Monday, March 10, 2008

PMM's pregame thoughts

Feasting on Some Phoenix

Wildcat fans smell blood, and there is a juicy big bird in sight. While most in the college basketball media appear convinced the Selection Committee will ultimately extend an invitation to Davidson regardless of tonight's Conference Finals outcome, this game is a must win for the 'Cats. Unlike Elon, Davidson's mission has never been to be the lucky underclassman who gets invited to the senior prom, but instead to rip up the dance floor a la Fred Astaire. To lose tonight, regardless of how probable an at-large appears to be, would make for a very different atmosphere at the Wildcat team practices this next week. Even for Coach McKillop, to motivate a deflated squad between Tuesday and Selection Sunday would be a daunting endeavor. To be successful in the Tournament, Davidson must enter it with their current confidence.

Fortunately, waiting out the week for the CBS Selection Sunday show with bated breath is avoidable. Granted, Elon has positioned themselves to ride on emotions alone. As a low seed they improbably dismantled 3 teams over the weekend. That included the heavily backed College of Charleston team who filled the Coliseum with 6500+ fans; Elon barely surpassed that number, if at all, in their season home attendance totals. Further, Elon is the only Southern Conference team this year to show they may actually have some teeth when having taken bites at the Davidson apple. This combination of recent success and a "we-coulda-should-almost-took-down-the-big-boys" attitude is no doubt volatile petrol for the Phoenix engine.

The appropriate cliché for the Cats, of course, is to embrace the bulls-eye. There is the sense that the team yearns for these high stakes games. As Michael Kruse appropriately noted, at an instinctive level it would seem Stephen Curry has yet to play his best in this tournament simply because it has not yet been needed. That is a scary prospect given he only played 63 minutes of basketball this weekend, and scored 43 floor points. Our starters spent large portions of the two games this weekend on the bench weekend, and had the luxury of watching the reserves maintain, if not pad, sizeable leads. Elon, however, has played three games since Friday afternoon, and also got to bed later than Davidson last night following their late tip-off.

Davidson's blow-out weekend shows the team is finally worthy of national poll rankings. Unlike the ESPN coaches poll that put Davidson at #25 after an "admirable" loss to the Tarheels early in the season, this week's two rankings acknowledge the longest winning streak in the country and the 'Cats deafening declaration of dominance. Again, blind to the numbers, at an instinctive, gut sense, the team seems to get into a better rhythm with every performance. Each night, we see new elements of talent emerge such as a stifling defense that shut down Kyle Hines, and another player getting the hot hand and rivaling Stephen in scoring. The lamenting "home-run" metaphors that Coach McKillop adopted frequently in December and January are these days noticeably missing in his post-game interviews.

In turn, the Feral Faithful are rabid. Since the buzzer sounded last night, I have heard from fans from Lusaka, Zambia to San Francisco to Anchorage, Alaska who will be huddling around the tube to take in tonight's game. On this week night, one hardcore group of Queen City businessmen are, as I write this, en route to Charleston by stretch-Hummer, fully equipped with a Beirut table. In the remotest parts of the land, revelers in black and red will be requesting spouses and bartenders to turn the channel to a team that is about to become a household name. It is March, it is madness and it is sublime.

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