October 15, 2007

Davidson poised for Cinderella season

MORE: Davidson No. 38 on Rivals.com Preseason Top 64

To an unsuspecting nation Davidson could emerge as this year's Cinderella.

But would it really be that much of a surprise? The Wildcats return everyone from a team that went 29-5 overall, ripped through the Southern Conference at 17-1, and scared the bejeezus out of No. 4 seed Maryland in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

They're getting so much attention that they were part of ESPNU's Midnight Madness coverage, along with Georgetown, Memphis and Southern Illinois. Yes, the Davidson Wildcats alongside the Hoyas, Tigers and Salukis, all members of the Rivals.com preseason top 25. These are heady times in the tiny hamlet of Davidson, N.C., 19 miles north of Charlotte.

"We welcome the attention, there's no drawback to it," Wildcats coach Bob McKillop said. "We're a small liberal arts college (only 1,700 undergraduates) with rigorous academic standards and for us to get on the national stage to bring attention to the university and to our program is a great thing. We're thankful for it."

"Everything is really starting to pick up," Davidson men's basketball sports information director Joey Beeler said. "I've had more requests and more (media) in my office than I can ever remember this early, and it's exciting at the same time. The schedule is definitely drawing attention."

The schedule should be drawing attention. We'll know soon enough how well the glass slipper is going to fit. Davidson will play the likes of North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State and UCLA before the end of December.

"We've got a long way to go to be a Cinderella," McKillop said. "George Mason (the 2006 Final Four party crasher) didn't start out as a Cinderella. They barely made the tournament and then played some great basketball and made people take notice. What they did is something to aspire to. I don't know when it shows up."

It shows up when you beat a North Carolina, a Duke or an N.C. State. Run those three and Davidson can declare itself the preseason ACC champion.

McKillop is in his 19th season at the helm of the Wildcats. It's because of his time there and his relationships and respect in the coaching profession that his team even can get games against such storied programs. You can believe none of them is looking forward to this year's matchup.

But McKillop know it's dangerous to look ahead on the schedule. He can't sleep on the Southern Conference slate, either, because there are some dangerous teams in it. Appalachian State handed Davidson its only conference loss last season. The Mountaineers went 25-8 (15-3 in SoCon) and played in the NIT. UNC Greensboro returns conference Player of the Year Kyle Hines, a 6-8 power forward whom McKillop said could be an NBA and an NFL draft pick.

"With the addition of Bobby Cremins at College of Charleston our league is getting more national recognition," McKillop said. "He's not only a great coach, but he's recognized everywhere. Appalachian State was just a heartbeat away from an NCAA bid.

"If you don't show up on a game day in our league you're going to have a long day."

Maybe there are no Cinderellas anymore. McKillop drew a comparison between college football and college basketball, and he didn't have to look any further than a SoCon team to prove his point.

"Parity has leaked out across the landscape," McKillop said. "Look at what has happened in football this year Appalachian State winning at Michigan. Stanford was what, a 30-point underdog, and it beat USC. Wake Forest has beaten FSU two years in a row.

"I don't think you can say that it is teams lying in the weeds. Every Division I program has to be on guard every time it takes the floor in conference play."

That goes for out of conference, too. Just a warning for North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State and UCLA.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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