Scott Fowler

Davidson Wildcats go from celebrate to big wait on NCAA

Instead of getting ready to play a game on Selection Sunday, now Davidson has nothing to do but wait.

Virginia Commonwealth blistered the Wildcats Saturday in an Atlantic 10 semifinal, 93-73. Davidson’s first A-10 tournament appearance had nearly ended Friday – saved by a buzzer-beating, last-second layup by Tyler Kalinoski – but this time there was no magic left. VCU was simply smarter, faster and tougher.

So what does the loss mean?

What it should mean is not that much. Davidson deserves to make the NCAA tournament field as an at-large team.

The Wildcats went 24-7 in a very respectable league, going 10-1 over their past 11 games. I think they will be a double-digit seed, somewhere around a 10 or an 11, but I think they are in.

Still, there will be some very sweaty palms in Davidson on Sunday night, when the players will likely gather at coach Bob McKillop’s house and nervously await their fate.

The people who study the brackets like they are the Dead Sea Scrolls seem to mostly think Davidson has done enough for a spot in the 68-team NCAA tournament.

Jerry Palm, the CBSsports.com “bracketologist,” gave a fairly representative view of the experts Saturday afternoon when he posted this after the VCU loss: “Davidson won the A-10 without a tournament quality win away from home. They did beat some of the ‘next level down’ teams on the road or they couldn’t have won the league. VCU stomped them in the A-10 semis. For those of you who like eye tests, and I’m not one of them, they failed. However, I think they’ll still squeeze into the field.”

If Davidson doesn’t make the NCAA tournament, its consolation prize will be the NIT. That, however, would be a heartbreaker for a team that was picked 12th in the A-10 preseason poll, but finished first in the regular season.

“We have a body of work that is pretty impressive,” McKillop said Saturday after the 20-point loss. “I think clearly with 24 wins, a conference championship and getting to the semis in the conference tournament, that’s a pretty good statement about where we belong.”

Davidson didn’t help its cause Saturday, however. The Wildcats took an early 16-4 lead, then completely unraveled at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Davidson kept taking tough 3-point shots, often in transition, which led to quick VCU baskets on the other end.

Tyler Kalinoski and Jack Gibbs, the team’s two leading scorers, were erratic and kept trying to hit home runs instead of singles. And the Wildcats, so adept at 3-pointers, went 7-for-26 (Brian Sullivan and Gibbs were a combined 2-for-15).

VCU, meanwhile, looked like an entirely different team from the one that lost to Davidson by 27 points on March 5.

And once again, as it had been on Friday, Davidson’s frequent inability to guard post players down low was badly exposed. This time it was Mo Alie-Cox of Virginia Commonwealth, who had 18 points and eight rebounds.

“Coach just told me to go in there and attack them, they can’t guard me,” Alie-Cox said.

So even though Davidson cut a 22-point lead to five in the second half, the Wildcats just didn’t have it on Saturday.

Ultimately, that won’t matter much if Davidson makes the NCAA field. That’s really the tournament that counts for Davidson now that it has upgraded from the Southern Conference, where as far as the tournament went you had to win to get in.

But the Southern is a one-bid league, and the A-10 is not.

Davidson should get in. And then, the Wildcats better figure out quickly how to play a whole lot better than they did in New York.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler

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