out, the revitalization of Bulldogs’ basketball didn’t leave town with Holtmann. With 31 league wins over the past three seasons, GWU has quietly become a solid program in the Big South under Tim Craft, who is entering his fifth year in charge.

Craft’s teams have generally played tough defense, finishing in the top-four in defensive efficiency in league play in three of his four seasons. That has led to a more than respectable 41-29 Big South record, and the Bulldogs nearly broke last season, taking a very good Winthrop team to overtime on its home floor in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

GWU seems poised for another solid showing in 2017-18. The Bulldogs return a trio of experienced perimeter players that should form the nucleus of another salty defensive team. Redshirt junior David Efiayani was honorable mention all-league (12.6 PPG, 41.5 3P%), and is joined by redshirt senior Jamaal Robateau (9.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG) and senior Liam O’Reilly (8.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG) on the wing.

They’ll need to carry a team that was bitten singularly hard by the transfer bug. Do-it-all point guard Laquincy Rideau (14.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 5.2 APG) had Big South POY potential, but left for USF. With the departure of senior forward Tyrell Nelson (12.9 PPG, 7.0 RPG) this leaves GWU without its two best players from 2016-17.

At least at point guard, they’ll be looking to Christian Turner — who played sparingly but did get into 31 games — and a freshman from a prep powerhouse:

GWU added an impact point guard in the spring when Jaheam Cornwall (Brooklyn, N.Y. / Putnam Science) signed with the Runnin’ Bulldogs. The 6-0 freshman starred in one of the toughest prep school leagues in America over the past two seasons, averaging 11.2 points and 4.6 assists per game as a postgraduate in 2017. Cornwall and Turner will provide Gardner-Webb with a strong rotation at the point guard spot, with O’Reilly also capable of handling those duties.

Based on the Craft’s four-year track record, the team will find a way to be competitive, and quietly remain one of the Big South’s most consistent programs.