College Basketball

NCAA tournament a realistic – but challenging – goal for Davidson

The NCAA basketball tournament’s Selection Sunday – March 15 – is drawing near. The way Davidson’s first season in the Atlantic 10 is playing out, the Wildcats likely will be paying close attention that day.

Unless the Wildcats (19-6, 10-4) win the A-10 tournament – which is not a far-fetched idea – they will have to rely on an at-large bid to make the tournament for a 13th time in school history – a welcome change from the Wildcats’ days in the Southern Conference.

Davidson is on most national prognosticators’ “bubble” as an at-large team for the tournament. So, obviously, the Wildcats have work to do, and it starts Wednesday at Rhode Island (19-6, 11-3).

“Every game now has so much more importance, and we know that,” Wildcats senior guard Tyler Kalinoski said. “We don’t want to lose these, because then we’re back to putting more pressure on ourselves in the (conference) tournament.”

The Wildcats’ resume is solid but has holes. Although the Wildcats are on the cusp of a 20-win season and have five consecutive victories, their Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of 54 – a rating that moves up and down depending on how not only Davidson fares but also the teams on its schedule – will need to improve. Historically, teams with RPIs lower than in the 40s struggle to make the tournament.

A nonconference strength of schedule of 107 (according to ESPN.com) also will work against the Wildcats. Ironically, coach Bob McKillop intentionally scheduled a lighter nonconference schedule for this season in anticipation of the rigors of playing in the Atlantic 10. Davidson usually plays a more challenging nonconference schedule. For instance, the Wildcats’ nonconference foes in 2013-14 included Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Wichita State, Georgia, New Mexico and Clemson.

The Wildcats do have two victories against top-50 teams in the RPI (Dayton and Massachusetts), but are 0-3 against top-25 teams Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia Commonwealth.

Another metric – ESPN’s Basketball Power Index – ranks the Wildcats 33rd nationally and projects them safely into the 68-team tournament.

There’s no doubt that losing consecutive games three weeks ago to Saint Joseph’s and St. Bonaventure hurt Davidson’s chances.

But the recent five-game winning streak has rekindled the Wildcats’ season. A challenging and potentially productive three-game stretch begins Wednesday and continues with home games Saturday against George Washington and March 5 against No. 22 Virginia Commonwealth. The Wildcats end their regular season March 7 at Duquesne before the conference tournament March 11-15 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

In years past, Davidson’s only hope of playing in the NCAA tournament was by winning the Southern Conference tournament. Davidson had played on-and-off since 1936 in the Southern Conference, traditionally a one-bid league.

“The fact is the Atlantic 10 is a better league,” Kalinoski said. “So it’s not like we have to wait until the conference tournament to have to play well to get into the NCAA tournament. We have to keep it going now.”

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Twitter: @davidscott14

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