Gardner-Webb has been up and down in Big South play thus far this year and dropped to 5-4 last night after handing a Campbell team their first win of January 78-59 in Buies Creek. No one is going to argue that Gardner-Webb will be a contender in Myrtle Beach for the conference tournament but are there bigger problems plaguing the Bulldogs as they hit the midway point in conference play?
To understand the Gardner-Webb program and where they are now you have to go back to 2010 when Rick Scruggs concluded an 8-21 season and was replaced with Chris Holtmann. We all know about Holtmann now because of the tremendous job he's done at Butler this season but in 2010 he was a relative unknown. The former Ohio assistant quickly made Gardner-Webb relevant in the Big South winning 21 games his third year and leading them to a CIT birth.
Holtmann always impressed me and I really thought his future was in the MAC or an upper tier Horizon League school. Instead he surprised all of us when he went to be second in command at Butler under Brandon Miller. It was a mid-July move that left Gardner-Webb scrambling. GWU quickly responded by hiring former assistant from the mid-2000s Tim Craft in almost less than a week.
Craft's squad went 18-15 in his first year and are off to a 13-9 start this year. The only problem is Craft gets credit for success and the Bulldogs really are doing less with more than Holtmann did two years ago. Every one of Gardner-Webb's key contributors is either a junior or a senior, with the exception of Tyrell Nelson who was signed by Holtmann in November of 2012. Basically Craft was handed a lamborghini of a Big South program and only he has the ability to crash it.
The tires have already veered the course when double-digit scorer Donta Harper left for Winston-Salem State this summer where he is currently averaging over 12 points per game. With Tyler Strange, Tyrell Nelson, and Jerome Hill Gardner-Webb should be able to win night in and night out in the Big South but they are a team that looks rushed, sloppy, and not well coached at this point.
Tyler Strange's sheer strength allows him to be one of the best distributing point guards in the nation and no one can match the frontcourt of Nelson and Hill in the Big South right now. It seems like Gardner-Webb should be able to be patient on offense and squeeze the life out of their opponents on both ends with the personnel they have. Instead you get a night like last night where GWU turned over the ball 18 times in the Creek.
Chris Holtmann left Gardner-Webb with a serious open window of a year or two or maybe even three to win a Big South championship and to become a perennial power in the region. Instead the Bulldogs are a swerving car that lacks consistency but can dominate anyone on any given night. Can they find their stride the second half of conference play?