Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Winters for Three....

What does someone, who has dedicated so much of his time and energy to basketball, do after the season ends?
Mope around in dejected purposelessness?
Actually begin focusing on that little annoyance called classwork?
How about reigniting all of the old friendships that went to waste over my various roadtrips.
Zilch, nada, (chuckle).

There is no such transition for this beat writer and obsessive-compulsive observer of all things Davidson. After spending nearly 18 hours of my weekend compiling video clips, I feel like I have a pretty good feel for Davidson's offensive sets. Although I still don't know what it means when the players yell "Duhneely," I have figured that it is some effective formula for putting the ball in the basket.

Heck, after watching all of this film, I don't understand how an opponent doesn't completely key on all of our tendencies. Ian trailing the play, Brendan's drive-pullups, J-mo on backdoor baselines, Kenny driving the paint on big guy seals. After a while, it really begins to get boring seeing all the same guys keep shooting that ball into that hoop. Maybe I should dedicate my time to something more productive, like my research paper on Maurice Barres and the rise of French nationalism at the turn of the century...or not. I can watch Brendan hit one more reverse layup. And one more. And one more...

Have I said anything in this post? Perhaps, but it surely seems self-evident. Although most of what writers say is self-evident to the people who are smart enough to already know it. In that case, consider yourself an intellectual....

Friday, March 24, 2006

Thoughts

I apologize for the lull in postings, it has been a hard week around campus and I haven't been able to eek out any more articles. But here are some of my lingering thoughts as we head into the weekend:

-Writers, most especially myself, tend to be hypocritical. While I spent nearly all of last week ranting on the corrupting powers of the bracket, I found myself rooting for UCLA (bracket) last night when I really had all of my personal interests in Gonzaga: mid-major success story, unconventional player of the year candidate, new dog in town, etc. etc. While the game was exciting in the end, I really shouldn't have been laughing at Morrison's tears when UCLA took the line with 1.9 seconds remaining. Shame on me.

-With the omni-presence of the internet now (i know this kind of statement is so 1990's), it seems that people have time and space to talk about nearly everything revolving around sports. Some of the most read columns on ESPN.com revolve around sports fashion and commercial critiques. Sometimes I wonder whether people actually work anymore during the day. I know I don't.

-I don't like being a reporter sometimes. While the last two weeks have been characterized by this great news nation sweeping down upon little Davidson, I realized how much I hate bothering these players. Having done group interviews at various times over the season, I never saw such boredom with the same old questions as last week. I refused to even mention the word "father" for fear I would get beaten. I really would hate it if I had to do interviews as much as these guys do, and they have it relatively easily compared to JJ Redick. I officially don't like interviews (hypocrisy, again. I told you.)

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Glass Slipper Shattered

The Davidson Wildcats were so close to pulling off the miracle in the corn fields yesterday. The only problem was that Gene Hackman (Thad Matta look-a-like) was coaching on the other bench and pulled off quite a comeback.

Davidson was leading by four at halftime when Ohio State seemed to wake up in the paint and their three-pointers started to fall. Terence Dials got away with moving picks as he just moved defenders with his large body around the court.

The key to the first half was Davidson's aggressive attitude in the paint. They challenged the Buckeyes to leave one man on Ian Johnson and he burned them, baby hook after baby hook. Unfortunately for the Cats, they were unable to take advantage of a 1-14 OSU performance from behind the arc by going 2-11 3PT on their side and missing several open layups. Although Davidson completely dominated the first half, they were only up by four at the break.

The outside shooting woes continued for the Wildcats in the second half as both teams struggled to extend any sort of lead. After two consecutive Buckeye three-pointers, Davidson found itself down by three points for the first time in a long while, and the Ohio State crowd found their voice. The game was over.

Although Davidson could have sufficiently mounted a comeback to make it a single possession ballgame, several factors were now strongly against them.

-Several no-calls had many Davidson players frustrated at the referees and defensive possessions seemed to be debate matches more than tough basketball

-The Buckeyes found their range from the outside which opened up Dials to have a single man on him for rebounding situations. His second chance putbacks were the Bucks' biggest points.

-When down by 6 or 7 points with three or four minutes remaining, Davidson reverted to its losing formula. Go for defensive slamdunks (resulting in easy Ohio State baskets), and trying to jack three-pointers. The nervousness of the Wildcat seniors was palpable and it seemed like they were the ones with so much to lose. Leaving its gameplan, Davidson was unable to extend the game against a poor free-throw shooting team, and instead gave up easy baskets inside.

Leaving the game, every Davidson fan felt legitimately sad. Our performance hadn't surprised anyone and we all knew what this team was capable of. These seven Davidson seniors left the court knowing that they had upped the ante on an already strong basketball program.

Davidson students watched the game yesterday from multiple large venues and an entire community rallied around the spunk of 15 players, 5 coaches, 3 managers, 2 sports information employees, 2 radiomen, 2 student writers, 2 promotion directors, many brothers, wives and cousins, best friends, girlfriends, long-time supporters, first-year supporters, 45 students that had been up for hours, 1 post office lady, 3 faculty members, 1 school president and 14 pep banders. For 2 hours, we all traveled into the middle of the corn fields in Dayton, OH to believe in something that we weren't supposed to have. Davidson was not supposed to win. That's what the 15 seed means. As we check ESPN.com this morning we are faced with pictures of Northwestern St. and Bradley. They accomplished what we were unable to.

But in the end, we still have what every team dreams about. We all have the memory of where we were on that day. The halftime feeling that our school could become famous. The solidarity of person that comes only from the mutual respect shared for strangers who humped it to Dayton together, or who crowded into Commons to cheer for a team they knew was special. This is sport. For all who might forget, this is why we play and this is why it's important.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Bracket Madness

The madness has started. After UW-Milwaukee drew first blood, we all turned to the Pacific-BC game looking for upset number 2. As the crowd began to gather around the Union TV and Pacific mounted a comeback, a peculiar thing happened. People started cheering for Boston College. Now I know that there weren't many Massachusetts natives in the building so I asked around about why there was no love for the upset story.

"Are you kidding me? I have BC in the final four! Pacific is screwing my bracket!"

And so, just one day after we all dreamed about upsets and great comebacks, students at the school of the little man (Davidson) are pulling for the big dog to hold on. The Eagles were able to hit two free throws at the end of the first overtime and spoil the spoilers. Bracket-lovers breathed a sigh of relief. I sat there disgusted.

While we know how important the bracket pools have come for the casual watcher of the NCAA tournament, they shouldn't mar the 4th article of the U.S. Constitution: always pull for the underdog.

Brackets are fun. I have several and most of them have BC in the regional finals. While I sure am happy that I still have a chance to win the pool, I know who I am pulling for right now between Winthrop and Tennessee. I don't care if Tennessee is supposed to advance in my bracket.

Go Underdogs! Screw the brackets!

Boring Start

We are just under 2 minutes into the NCAA tournament. Let's hope it picks up from here. The announcers have absolutely no idea who Seton Hall and Wichita St. are, and they have nothing to say. After the initial tip, Dan Bonner said, "well, this is it. We started. Wow." Wow is right. This is nothing like the palpable moment when the ball is kicked to start the Super Bowl. Alright, back to the action. 7-4 WSU.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Day of the Writer

The Wednesday before the NCAA tournament should be hallowed as the day of the writer. This is the day where good writers all around the country try to capture the magic of the potential. They tell the nation about the Winthrops, Davidsons and Oral Roberts' of the tournament. They employ metaphor and alliteration to bring us to a higher state of being. They lift us to that place that every person feels after the first time of watching Hoosiers. This is the feeling we get after watching Rudy and you go out to your car and dream that the empty parking lot is that lone field and there should be some lowly camera encapturing the profoundness of the moment.
On Thursday or Friday it is nearly guaranteed that an upset will happen. All of the nation waits for their prediction to be legitimized. But for all of the upsets over the years, most of the 15 seeds go home with nothing. For all that we might want to believe that Davidson fans will be in Dayton on Sunday, the student bus plans to be back on campus by 11 o clock on Friday night. Could it happen? Of course. Will it happen? Very unlikely.
This is why Wednesday is the best day of the tournament. Everyone believes because they want to. And in the end, our lifelong joys are never really produced by reality, but rather they come from faith. Faith in a universe of purpose. Faith in a person that we love. Faith in the Davids against the Goliaths.
This is what college basketball is all about. This is what we knew that we missed last year in the NIT. Last year, everyone said that we would rather lose in the NCAA tournament than win in the NIT. Why? Because of the Wednesday of the Underdog. There are no Wednesdays in the NIT. This day is dedicated to us.
The North Carolinas and Dukes can get all of the championship Mondays that they want. But they will never have the Wednesday of the Underdog.

Tourney Time

It's time to start doing this whole tourney thing all over again. I will be traveling up tomorrow afternoon and spending the night before Friday's game. I am hoping to be able to post before, during and after our 12:15 game on Friday. This will depend on the internet hookup capabilities of the Dayton Arena. While I cannot promise anything between now and Saturday, please stay tuned for analysis and in-depth coverage. I will try not to disappoint.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Monday Morning Thoughts

As I sit here this morning mulling over my thoughts for the NCAA tournament, I am struck by several interesting tidbits:

-In so many ways, this really is the funnest three weeks in sports. While I will never condone gambling, filling out brackets and competing against friends is quite a rush. There is nothing like tuning into the last five minutes of the San Diego St./Indiana game on a random Thursday in the Union with the whole middle section of your Oakland bracket on the line.

-I am absolutely convinced that Coach McKillop isn't going anywhere. Last night, I interviewed Matt on my radio show and he said that his father had some pretty strong ties to the town with his son and wife and that he certainly wouldn't leave until Brendan graduated (next year). That being said, Coach is in a great position to retire here. He's getting to a point where starting over again would not be desirable. I also think that despite all of the riffs between the Admissions office and basketball recruiting, Coach loves Davidson's reputation and its personality. He loves the types of players that get in here, and he loves what they go through outside of practice. That's something Kansas State won't offer.

-This bracket is really hard. In many "Guides to the bracket," the experts say to go through it and make gut picks on the spot without analysis. After doing that, I realized that I picked all four 11-seeds to advance (SIU, SDSU, UW-Mil, George Mason). While GMU is a reach, I truly do believe that the other three can win. Am I crazy? What about the 12-5's. I didn't pick any of them to upset. I just don't see one (outside of a possible Montana-Nevada). Finally, I look at all the heavy teams that I have seen and don't like their chances. Duke has had too many close calls. Villanova will miss Ray. Gonzaga hasn't played anyone. Memphis? You need to have more than athleticism. Texas has been extremely beatable and unstoppable. And Connecticut. Well Syracuse found a way. I don't even want to rule in Ohio St. because Davidson will take them down.

-That's all for now. Keep the brackets rolling, and keep giving my blog hits. I love it.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Radio Show

Blake and I will finally get a chance to have another radio episode tonight. Due to WALT's schedule, we are only able to broadcast on Sunday nights, contributing to our low output this semester. If you are a Davidson student you can tune in at www.walt1610.com live at 7 (right after the selection show), and anyone can download the show from that same site on Monday morning.
We will have highlight clips from John Kilgo's calling of the title game, as well as a live interview with Davidson guard Matt McKillop. We will go down the bracket for you and make our picks for upsets, advances and the Final Four. Make sure to tune in.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Let's Dance

The 2005-2006 Davidson Men’s basketball season has been one of doubt and uncertainty. How does a team that nearly beats Big East powerhouse Syracuse also lose to lowly Wofford and Western Carolina? Davidson showed flashes of brilliance as they tore apart the Missouri Tigers and Southern Conference leaders Georgia Southern and Elon in Belk Arena. For the Wildcats, the Southern Conference tournament looked to be the equalizer. Coming in as a three-seed, the attitude was wide-spread that the ultimate success or failure of this season would be played out in a three-day stretch in Charleston, SC. For fans looking for superstitious trends, this tournament offered up many: Davidson last won the tournament four years ago, also a year when they traveled to Italy. In 2002, Davidson beat a military school in the first-round and the Citadel’s miraculous upset of Furman and advancing to play Davidson confirmed this trend. While the 2002 victory also came in Charleston, it was the only city that Davidson had won a game away from Belk Arena in 2006. The planets were aligning. The board was set. It had come to time to settle things on the court.

Although Day 1 of the tournament did not involve the Wildcats, its happenings proved very helpful. In a conference that had been up and down all season, two out of the first three games were upsets, eliminating three opponents that had defeated Davidson; while advancing The Citadel, Appalachian State, and UNC-Greensboro, all of whom Davidson had shown mastery over in the regular season. With The Citadel’s upset of Furman, they won their third straight game in a row and earned a spot with the Wildcats in Friday’s nightcap.

Day 2 of the tournament proved to be much of the same story as Georgia Southern and College of Charleston were upset and Elon barely escaped an overtime thriller. By the time Davidson tipped off against The Citadel, only 2 favored teams had secured victories, and in the first 15 minutes, The Citadel tried to keep it that way. Sparked by the hot shooting of J’Mel Everhart and Dante Terry, the Bulldogs hit 14 out of their first 19 shots en route to a 37-18 lead with just over six minutes remaining in the first half. But, like they had done all season long, the Wildcats clawed back to take the momentum into the locker room on a Jason Morton ’06 layup and foul.

“We make it a point of emphasis to get the ‘Big Mo’ right before the half,” said head coach Bob McKillop. “Whether you are up seven or down seven, you want to be able to have confidence going into the locker room.”

Davidson had gone on a 15-3 run to end the half that was sparked by several Ian Johnson ’06 layups and a Matt McKillop ’06 three-pointer. For McKillop, it was just the beginning.

“At halftime, Kenny [Grant ’06] told me that I needed to take some more shots and start leading this team,” said Matt McKillop. “I realized what this game meant, and just started shooting.”

McKillop looked like the guard that Davidson fans hadn’t seen in a long while. He began releasing as soon as he caught the ball and did not submit to his usual hesitation. McKillop tied the game for the first time with 14:42 remaining, then another three-pointer gave the Wildcats the lead just a minute later. Going to a four-guard lineup, Davidson was able to close out on the Bulldog shooters in the second half and held them to just twelve field goals. McKillop finished with 21 points, 18 in the second half, and five three-pointers. Davidson also set the tone for their tournament run by dominating the Bulldogs on the glass, 43-19. With the 79-73 win over the Bulldogs, Davidson earned a spot against the second-seeded North Division champs, Elon.

The last time that Davidson had played Elon, Ian Johnson ’06 had scored 18 points, leading Davidson’s frontcourt and their 34 points in the paint. In the semifinals of the conference tournament, Elon decided to take away Johnson’s inside game. It seems they forgot about his outside game. The Wildcats hit eight three-pointers in the first half, half of which came from the Davidson center.

“We have some offensive sets that are designed to get Ian those open looks,” said Coach McKillop. “He is unique for a tall guy in that he has such a quick release. He shoots like a guard.”

Leading by seven at the half, Davidson was able to maintain its lead throughout most of the second half due to strong defense on Elon’s Chris Chalko and aggressive rebounding by Thomas Sander ’08. Sander finished with a game-high 11 rebounds, leading his team to another formidable margin of 39-23. Down by just four with 43 seconds remaining, Chalko missed a three-pointer and Sander hauled in the rebound. Two Winters free-throws sealed the 65-58 win for the Wildcats, and a berth in the title game against the defending-champion Chattanooga Mocs.

Sunday, March 5, 2006 was a day that many Davidson fans will remember for a long time. After an incredible come-from-behind victory over the Citadel and a close game against Elon, Davidson seemed poised for domination. After an opening Brendan Winters ’06 three-pointer gave the Wildcats a 3-2 lead, they never looked back. Chattanooga seemed unable to buy a basket as they shot 9-36 from FG range in the first half. Davidson, on the other hand, was finding baskets in the interior and on the perimeter. The Wildcats hit five threes and were led by 12 points by Brendan Winters at the intermission. The first play of the second half marked the beginning of the end for the Mocs: Thomas Sander found a cutting Winters who hit the layup and was fouled, extending the Davidson lead to 18 at 38-20. Winters went on to finish with a career-high 33 points, as the Wildcats ran over a demoralized Chattanooga squad.

“We aren’t a shooting team,” said Chattanooga head coach John Shulman. “We were deluding ourselves by shooting so well in this tournament, and I think we realized who we were today.”

If Chattanooga realized that they weren’t fit to play in the conference title game, Davidson finally showed that they are the best team in the Southern Conference. Dominating the Mocs on the boards, in the passing lanes, and in the fine art of putting the ball in the basket, Davidson demonstrated to a national audience with their 80-55 victory that the NCAA tournament needs to watch out; there’s a new upset-minded team ready to make some noise.

As the final buzzer sounded, students hugged their friends, wives hugged their spouses, and sons went to find their fathers.

“My dad has been the most influential person in my life,” said Winters. “For him to see my dreams come true was a special moment for both of us.”

It has always been noted that Davidson basketball is a family tradition. Parents and family from all over the country flocked to Charleston to watch their beloved sons, including 28 members of the McKillop family.

“Did you see all those kids with the painted faces?” asked Coach McKillop. “They look up to Matt as their cousin, and as their hero. He has given them an experience to cherish forever.”

This whole basketball team has given all of us that experience. In a college routine of tests, homework, and residual stress, this week will bring us together in support of our beloved Wildcats. We have been given an experience to cherish forever. And, for one shining moment, Davidson gets to go dance.

Davidsonian Interview

The Davidsonian: How did it feel to win this tournament in front of so many family and friends?

Ian Johnson: Well, all of our dads have had tremendous impacts and influences on our lives. My dad has been with me for my entire basketball career, and to win it in front of our fathers and families like that was really a great feeling. It was great for us to have them there when we won.

Matt McKillop: It was just such a special moment for me to be able to walk to the sideline after the game and give my dad a big hug. It was something we had both dreamed about since I decided I was going to come to school here. And it was unbelievable to be able to do it in front of my family as well. My mom’s entire side of the family, which was just about 28 people, all made the trip from all over the country to see us play. It was just amazing to have all my cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles all there to be able to share that experience with me.

Brendan Winters: My dad has been the number one believer in me since day 1 in high school when no one recruited me. And so to win a game like that, and be able to play like that in the title game was very special for me and for him.

TD: What was the low-point of this season for you as a person and for this team? How did you overcome it?

MM: I would have to say the Western Carolina game. Up until that point, we hadn’t lost a game on this court in a while. I really felt like when we were playing in Belk Arena, we were playing with a chip on our shoulders. But Western came in and out-toughed us, out-hustled us and just out-played us the entire day.

BW: I think that’s when we started to realize that this is not how we wanted our final season to go. This wasn’t what we had envisioned over the summer and over our last four years, so we knew we had to regain focus and step up our play.

IJ: That was also when I started growing my beard. I really feel like we have picked up our intensity ever since. If it worked for Roethlisberger, surely it could work for us.

TD: What seems to be an overarching theme for this 2005-06 Davidson basketball team?

BW: This is the time of our lives.

IJ: It’s all about making the most of it for us. Any Davidson senior can tell you that you really just have to make the most of your last year here. It is a great place to be and college basketball is incredible. You just have to have no regrets.

MM: Not taking anything away from the underclassmen, this senior class has really rallied around each other and motivated and encouraged our teammates. We have tried to do everything we can to get this team to where it has gotten. So I think that for us, it has been about doing this the last time and doing it right.

TD: Was there any difference in the team’s preparation for the Southern Conference tournament this year after losing in the semifinals last season?

IJ: Well, last year, after going 16-0, I think we definitely went in to the tournament trying not to lose, instead of trying to win. I think this year we certainly made a conscious effort to reverse that attitude.

BW: We also looked at how Chattanooga won the whole thing last year after having several conference losses. I think that gave us confidence to know that we are just as capable of pulling that off as they were. Even if we were the third seed, we just set our minds to it and didn’t look back from there.

MM: I know we were undefeated last year, but I think our confidence at being the best team in the conference was higher this year. We knew that when we played together and played the way we practiced, we were unstoppable. And that’s the team that showed up in the tournament.

TD: What has this week been like, being able to walk around campus not worrying about the NIT but knowing about the NCAA tournament?

BW: Well I know that last year, I didn’t even want to come to classes and have to deal with everyone asking me “what happened?” No one could really understand how hurt we were. This year was so much nicer with everyone congratulating you and seeing all the support that we have around the school.

MM: I think that you really get a feel about what Davidson basketball means to this campus. When you have a professor who moves class time around so that people can watch our game next week, it really makes you feel like all your hard work has finally paid off and that everyone has just rallied around you.

TD: Playing in the NIT last year, really seemed to motivate you guys to prove that you didn’t belong there, and you won some games. Will it be hard to not accept that you’ve completed your goal and that the NCAA tournament is just icing on the cake?

MM: I think that the emotion of this week has just been so unbelievable that we will carry this on and be able to do something really special.

IJ: I think we have more to prove this year than going to the NIT. When you go to the NIT, you are already second place in something. Our season is definitely not over yet. We have some more games to play.

New pictures

Remember to check out my Southern Conference tourney pictures and others from our trip to Charleston by clicking on the link on the right.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Hiatus

I'm sorry for the recent hiatus in posting. I have had a pretty busy week academically and basketball has fizzled just a bit. I will post some more Davidsonian material by Friday night, including a tournament summary and a round-table interview with Matt McKillop, Brendan Winters and Ian Johnson.
By next week I will post some of my picks for upsets in the newly released 2006 bracket as well as analysis of Davidson's tourney situation.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Sunday, March 05, 2006

CHAMPS

“It has been a long road for this team. We traveled from the tops of the Alps to Cameron Indoor to long, disappointing road trips to daily practices and magical victories in Belk Arena. Today was just another chapter in a large book. I couldn’t be more prouder of this team.” Bob McKillop

Davidson’s title game performance seems to epitomize the theme of a long season. Despite poor road performances against lesser teams and upsets of bigger programs, this game marked the strengths of Davidson basketball.

1) Versatility. The Mocs focused on high-scoring Ian Johnson and the Wildcats were forced to find scoring outside of the block. Brendan Winters stepped up big from the perimeter and was then able to drive the paint. He totaled 33 points, a career high, and garnered the Tournament MVP award.

2) Intensity. Davidson held the Mocs to 34% shooting from the field and outrebounded them by 45-30. The Wildcats put up fights for every loose ball and didn’t allow Chattanooga to get easy shots, even when they were down big.

3) Shooting. After all of the dust has settled and Davidson looks at all of the keys to victory in this tournament, many things appear: defense, rebounding, hustle, determination. However, nothing can diminish the importance of being able to hit open shots. At times this season, Davidson couldn’t find the mark on open shots from the lane and perimeter. Over this 3-game season, Davidson shot lights-out.

Coming into the tournament, Davidson knew they had to win to extend their season. Yet, throughout it all, this group of Wildcats was relaxed, from the head coach all the way down to the managers. This has always been our year. For a while, the spotlight sought other pieces of brilliance; but in the end, Davidson is the best team in the Southern Conference.

For now, I will let the pure knowledge of victory hold its own poignancy. As life begins to go on, a better perspective on this accomplishment will emerge. For now we can whip out our towels and sing along with Coach McKillop:

Da-da-da-DA-da, da-da-da-dada-dada-da dada Dada.

One Shining Moment

As the Cats began extending their lead in the second half, the Davidson crowd rose to a fever pitch. The house finally came down when Kenny Grant lobbed an alley-oop to Boris Meno for a behind-the-head rim-rocking dunk. Davidson leads by 73-49 right now with 3 minutes to play. I will re-edit this post and write a final analysis when I get back to Davidson later tonight.
For now, WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS!!!!!

Halftime: Davidson 35 UT-C 20

In an action packed first half, Davidson has built a strong lead off of the outside shooting of Matt McKillop and Brendan Winters, each with 2 threes. The Mocs have had trouble finding the bottom of the net as they are shooting just 9-36 from the field, compared to Davidson's 15-29. Thomas Sander has been a force on the boards collecting 9 rebounds as Davidson has outrebounded Chattanooga 24-17.
Some areas of concern include a short stretch where Davidson showed an inability to play fast-paced, committing several turnovers and missed outside shots. They need to continue to try to get it to Ian Johnson who only has four points thus far. The game has been pretty clean with just 7 combined fouls and less disputed calls from Mr. Valentine (who reffed last night's UNC-Duke game). Davidson only has 10 points in the paint compared to Chattanooga's 12. They need to continue to establish the inside presence, whether off of entry passes or drives to the hoop.
Otherwise, Chattanooga will need a strong second half to overcome Davidson's lead and momentum. 20 minutes to glory.

Tip - 9 minutes

It's gametime, baby!
It feels like all of the angst of two years worth of basketball are riding on this game. At the beginning of the year, many felt that this was one of the best Davidson teams in recent history. After several disappointing road losses, the wheels appeared to come off the Wildcat mobile. But, one year later after all of the complaints of the tournament system, Davidson has a chance to redeem a 10-5 conference season with a tournament championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament.

Keys to the game:
Davidson needs to do whatever they've been doing the last two days. Playing loose. With the pressure on, and away from Belk Arena, the Wildcats have stumbled thus far. This will be their opportunity to prove their mettle and establish themselves. The post game needs to thrive on Chattanooga's four-guard lineup, and the defense cannot allow the Mocs to run around them. Chattanooga has been playing "inspired basketball" and their skill sets do not match up with Davidson.

I will be back at half. Tune in on ESPN2.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Davidson 65 Elon 58

"Focus. Loose Balls and Rebounds. Communication. I felt like we executed our points of emphasis very well today."
Bob McKillop

With their seven point victory over Elon, Davidson advances to their 15th SoCon title game where they hold a record of 7-7, 2-2 under Coach McKillop. The Wildcats were able to hold off the Phoenix by aggressive offensive sets and defensive intensity. Davidson outrebounded their opponents by 39-23, combining for a mark of 82-42 over the last two games. Sander led all rebounders with 11, while Meno and Winters both had 7. Ian Johnson led all scorers with 23 points off of 5-6 3pt shooting. It was the 10th time that the All-Conference selection had recorded at least 20 points this season.

Jason Richards had some key minutes in the second half when Kenny Grant picked up his fourth foul. Richards kept the intensity high for the Cats' offense, which created a by-product of high turnovers (17). "We realize that turnovers are a part of aggressive play," said Coach McKillop. "But our focus this time is on winning the tournament, not trying not to lose it."

Davidson is certainly playing wide open basketball right now and hopefully that calm will carry over to tomorrow's game against Chattanooga. Davidson will have to overcome a 1-5 overall record against the Mocs in tournament play. Chattanooga shot 52.9% today against Appalachian State, a number that is unusually high for them. They rely on fast-paced ball movement and getting lots of opportunities at scoring.

3:25pm

At the half, Davidson leads Elon by a score of 35-28. Ian Johnson leads all Wildcat scorers with 16 points on 4 three-pointers. Davidson has shot 17 three-pointers, hitting 8. Elon has been very effective at diminishing the Wildcat post game and Davidson has been forced to shoot open looks from outside. Meno has come up big for the Cats with several offensive rebounds, but unfortunately Davidson hasn't seemed tough enough to finish inside. Once again, the refs know who they want in the championship game but Davidson will have to work to overcome that disadvantage.
If the Cats can hit a few more threes and finish on their drives to the paint, this game should be wrapped up. But Elon is effective at employing Davidson's strategies against them, hitting several turn around jumpers in the lane and getting hot shooters open on perimeter rotations. If the Phoenix heat up, this could be a long afternoon.
On a side note, it seems that Chattanooga fans across the way don't know who to pull for. They just want someone to get hurt or something.

2:06pm

As the wheels began to come off of the Mountaineer effort, one small fan epitomized the agony and determination of tournament basketball. A five-year old App St. fan began yelling at his mom and those around her to stand back up and start cheering defense. When she told him to “shush,” he waved her off and started jumping up and down, cheering in line with the cheerleaders. The Mountaineers were down by as many as 16 points, but pulled to within 6 on consecutive three-pointers. Some fans believe no matter what reality is showing. App. State was playing tired, uninspired basketball but somehow have been able to make Chattanooga earn this victory. UT-C’s Keddric Mays nullified consecutive ASU steals by hitting a three-pointer to push the lead to 71-63. But ASU fans and players refused to give up, making shots on the offensive end and putting Chattanooga on the line. A McLaughlin-Williams three-pointer with 48 seconds remaining put the Moc lead at 4. After only hitting 1 free throw, an ASU layup cut the lead to 3 and sent the Mocs back to the line with 29 seconds. That kid had the whole ASU section on its feet. After two free throws, D.J. Thompson was fouled on a three-point attempt that went in. His free throw cut the lead to 1 with 14 seconds. After two free throws, D.J. Thompson’s three-pointer was off the mark, sealing the Mountaineers fate as they lost by a score of 78-75.
If they win, Davidson will get to play a Chattanooga team that got a run for its money.
Hats off to ASU, they certainly made their mark on the 2006 SoCon tournament.

Now it's Davidson's turn.

Day 3 (12:48pm)

Chattanooga leads ASU 36-34 at halftime. ASU jitterbug D.J. Thompson leads the Mountaineers with 19 points, while Jerice Crouch has nine points for the Mocs. The Mocs will have some momentum going into the second-half as they eliminated a double-digit deficit capped off by a hanging three-pointer by Steve Cherry at the buzzer. As Davidson fans know, hitting three-point plays going into the half can do wonders for a team's confidence for the second half.
The Mocs will look to capitalize on the Mountaineers' fatigue as they have played one less game than ASU.
Sitting in the bleachers, Davidson fans should hope for a Mountaineer upset, but that will be harder than a two-point deficit would make it seem. ASU needs more scoring options than Thompson's slashes.

Looking ahead, Davidson should match up well with this Elon team that likes to play Davidson's game of fundamental, tough basketball. Unlike the Citadel, the Phoenix will be hard-pressed to get off to a quick start as it just doesn't fit their offensive style. Davidson should use that to their advantage and try to get more offensive looks inside at the beginning of the first half.

Thoughts

Here are some random thoughts from Day 2 of the Southern Conference tournament.

-There needs to be more communication about the Women's bracket in the Coliseum. With games going on all afternoon, I never once saw a score announced or published.

-Davidson really travels better than I would have imagined. For a fan core that has been criticized for not coming out to several important home games, there was a significant Davidson contingent at the game. Out of the four remaining teams, Elon and Davidson have the best fan groups and Davidson should dominate the cheering tomorrow.

-While Charleston may certainly testify to its not being a home-court advantage, the tournament committee might have a hard time sizing up this tournament. Four incredible games in one day and there really was not enough excitement in the fan groups. Maybe the closer teams (Furman, Wofford, GSU) should stick around a little longer.

-On a scale of 1 to 10, today's overall officiating ranks near 3.6. With absolutely dangerous no-calls in the Citadel-Davidson game, the refs were allowing the game to get out of control and players were in serious danger. There were many questionable calls against the College of Charleston and even the ever ferocious Tom Herrion had a right to be angry. If the players are expected to play at a higher level, then the officiating should follow.

-All of the media members continue to be upset that internet access is restricted to the phone lines in the media room. I would have had a few more game updates if I hadn't had to leave the court to go write them.

-I was very impressed with the overall parking situation. All parking was free and cars got out of the lots and onto the Interstate pretty quickly. A for parking.

-While Davidson and Chattanooga rank as the remaining top dogs of SoCon basketball, the new media darling is the Elon Phoenix. However, at one point in the media room, a fellow writer was discussing whether "the Elon Phoenix's point guard..." was correct grammar. It was finally decided that "Elon's point guard" would have to suffice.

Friday, March 03, 2006

"Never say Die" (79-73)

"I felt like we really just chipped away, chipped away, and never got desperate. This team never died and never went for home runs."
Bob McKillop

Down by 7 at the half, Davidson went on 10-3 run to begin the second half. Emboldened by several defensive stops, the Davidson offense was able to light fire as Matt McKillop ripped off 4 second half threes en route to a season-high 21 points. Davidson shot 10-18 from the 3 point line, and outrebounded The Citadel 43-19 to get 14 second chance points. The Wildcats chipped away at the Bulldog lead and a McKillop three finally gave them a one point lead. Davidson never looked back as Grant, Morton and Winters continued to drive the lane and cause fouls. The Citadel had several opportunities to tie the game at the end, but Johnson and Meno came up with big-time defensive rebounds, and Morton was able to knock down the free throws.

Simply, this game was exactly what Davidson needed to get through the tournament. As Coach McKillop said, "we were forced to recollect the small instances of comebacks this season [St. Joe's, CofC, Citadel, UMass]. We used those memories as a catalyst for confidence." Davidson seemed to put it all together in the second half, combining toughness inside, strong drives to the hoop, crisp passing and lights-out shooting, and tenacious defense and rebounding. It is a testament to a group of players and coach who have been dogged as too uptight and self-critical. The Wildcats believed in themselves tonight, and their play reflected it.

"We knew going into the half that we had a chance. We just never thought about the season ending, but making the next shot."
Matt McKillop

Davidson will make their way home tonight and sleep heavily as they tip off against Elon tomorrow at 2:30pm.

9:13pm (40-33)

They say it's hard to beat a team three times in one season. In the first half of tonight's Citadel-Davidson game, the Bulldogs showed why. The Citadel was led by hot outside shooting and the scoring prowess of J'Mel Everhart and Donnie McLendon. The Bulldogs hit their first 4 field goals en route to a 19 point advantage, halfway through the half. Davidson has been pounded inside as guards Jason Morton, Jason Richards, Matt McKillop and Brendan Winters have all been knocked to the floor on separate occasions with no whistle blown. At one point, Jason M. had two guys clothesline him without a call. Davidson would find later in the half that the refs were letting both teams play and a few Bulldogs began to be knocked around. A backdoor layup and a foul allowed Jason Morton to cut the lead to single digits as the half expired, 40-33.

If Davidson hopes to advance, they will have to overcome a first half deficit for the first time this year. Neither team is in foul trouble and Davidson has played 9 men already this game. Johnson leads all Wildcat scorers with 14, while Davidson has outrebounded the Citadel 25-12 (14 offensive). Meno has had four big offensive rebounds.

The Citadel went 8-15 from 3pt, going 16-31 from the floor. Davidson shot 13-33 from the field and 4-8 from 3. The Citadel has 13 points off of turnovers.

The Wildcat faithful has held their own tonight, and the crowds for both teams are the most excited that the Tournament has had all day.

8:05pm

UNC-G had their chances to pull off the third upset of the night. After coming back from a double-digit halftime deficit, the Spartans had the ball with under 20 seconds to play and a tied score. But three layup opportunities went astray and the Pheonix forced overtime. Several key turnovers plagued the Spartans at the end of the period and Elon was able to hit enough free throws to come out on top, 64-61.

It's on to the nightcap. Davidson vs. The Citadel. I will be cheering for most of the first half but should be able to get in a good analysis at the break. After the game, I will post stats and quotes and hopefully break down a Davidson-Elon matchup tomorrow afternoon.

GO CATS!

4:15

It's mayhem in Charleston. Down by 2 points, CofC's Dontaye Draper drove the baseline and hit an off-balance bank shot to tie the game with under 20 seconds. Chattanooga made its way up the court and the Moc guard drove into a Cougar player in the lane, with no charge or blocking foul called, the line drive shot banked off of the backrim and in, good for a two-point Moc lead. CofC's last second shot was ruled too late as the buzzer sounded and Cougar players and fans cried foul. While the shot was a split-second after the buzzer, it was certainly close enough for controversy. For the seventh straight year, the Cougs are denied the Southern Conference Championship and haven't advanced to the semis since 2003.
Draper, who was held scoreless in the first half, only scored 5 points on the game. The Mocs were led by high-flying Casey Long.
With Charleston and GSU bowing out, only 1 top seed has advanced in the tournament and that was 8th seeded App. St. who beat 9th seeded Wofford yesterday.

3:11

The College of Charleston trails UT-Chattanooga by 10, 43-33 at halftime.
Dontaye Draper got three quick fouls in the first half and has not contributed much for the Cougars. Casey Long has 11 points for the Mocs as they have been able to capitalize on bad passes by the Cougars, turning turnovers into run-out points. The Cougars haven't been able to shoot outside at all and Draper's absence has left a hole in the Charleston offense. There have been a few questionable calls to get Coach Herrion upset, but the first half has simply been sloppy.
College of Charleston fans know this feeling and with Georgia Southern gone, they are missing out on a golden opportunity to capitalize on a weaker bracket. While Davidson fans may be happy to see the Cougars go, their continuing woes might spell disaster for Conference officials who are closely monitoring attendance in their decisions for the future of the tournament. While it is still the middle of the afternoon, attendance has been paltry at best and Davidson will certainly be outnumbered by the Cadets who will most likely be shipped over again.

1:56pm

Giantkillers!

The Appalachian State Mountaineers have knocked off the #1 seeded GSU Eagles by a score of 74-61 in the first game of day 2.
Elton Nesbitt was held to 13 points, all of which came in the first half. The Eagles seemed unable to shoot the ball from the outside but stayed close with strong drives to the hoop and finishes. Nesbitt had two fouls for most of the first half and was forced to sit on the bench. The refs were very tight with their calls as both teams were shooting free throws near the end, an element that helped ASU keep the Eagles from developing any sort of rhythm.
Up by three with under 2 minutes, all-conference PG D.J. Thompson hit a big three to extend the lead to six for ASU. GSU was fouled on the next possession but only hit 1 and ASU was able to extend its lead and seal the game on a Thompson steal.
With Georgia Southern gone, the Southern Conference is now guaranteed two postseason berths as the Eagles will pack their bags for the NIT, a new rule that the selection committee implemented this month.
ASU will play the winner of the Chattanooga-CofC game which starts in approximately 15 minutes.

The Cinderella meets the Empire

It is no secret around the Southern Conference that Davidson always has a target on its back. Whether they are 16-0 or 10-5, everyone wants to beat the Wildcats in the Southern Conference tournament.

This year that task will fall to the Citadel Bulldogs. Threatening to finish their season winless in the conference, The Cid played a magnificent game against Wofford last week and won on a last second come-from-behind block by J'Mel Everhart to prevent the Terrier's GW layup.

Now, nearly a week later, lightning has struck twice. The Bulldogs upset the 6th seeded Furman Paladins yesterday, earning them a spot in today's nightcap against Davidson. The Bulldogs had not won a first-round game since 2002, when they beat VMI. That year they proceeded to lose to Davidson in the second round, who went on to win the Tournament Championship.

While Davidson will surely be out to establish themselves as the premier Southern Conference squad, they will have to contend with a Bulldog team that is brimming with self-confidence. The Wildcats have struggled with identity and expectation all season and they could be nipped by a Citadel squad that doesn't care about a 1-15 record. The Tournament marks a new season, and the Bulldogs are undefeated.

In other action in the Tournament yesterday, Appalachian State won a 1-point nailbiter over Wofford, while UNC-Greensboro rolled past Western Carolina. Davidson had lost at least one game to every team that lost today, and is undefeated against the day's victors.

Looking back to Davidson's close victory at The Citadel in February, the Wildcats will need to limit the looks of Everhart and Donny McClendon. Both players are lightning fast and if Everhart hit his shots in the paint combined with McClendon's threes, Davidson will be in trouble. The Wildcats should look to test the Citadel's mediocre frontcourt that got into foul trouble in both Davidson wins this season. If Johnson and Sander can control the paint, and Morton and Winters can slow down the Citadel offense, Davidson should come away with a victory. Once again, the X-factors will lie in Davidson's ability to shoot the outside shot on an unfamiliar basket and the effectiveness of the Corps. It will be difficult for any Davidson crowd to outcheer several thousand military students so every fan in red shouldn't hesitate to make their voice heard.

As the radio announcers were making their concluding remarks after the game tonight, the head analyst noted that "it is very hard to beat a team three times in one season. It doesn't matter who it is." Davidson has beaten the Bulldogs twice this season, and they will need to bring the house to make it thrice.

Coverage will begin immediately following the conclusion of the Elon-UNC-Greensboro game around 8 o clock.