Friday, February 16, 2007

I Hate February

I hate this time of year. For the past three years, the entire month of February is nothing but easy academic assignments, preparation for spring break, warming NC weather and NCAA tournament projections that say that Davidson has a chance to make some big-time noise.

You might think that I'm being ironic, but I'm serious: I really hate this time of year. In the next two weeks, Davidson will face four teams who have a combined conference record of 22-35. Since 2000, Davidson has a record of 33-11 against The Citadel, Wofford, Western Carolina and Furman. That's pretty good, right? Well, the sad part is that seven out of those eleven losses have come in the months of February and March when Davidson sorely needed to be collecting victories.

Since the 1993-1994 season, Davidson has a conference record of 157-59, and yet they have only won 3 conference championships. The Wildcats always seem to underachieve in the conference tournament. So while some Davidson fans are thinking about Stephen Curry's player of the year honors or hotel reservations for the NCAA regional in Spokane, Washington, I'm being pulled into the "coach-speak" for once. Let's take this one game at a time.

The Wildcats travel to Cullowhee, NC tomorrow to take on the Western Carolina Catamounts. WCU is 7-8 in the conference, and is one of the few middle teams. They are not flat-out horrible, nor are they dangerously good. They are not a team that inspires incredible anticipation as ASU, CofC and UNC-G do. Yet they aren't a team that is so inept that they can't even find who they are guarding, like Chattanooga is. Western Carolina is a beatable team that has enough weapons to make these last few weeks interesting.

Although they have a two-game lead in the race for first place in the conference, Davidson cannot afford to lose more than one game or else Appalachian State will hold the tie-breaker and wrest the conference championship away from the Wildcats. Once Davidson gets to the conference tournament, they will need all they can get (including the top seed) in order to come away with the conference's automatic bid. All of the top three teams in the conference certainly has the firepower to upset Davidson, and as we have seen from season's past, anything can happen on any given day. Although this team is younger and had fewer expectations coming into the season, a Davidson rejection from the NCAA tournament this year will strike even harder than losses in past seasons.

Back in the summer of '06, I told several of my friends that this would be one of the most important seasons in recent Davidson basketball history. The Wildcats had just emerged as a familiar blip on the sport's world radar after holding tough with Ohio State, one season after making news for going undefeated in the conference season. Davidson was beginning to be as similar as Southern Illinois or Creighton to the public eye, they were on the verge of the mid-major Tipping Point.

The Tipping Point happens when a team puts together consecutive strong seasons with an effective system, incredible coaching and a new respectability along the recruiting trail. The Tipping Point is accelerated through ESPN's expert analysis, bracket mania, and distinctive characters. George Mason has Jimmy Larranaga, Gonzaga has the 'stache boy, SIU has those interesting dogs for mascots. All of these schools have been to sustain success within their conference, challenge for higher NCAA tournament seeds and attract the all-important attention of talented recruits who are looking for a place where they can be successful.

I wanted Davidson to be at the edge of the basketball kettle when it tipped this year and all of the mid-majors started to flow out. The media exposure has been enormous as players like Stephen Curry are heralded all throughout the internet and fans are now calling in asking for his autograph. Davidson has gotten votes in the Top 25 polls as more writers around the nation are willing to put faith in the small school. And Davidson is distinctive: it has a very respected coach, a great history, and incredible academics. The formula was set up to become a mid-major power; what we needed was the repetition.

Davidson could not afford to slip back into the oblivion of the underachieving Southern Conference after putting their name on the public consciousness over the past two year. The Wildcats needed to stay on the scene this year, and that they did, in a big way. The Wildcats could very well set a new record for most victories in a season. Stephen Curry is in the process of ripping open record books and making fans remember the exploits of Mike Maloy, Fred Hetzel and Dick Snyder. The community fanbase has shown up in record numbers as they are seemingly addicted to basketball again in Mecklenburg county.

All of that brings me back to why I hate this time of year. Davidson shouldn't have to sweat out Western Carolina; or Furman, Wofford, or The Citadel for that matter. The Wildcats shouldn't have to play near perfect basketball for 120 minutes over the course of three days. But that is the challenge set before them. The prize is the potential to be one of the few. The reward for overcoming these hurdles is a place in basketball history and a prominent place in the new landscape of college basketball. However, that journey has to go through Cullowhee first. So let's get this journey started. It's a great day to be a Wildcat!

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