Thursday, January 24, 2008

From Charleston Post & Courier

Davidson in a league of its own
By Jeff Hartsell

Thursday, January 24, 2008

In a column this week mapping out the landscape of college basketball, ESPN hoops guru Joe Lunardi relegates the Southern Conference to the hinterlands of “low-major” status.

Except, that is, for Davidson.

“There are three teams in low-major conferences with both mid-major expectations and performance,” Lunardi opines. “Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), Winthrop (Big South) and Davidson (Southern) are the only teams at this level who have competed for at-large bids on multiple occasions.”

That’s why Lunardi lists Davidson, alone among SoCon members, as “mid-major” school.

So when they say the Wildcats are in a league of their own, they aren’t kidding.

Davidson, 11-6 overall and 9-0 in the SoCon, has won seven in a row as the Wildcats hit the Lowcountry for games tonight at The Citadel and on Saturday at College of Charleston. Coach Bob McKillop’s team has won nine SoCon games by an average margin of 16.4 points, the latest an 82-67 rout of Western Carolina on Monday.

All of which begs the question — Can anyone stop Davidson from replicating its undefeated SoCon season of 2004-05, and from becoming the first team in league history to go 20-0 in conference play?

“You are asking the wrong human,” Chattanooga coach John Shulman said after his Mocs lost by 85-58 at Davidson last Saturday. “I can’t do it, and we have not been able to do it.”

Wildcats sophomore standout Stephen Curry hit 8 of 14 shots from 3-point range and scored 37 points in that game as former Davidson and Maryland coach Lefty Driesell watched from courtside.

“I’ve never seen a better 3-point shooter than him,” Driesell said afterwards.

But there is much more to Davidson than Curry, who is averaging a league-best 24.1 points.

“You have to match their physicality and their toughness,” Shulman said. “And Curry, we chased him, but we didn’t chase him out to 30 feet. He’s phenomenal, an NBA guy I think. But they are also very good in the post, and their point guard leads the nation in assists.”

Senior guard Jason Richards is averaging 8.7 assists per game, and such players as 6-8 Boris Meno, 6-8 Thomas Sander, 6-6 William Archambault and 6-6 Mas Paulhus Gosselin give the Wildcats plenty of length inside.

Elon has come closest to beating the Wildcats in league play this season, dropping a 59-57 decision at home on Jan. 9. Curry was just 4 of 15 from the field in that game, and Davidson hit just 5 of 17 from 3-point range in scoring their season-low.

“You have to guard them awfully well, and that begins with transition defense,” said Elon coach Ernie Nestor. “Their big guys run the court well, so it’s not a simple formula. And at the same time you’re defending them, you have to keep scoring because they push the tempo so well.”

Against Elon, Davidson made up for a sub-par shooting night on the boards, out-rebounding the Phoenix by 38-25. Sander had 12 points and 13 rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass.

“Sander is a very valuable player for them,” Nestor said. “He keeps the ball alive and competes physically inside. There is a toughness to him that the others pick up on, at least that’s how it looks to me.”

Davidson was unable to pull off a signature upset in early games against North Carolina, Duke, UCLA and North Carolina State. But that doesn’t mean the Wildcats can’t pull off such an upset in March.

“Everyone was down on them early when they lost to Carolina and Duke and UCLA,” Shulman said with a chuckle. “I wasn’t one of those. They are very special.”

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