DAVIDSON — Knowing they could be anywhere from a No. 12 to a 14 seed, members of the Davidson men’s basketball team would fall quiet when a potential matchup was about to be revealed during Sunday’s selection show.
Some players rubbed their hands together with anticipation when a team like Memphis took a No. 6 seed. Other times, visible angst came across their faces when a team like Syracuse took a No. 4 seed.
But when Marquette was revealed as the No. 3 seed in the East regional, it was as if the Wildcats, all gathered together in the Davidson student union, knew they would be playing the Golden Eagles. And when CBS broadcaster Greg Gumble announced the Wildcats as the No. 14 seed, the players jumped out of their chairs passing around high-fives.
The Wildcats (26-7) knew they were in the tournament by virtue of their Southern Conference championship last Monday, and the only suspense left on Sunday was where they would be seeded and where they would go.
So Thursday in Lexington, Ky., Davidson will be the underdog to the 23-8 Golden Eagles, which were ranked No. 12 in the nation before falling in the Big East tournament Thursday. Once the matchup was announced, Davidson coach Bob McKillop rounded up his players and gave a short speech before breaking for the evening.
“I told them the rhythm of the season must become the rhythm of the postseason, just as it was in Asheville (for the conference tournament),” said McKillop, whose team has the nation’s longest winning streak at 17 games. “The same message that we’ve listened to all year long will be the message that will be our objectives this week. Let’s get better, let’s have fun, let’s play to win and let’s try to make every play count.”
For a second consecutive year, the Wildcats gathered in the student union to watch the selection show on a projection screen. It was standing-room only Sunday evening as students, fans and alumni packed the room while the players, clad in khakis and red collared shirts, sat in the front two rows.
Last year the Wildcats were ousted 69-62 in the second round of the tournament by a Louisville team that eventually went to the Final Four. Though his team’s tournament trip was short last year, McKillop said players can take experiences from last year and turn them into positives this week.
“You can go to the memory bank whether it’s the travel there, hotel, the shoot-around, the practice the day before, the press conferences,” McKillop said, “all of those things that are part of the NCAA tournament are things that have been a part of their lives in the past and not experiencing for the first time is something that is a very good thing for them to have.”
For the Golden Eagles, this marks their eighth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament after winning the Big East regular season crown. Marquette and Davidson met twice in the 1960s but have not since then. However, McKillop knows Marquette coach Buzz Williams well enough to understand an upset on Thursday won’t come easy.
“I’ve had dinner with him on several occasions at the Final Four,” McKillop said. “He’s a very, very thorough coach. He’s analytical, he’s a motivator. He gets his teams to play like a team. He’ll have his team playing for 40 minutes.”