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Know Your Small Conference Winners: UNC-Asheville Bulldogs

The bids keep rolling in, and the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs are your automatic qualifiers from the Big South Conference after a 13-point win over Coastal Carolina. Saturday's victory marked the second time in as many weeks that the Bulldogs knocked off the conference-leading Chanticleers, making their trip to the 2011 NCAA Tournament all the more sweet.

Asheville's last trip to the dance was back in 2003 after a 14-16 regular season that was capped off by a comparable run in the Big South Tournament. The Bulldogs went on to beat Texas Southern in the 64/65 play-in game that year, and then were lucky enough to get blown out by No. 1 Texas to end their season.

Home to underground highlight machine John Williams, aka "The Masked Dunker", this UNCA team is comprised of two seniors, five juniors, four sophomores, and three freshman. Williams, one of the two elder statesmen, might be the most popular guy on the team because of his filthy dunking, but the core of this offense is built around a trio of juniors and nifty ball movement.

A breakdown after the jump...

Location: Asheville, North Carolina

Enrollment: 3,609

Record: 19-13 (11-7)

Leading scorers: Matt Dickey (15.3 ppg); J.P. Primm (14.4); Chris Stephenson (9.4)

What to know:

  • Opened the season with a 70-69 OT win over Auburn despite trailing by 16 at halftime. Lost road games to North Carolina, Georgetown, and Ohio State by a combined 73 points.
  • Offensively, everything feeds through leading scorers Dickey and Primm. Both are solid bets to drain a couple of three-pointers most nights, but can be erratic from deep against longer defenders. Primm especially struggled with his shot down the stretch.
  • Pesky defenders are everywhere. The Bulldogs are ranked 10th in the country in defensive turnover percentage (24.5%). Nine players on the roster average at least 0.50 steals per game. The 6'4" John Williams is one of the game's most dangerous weakside shot blockers.
  • Leading rebounder D.J. Cunningham (7.5 rpg) missed the Big South title game because of an injured ankle. At the moment his status for the NCAA tourney is still up in the air. Only a sophomore, Cunningham (6'10", 240 lbs) is the lone player taller than 6'8" on UNCA's roster, and against an elite school likely to have a dominant big man or two, the Bulldogs could be helpless on the interior without him.

Projected seed: #16. The Bulldogs are peaking at the right time and present an interesting defensive look because of how active they are. But against teams that make a point to close out on shooters, the 1-2 punch of Dickey and Primm has struggled to find the bottom of the net. The Bulldogs certainly have the ability to put a couple of decent runs together and scare somebody early on, but a debilitating lack of size makes it hard to believe they can compete with a No. 1 or No. 2 seed for a full 40-minute game.