Gardner-Webb provided one of the best celebration scenes during the NCAA Tournament reveal. Even though the moment was inevitable, the Runnin’ Bulldogs cheered when they saw their name on the screen.
It’s a great moment for the university in Boiling Springs, N.C., which will make its first NCAA appearance since joining Division I in 2000 after winning the Big South tournament as a No. 4 seed. It probably doesn’t matter to the program that they’ll be facing perhaps the most motivated top seed in NCAA Tournament history for a first-round game.
Virginia is the opponent, and the Cavaliers made history last year by becoming the first top seed to lose its first NCAA game when UMBC pulled off the shocker.
Virginia will hear all about that game this week as it opens play in the South Region.
Second-seeded Tennessee also was an early loser in upset fashion in last year’s tournament, falling as a No. 3 seed in the final seconds to 11th-seeded Loyola Chicago. The Volunteers spent four weeks as the nation’s top-ranked team this season, and their 29 victories are the second most in program history.
But the Vols got a potentially tough break this year and could be on a collision course with seventh-seeded Cincinnati in Columbus, Ohio.
The bracket also features a pair of major conference co-champions in Purdue (Big Ten) and Kansas State (Big 12). Neither got to their conference tournament final.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Tennessee’s Grant Williams won his second straight SEC Player of the Year award and averages 19.2 points and 7.6 rebounds. He and Admiral Schofield (16.4) are one of the nation’s top tandems.
Purdue guard Carsen Edwards averages 23 points but has a rough go behind the arc in recent games.
Ethan Happ does it all for Wisconsin, averaging 17.4 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists.
Kansas State is one of the nation’s top defensive teams and its best defender is guard Barry Brown, Jr., the Big 12’s defensive player of the year.
No. 11 seed St. Mary’s keeps it going and eliminates defending champion Villanova.
Tennessee over Virginia.
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