ASHEVILLE So Davidson has made its way into the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. Now the question is whether the Wildcats can win a game in the NCAAs for the first time since Stephen Curry was on campus.
They can – and very possibly will.
The Wildcats’ 17th straight win Monday night – a 74-55 blasting of College of Charleston in the Southern Conference final – showcased why. Davidson is the sort of team that will audition for the role of upset specialist in the NCAA tournament and has a shot at getting the part.
Davidson is extremely experienced, much bigger than your average mid-major conference champion and plays such a tough schedule that intimidation won’t be a factor. Remember, Davidson was tied with Duke at halftime earlier this season, and that was with Ryan Kelly in the lineup.
Holding the longest current NCAA win streak in the country also has to inspire some confidence. And if the seeding committee is paying attention at all, the Wildcats (26-7) should get a seed around No. 13 and have a first-round game in which they have a shot.
Now the Wildcats don’t have Curry to fill it up, like they did in 2008 when they made their Elite Eight run. They aren’t as dazzling as that team was, and they’re not going to go that far.
But they do have Jake Cohen – the two-time Southern Conference player of the year and a 6-foot-10 forward who had 24 points and 10 rebounds in last year’s seven-point tournament loss to Louisville (which eventually made the Final Four). They do have De’Mon Brooks, who was the Most Outstanding Player of the conference tournament. And they have a bushel of 3-point shooters who are tough and smart.
Where Davidson sometimes falls short is when the outside shots don’t fall. When the 3-pointer isn’t going in, the Wildcats look very beatable, like when they shot 4-for-19 from beyond the arc against Duke (a game they eventually lost by 17) or in the first 25 minutes against Appalachian (which once led by 13).
A player like Tyler Kalinoski, JP Kuhlman or Chris Czerapowicz will need to get hot in the first round of the NCAA tournament to supplement Cohen and Brooks, or else there won’t be a second round.
But back to Monday night: Cheered on by three busloads of students who made the two-hour trip for free – the school paid for the buses and Davidson’s basketball office bought their tickets – Davidson never trailed. The Wildcats came out with the same offensive strategy that allowed them to edge Appalachian State in the semifinal – throw the ball in to Brooks and let him do his work.
Brooks had 16 in the second half alone against the Mountaineers and scored 24 against Charleston, which stubbornly and incorrectly refused to double-team him. Brooks is very good with both hands and just kept winning one-on-one matchups, as Davidson cleared out and let him show every post move he ever had.
It was a game that was never much in doubt, as Davidson finished 20-1 this season against Southern Conference foes and got to clear its bench with two minutes left. Then Davidson’s players shared a nice moment with their fans, jumping into the first row of the stands to hug the ones they could reach and singing “Sweet Caroline” along with them.
Davidson’s next opponent will be faster, bigger and smarter. But this Davidson team has a chance against anybody.