South Region First Round Prediction & Free Pick: #1 Virginia vs. #16 Gardner-Webb

Date | AuthorJonathan Willis

Last Updated: 2019-03-21

For the last year, all the No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers have heard is how they blew it last year. Virginia became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed when the Wahoos fell to UMBC, and it wasn’t even a close loss. UMBC hammered Virginia by 20 in a result that stunned everyone and busted brackets earlier than we’ve ever seen before. Virginia is out to make sure that doesn’t happen again, but the No. 16 Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs want to repeat history in this South Region First Round game.

Despite last season’s letdown, the oddsmakers are pretty confident #1 Virginia won’t have a similar performance in the first round. The Cavaliers are a 22-point favorite over the Runnin-Bulldogs, and the over/under has been set at 130. This will be the second game of the day from Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina. It is slated to tip-off around 3:10 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on truTV. The winner will face the winner of Ole Miss and Oklahoma in the second round on Sunday.

Tournament History

This is Gardner-Webb’s first-ever appearance at the NCAA Tournament. The Runnin’ Bulldogs only made the jump from Division II to Division II this century, so they are elated to be taking part in March Madness. Given their lack of history, it was unsurprising to see them given a No. 16 seed, but at least the didn’t have to go to Dayton for the First Four.

Virginia has made it to the Elite Eight six times and the Final Four twice, but the Cavaliers have yet to even make the National Championship Game. They were at their zenith in the early 1980s when the only three-time Naismith College Player of the Year was on campus in Ralph Sampson, but the big man couldn’t get them over the hump. The Cavaliers have had a resurgence under Tony Bennett’s defensive-minded philosophy, but even though they have been a No. 1 seed four times in six seasons, they have never made it further than the Elite Eight.

How They Got Here

The Runnin’ Bulldogs got here the only way they could. Gardner-Webb beat out traditional Big South powers Winthrop and Charleston Southern to win the Big South’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The school lost five of its first seven games and went just 10-6 in conference, but Gardner-Webb got hot in the conference tournament and beat High Point, Campbell, and Radford to get here.

We knew that Virginia would be a tournament team from the start of the year. The Cavaliers brought back most of their production from last year’s team, and they were one of the top teams in the nation throughout the season. Virginia only lost to two teams throughout the season (Duke and Florida State), and the Cavaliers have a slew of quality wins. They finished first in the ACC in the regular season, but they lost to FSU in the ACC Tournament.

Preview

This should be a pretty one-sided affair, and the big questions should involve the spread and the total.

Virginia will look to suffocate Gardner-Webb’s offense with its pack-line defense. The Cavaliers once again have one of the best defenses in the country, and they rank in the top 40 in almost every major category except for turnover percentage. They allow opponents to shoot a nation-low 27.2 percent of their three-pointers, and their effective field goal percentage on defense is the fourth-best in the nation.

This year’s version is a team that can score too. Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and De’Andre Hunter are all fantastic shooters and they are lethal from beyond the arc. All three players are hitting better than 40 percent of their threes, and Guy and Hunter are hitting better than 45 percent of their triples. Ken Pomeroy rates this offense as the second-most efficient in the country, and their ability to hit threes is a big reason why.

Gardner-Webb is an efficient scoring team, and they get to the line often. Seniors David Efianayi and DJ Laster are proven scorers, and Jose Perez has given this team a new dynamic.

However, there are some major red flags for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. No one on the team is taller than 6’6 and that has meant they don’t rebound well at all. They are 330th in the nation at grabbing offensive rebounds and are allowing opponents to grab offensive boards on 31 percent of their possessions, and that’s a big problem. Additionally, their defense dares opponents to shoot the three, and Virginia will be happy to oblige them.

Pick: Under 130

Virginia is going to make this one a laugher, but 22 points are too many to lay considering they are dead last in the nation in terms of tempo. Instead, I’m going to go with the under here as I don’t see Gardner-Webb scoring a lot and Virginia will get a lot of second chances to run down the clock on the offensive end.

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