The door had just closed on the Davidson Wildcats’ flight from Newark, N.J., to Charlotte early Sunday evening when word came that they had received an at-large bid to play Iowa in the NCAA tournament.
“We were all loaded on the flight, and they hadn’t told us to turn off our communications yet,” coach Bob McKillop said. “I was jammed in the middle seat in the back of the plane, so I couldn’t tell how the guys reacted. But I know we’re all excited.”
The 10th-seed Wildcats (24-7) will face the No. 7 Hawkeyes (21-11) at 7:20 p.m. Friday in Seattle. The bid came one day after the Wildcats lost 93-73 to Virginia Commonwealth in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“It’s one of the reasons we joined the Atlantic 10, to have these kinds of opportunities,” said McKillop, whose team won the regular-season championship in its first season in the league. “It’s a terrific statement.
“We were judged for our body of work, whether we won our conference tournament or not. It’s a true validation of our season.”
This is first of Davidson’s 13 appearances in the NCAA tournament that didn’t come as an automatic bid from the Southern Conference, which historically receives just one bid.
The Wildcats last played in the tournament in 2013 when they lost a second-round game to Marquette. It’s the fourth time Davidson has faced a Big 10 team in its opening NCAA tournament game (losing to Michigan in 1998 and Ohio State in 2002 and 2006). The Wildcats beat Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 in 2008.
Davidson and Iowa have played once before, with the Hawkeyes winning 76-61 in 1969 in a game played in Chicago.
McKillop said he is good friends with Iowa coach Fran McCaffery from their days in the Southern Conference when McCaffery was at UNC Greensboro.