Wednesday, December 05, 2007

'Cats fell short, but answered important questions

Published in The Davidsonian on Dec. 5, 2007. Photos by Evan Mintz.

Now it is December, and the Wildcats are 3-3. Davidson has seemingly been on a rollercoaster of momentum beginning with the start of the second half against North Carolina, dipping into despair after losing at Western Michigan, rising up to new heights with a convincing road conference victory at Appalachian State and then coming to rest somewhere in the middle with a frustratingly close loss to Duke. The Wildcats have been ranked in the nation’s top 25, dropped out of the vote-getting all-together and then climbed back into the “also receiving votes” category this past week.

Going into the season, Davidson fans had high expectations for success. The media has projected such things as a Wildcat appearance in the Sweet Sixteen, and Stephen Curry ’10 has been mentioned in most experts’ list as one of the best shooting guards in the country.

Heading into the second half of the team’s out-of-conference slate, this team still faces several unanswered questions. I, however, want to pause and point out exactly what we have learned so far in this topsy-turvy start to the season.

We all knew that Curry was a great talent, but after seeing him against both Duke and North Carolina, I was convinced that he was the best player on the court both times. Curry was the game’s leading scorer against North Carolina (24), even though he shot a horrendous 2-12 from three-point land. Against Duke, Curry was hampered by foul trouble on several dubious charging penalties, yet the sophomore still managed to score 20 points and keep Davidson within striking distance. Curry even showed his potential for the torrential destruction that could be unleashed on the Southern Conference when he scored 38 points against Appalachian State. The only thing stopping him in that game was fatigue. Averaging 25 points a game, Curry ranks sixth nationally.

Although Curry has been unstoppable against opposing defenses, he has not been able to lead Davidson above .500 through these first six games. We have seen that most of the burden of leadership actually falls on the shoulders of stud point guard Jason Richards ’08. While no one player or play can ever be totally blamed for any one team loss, one could easily look to Richards’ poor first half (0-5 FT shooting) against Duke or his uncharacteristic six turnovers against North Carolina to see that his play could have been the tipping point in the ’Cats’ favor. Heck, Curry scored 38 points against Appalachian State, and the Wildcats still only won by 11 (Richards went 1-9 from the field).

Although Richards has displayed a few lapses in consistency so far, his hand in leading the Wildcats can be seen from every angle. Richards’ 12-point, five-assist effort in the second half against Duke kept the Wildcats close while Curry rode the bench with foul trouble. Richards’ assist numbers (9.0 per game) are tops in the country by a large margin and his average of 33.5 minutes per game shows how indispensable he is.

The Wildcat frontcourt is vastly underrated. While Curry and Richards get all the press in the national media, the Wildcat frontcourt of Boris Meno ’08, Thomas Sander ’08, Andrew Lovedale ’09 and Steve Rossiter ’10 have played extremely well thus far. Although fans like to remember a missed dunk here or there, they often forget the innumerable displays of athleticism that this group has displayed against some of the nation’s top talents.

Last year against Maryland, this group was outscored 36-15 and outrebounded 30-19. The Wildcats had no answer for the Terps’ interior attack and the final result showed the discrepancy. However, against North Carolina this season, this group held Preseason Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough without a field goal for the entire second half. They outscored Duke’s frontcourt 38-19 and they helped give Davidson the edge on the offensive glass. In Southern Conference play, they held Appalachian State’s Jeremy Clayton and Donte Minter to a combined 11 points and made them turn the ball over seven times. Although they are mostly undersized in comparison to many BCS teams, this group has shown that they can battle with the best and come out on top.

Finally, we have learned how far the seriousness of this program has come. There once was a day when Davidson reveled in the opportunity to play on television and the TV game was always circled on the calendar. This year, the Wildcats play 15 of their 29 regular season games on TV, with a chance that regional networks might pick up a few more games during the season. There was also a time when Davidson fans came home and celebrated losses to Duke and North Carolina when Davidson was within a possession or two in the final minute. Now fans expect Davidson to beat ACC teams and are unwilling to accept anything less than a victory…as a victory. However, the expectations of fans extend beyond message boards and water-cooler talk. Over 3,000 fans showed up at Belk Arena on holiday break to see the Wildcats wallop N.C. Central. Bobcats Arena was filled to its capacity as North Carolina and Duke fans witnessed a proverbial sea of red nearly overcome the venue with Wildcat cheering.

We have learned a lot about this team and this program in these first few weeks of basketball. The Wildcat players and fans have a remarkable seriousness of purpose this season, and that has shown through against the traditional powers on a national stage. The Wildcats still have many questions to answer in this next stretch of schedule, but they have fulfilled many expectations so far.

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