North Carolina (0-0) vs. Gardner-Webb (0-0)
Chapel Hill, N.C. - Dean E. Smith Center
8 p.m., No TV
"Gardner-Webb, the scenario scares you because they called us. ... They have five seniors back and won their league last year. Somebody calls and says 'Can we play you guys at your building,' you should be worried. Look at their schedule, they're playing North Carolina, Auburn, Ohio State and Minnesota -- they're pretty daggum confident. ... They may not be a good name nationally, but they're a very good basketball team." -- Roy Williams
"They're a very good basketball team - not the kind of team I'd like to play in the opener. I'd like to play somebody that's got a much, much bigger name and not nearly the name. What we've in this bunch is the game but not nearly as big a name." -- Roy Williams
"Our program has grown quickly since moving up to the Division I level in 2000, but to have the chance to open what we expect to be a successful season on the defending national champions' home court is truly exciting. Our players, students and fans will be buzzing about this game until the ball goes up on Nov. 19. It doesn't get any bigger for our program, or university, than this." -- G-W head coach Rick Scruggs
Last Season: Despite being picked to finish second-to-last in the Atlantic Sun standings, Gardner-Webb finished the season atop the conference with a 18-12 (13-7) record. Forward Brian Bender was named first-team all-conference and guard Tim Jennings was chosen as the Atlantic Sun Defensive Player of the Year.
Preseason Hype: The Bulldogs dominated the conference preseason polls, as they were voted to finish first in the A-Sun while also having three players named to the all-conference team -- Brian Bender, Tim Jennings and Simon Conn. With all five starters back from last season's first-place team, and with six of its top seven returning players being seniors, head coach Rick Scruggs has trouble curbing with the hype. "This is arguably the best team, and I stress the word team, that we've had in my 10 seasons here," he said.
Big Aussie: Simon Conn has developed into an impressive low post presence. “Last year, the first part of the year, Simon played fair,” Scruggs said. “It seemed like around Christmas ... he just blossomed. I thought he was the best post player in the league after Christmas. This year, I think you’ll see us go to him more than we did early last season because he’s obviously a force in there.” The 6-9, 250-pound Melbourne native with a 7-2 wingspan is expected to increase last season's production of 14.2 points (58% FG), 7.4 boards and 1.3 blocks. Conn's offensive touch, coupled with his size, is his most dangerous weapon. He had a 58% FG mark last season and shot 11-for-12 from the floor in the team's exhibition game last weekend. Perhaps most noteworthy of all was his showing this past summer with the Australian World University Games Team, where he was matched-up in one game head-to-head against the ACC all-star post duo of Shelden Williams and Craig Smith. Conn scored six points (3-6 FG), but more importantly held Williams to two field goals (the Blue Devil ended up with five fouls), while Smith totaled eight points.
Reliable Seniors: Brian Bender and T.J. McCullough are the dependable seniors that Scruggs wants to have the ball in crunch time. Bender, the top returning scorer and member of the preseason all-conference team, plays the power forward spot at 6-6, 210 pounds -- but excels away from the basket. He's also the team's top free-throw shooter at 82 percent. McCullough led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio last year, dishing out 4.7 assists per game.
Lockdown: Tim Jennings is one of the best defensive players in the nation that you've never heard of. The winner of the A-Sun defensive player of the year award last season, Jennings recorded 2.6 steals per game and developed a reputation for his ability to shut down the opposing team's top scorer -- regardless of whether he was a point guard or power forward. His defense was so impressive that it's drawn NBA interest. “We had the San Antonio Spurs’ scout in here the other day watching him, which was exciting and a little different” Scruggs told the Shelby Star last week. “I’ve never had a pro scout come in and watch practice. The thing they said (about him) is he has the ability to play defense on the NBA level." Jennings' offensive skills need some work, however, as he committed 99 turnovers last season, though did average 12.6 points per game. North Carolina fans may remember Jennings from his high school days, when he played alongside Raymond Felton on the Beach Ball Select AAU team.
Shooting Threes: The Bulldogs did not show themselves to be a consistent three-point shooting team last season. Despite more than 23 three-point attempts per game, the team shot 32.5 percent from beyond the arc. For the sake of comparison, all 11 ACC teams last season shot 33.0 percent or better. Bender is the top returning three-point shooter at 34.4 percent.
First Meeting: North Carolina and Gardner-Webb haven't met in a Division I game, but the two teams did face off once before, featuring many big-name players. During the 1968-69 season, UNC's freshman team (which included Bill Chamberlain and Dennis Wuycik) traveled to then-junior college powerhouse Gardner-Webb (who had future NBA'ers Artis Gilmore and George Adams) and lost to the Bulldogs, 93-80.
Hot Ticket: The Gardner-Webb community is buzzing about Saturday night's game. The Bulldogs' 1,000 allotted tickets sold out shortly after going on sale. “I’ve never seen this much excitement about a game on our campus,” Scruggs told the Shelby Star this week. “Everybody I know has asked me for tickets.”
Location: Boiling Springs, N.C.
Conference: Atlantic Sun Conference
Nickname: Runnin' Bulldogs
Colors: Scarlet Red, Black, White
Head Coach: Rick Scruggs
Record at G-W: 136-131
Probable Starting Lineup:
T.J. McCullough (6-1, 175, G, Sr.) – 6.1 ppg, 4.7 apg
Tim Jennings (6-3, 190, G, Sr.) – 12.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg
Chris Gash (6-4, 220, F, Jr.) – 9.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg
Brian Bender (6-6, 210, F, Sr.) – 15.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg
Simon Conn (6-9, 250, C, Sr.) – 14.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg
Mike Jones (6-7, 225, F, Sr.) – 3.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg
Bret Noonan (6-3, 195, G, Sr.) – 2.7 ppg
Ricky McPhee (6-2, 180, G, Fr.) – Lilburn (Ga.) Parkview
Takayo Siddle (5-11, 185, G, Fr.) – Eden (N.C.) Hargrave
Jennings ... McCullough
Gash ... Conn
Jones ... Scruggs
(Thanks to G-W SID Marc Rabb for his assistance.)