Friday, November 16, 2007

Cassilo: Don't call Davidson a Cinderella come March
Veteran team that returns all five starters is destined for the Big Dance
David Cassilo
Issue date: 11/15/07

A vast majority of teams has not even played a regular-season game thus far in the college basketball season, and yet, we have already been witness to enough upsets to remind us why sports fan yearns for March all year long. These upsets are unlike anything the college basketball fan has witnessed in recent memory. Never before has there been a string of shockers to start the season like in the past week. The annual powerhouse No. 8-ranked Michigan State falls to a Division II team at home, and then, just a few days later, last year's runner-up, Ohio State, does the same. Then Gardner-Webb, a team that won nine times all last season, knocks off No. 22-ranked Kentucky in Rupp Arena by 16 points. Finally this past Saturday, O.J. Mayo and his ridiculous 32 points were not enough as the No. 18-ranked USC Trojans fell to Mercer.

All this is further evidence of the fact that the gap between the "majors" and "mid-majors" is declining by the day. There is so much talent in college basketball that it is impossible to view any game on the schedule as an easy win. It is also not impossible to consider one of these "mid-majors" as one of the best teams in the country. It is time for everyone to realize that the last team standing from the basketball factory of North Carolina may not be your Tar Heels, Blue Devils or Wolfpack but instead could very well be the Wildcats of Davidson.

When those who vote on the preseason polls evaluate who is most likely to come out on top, one factor they stress is returning starters. Well the Davidson Wildcats are not only returning all five starters from last year's team, but they are in fact returning 11 players in all from the team that won 29 games a year ago. Leading the way for those returning players is sensational sophomore guard Stephen Curry. Curry, the son of former NBA player Dell Curry, was in the shadow of fellow freshmen Kevin Durant all last season, but nevertheless put up some equally impressive statistics. Curry finished only behind Durant in scoring average among freshmen with 21.5 points per game and in the process set the national record for most 3-point shots made by a freshman with 122. However, the talent not only resides in Curry, and that is why Davidson will be making a name for itself before the season is over. Senior guard Jason Richards was second in the nation in assists last year with 7.3 per game, and senior forwards Boris Meno and Thomas Sander both averaged over 10 points and six rebounds per game last season. If I told you that one team had the best scoring sophomore in the nation, arguably the best point guard and two forces down low, you would not hesitate to put them among the nation's elite. So why isn't Davidson getting that sort of respect?

Part of the problem is obviously that the team does not play in the ACC or Big East but instead in the Southern Conference. In the eyes of many this can only mean that they do not have what it takes to compete with the big boys of the power conferences. If we are judging a team by its conference, why does a team like Memphis get respect when Davidson does not? Memphis plays in Conference USA, which has been below average at best since it lost several teams to the Big East. However, despite having only one more ranked team on its schedule than Davidson, Memphis has not had to face the strength of schedule question heading into the season.

What will inevitably be the factor that answers all the questions posed to Davidson will be experience. Few teams are returning all their starters after making a run into the NCAA Tournament, and that sort of experience and chemistry will only make the Wildcats tougher to beat in March. Also, don't think Davidson will be unprepared to take on the big boys because by season's end they will have played as tough a non-conference schedule as you can play. Coming up are games at No. 1 UNC and No. 2 UCLA as well as trips to play No. 11 Duke and No. 24 North Carolina State. These are not just chances for Head Coach Bob McKillop to allow his boys to taste what it is like to play against big time programs; these are chances to finally show everyone that Davidson is a big-time college basketball program.

Come March, you will see the Davidson Wildcats on an NCAA tournament bracket. The Wildcats themselves will not be satisfied with just being there and will make sure that they last more than one weekend. Every other team in the nation will be hoping to avoid them because by March the difference between the "majors" and the "mid-majors" could be as small as a Wildcat's whisker.

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