Wednesday, March 14, 2007

From The Observer

Davidson can be darling of tournament

BUFFALO, N.Y. --Everybody notices Wednesday when Maryland sweeps into the HSBC Arena. The Terrapins are big. Every starter is at least 6-foot-5, four reserves are at least 6-7 and one is 7-1. They also are big-time. They come from the ACC, college basketball's most publicized conference, and five years ago they won the national championship.

What if Davidson beats them today?

"The kids in Charlotte," says Wildcats forward Thomas Sander, "might finally say, `I know where Davidson is' instead of, `where's Davidson?' "

What else?

"They might have to build another bar in Davidson," he says.

What else?

"We might start to see some arrogance," says Sander, a junior. "That would be kind of cool because you don't usually think of Davidson people as arrogant."

Are you kidding me? Davidson people believe that if you didn't graduate from their school, you didn't graduate.

"Athletic arrogance," he says.

The NCAA tournament starts at 12:20 p.m. today, and Davidson and Maryland open it. The Terps, a No. 4 seed to Davidson's No. 13, are 61/2-point favorites.

But, the beauty of the tournament is that every season a team that is not supposed to win insists on winning. When it does, the player who hits the big basket, a player you've never heard of who looks 15, suddenly gets more air time than Anna Nicole.

If the school has only 1,700 students, which Davidson does, and the town around it is lovable and appears quaint, which Davidson does, the whole country wants to rub its head.

If the Wildcats win, they lead, or at least are included in each of the 3,500 telecasts ESPN will offer before Davidson's second-round game, the Wildcats immediately become the country's favorite mid-major, supplanting George Mason of '06.

If the Wildcats win, ground is broken Friday on the bar of which Sander speaks. Davidson basketball becomes a movement for the fans watching on campus at Vail Commons and the student union, and off campus on Main Street at the First Charter Bank.

Unexpected victories always feel like a reward. Fans around the country are filled with envy: Davidson did it, why can't we? The Davidson professors who allow students to skip class so they can watch the legendary victory become legends themselves.

That is good of them, I tell point guard Jason Richards.

"It's great of them," he says.

Davidson becomes the rare Southern Conference basketball team that attracts national attention without taking out a newspaper ad.

When the Terps take the court today, they will look like the favorites they are. They bring more size and more experience. What they don't bring is a favorite's sense of entitlement. They lost that last week when they lost in the first round of the ACC tournament to underdog Miami.

The Wildcats counter with youth and athleticism, 13 straight victories and, because of what they've accomplished this season, the right to believe.

By mid-afternoon, perhaps everybody will.

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