Commentary

MMR: Davidson playing with swagger

Originally Published: January 24, 2012
By Myron Medcalf | ESPN.com

Davidson's Jake Cohen figured his team had a chance when he watched Kansas coach Bill Self chastise his Jayhawks during a timeout shortly after tipoff.

"You could see how frustrated and upset he was, screaming at his players. … I think we just said to ourselves, 'I think we can win this game,'" Cohen told ESPN.com.

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John Rieger/US PresswireBob McKillop's Wildcats have won seven in a row and are dominating the Southern Conference.

J.P. Kuhlman felt confident before the game began.

"I think before the game, going into it, you have to believe you can win any game you play," he said.

And coach Bob McKillop recognized the possibility as his team responded to Kansas' runs.

"I think each time that Kansas delivered what seemed to be a punch that would send us on our heels and back against the ropes, we continued to stay in the center of the ring and fight," he said.

By pulling off an 80-74 upset in Kansas City against then-No. 11 Kansas on Dec. 19, Davidson obtained a bravado that's still fueling its swagger more than a month later.

The win didn't define the Wildcats' season. But it validated their potential.

Right now, McKillop's squad is ranked 25th in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offense ratings, and they have the No. 63 RPI. The Wildcats are averaging 80 points per game (tied for 13th nationally) and dominating the Southern Conference (8-0) after returning seven of their top eight scorers from last season. They've won seven in a row.

Steph Curry, the former Davidson star who's with the Golden State Warriors now, took the program to the main stage with an Elite Eight run in 2008. Its newfound prominence helped McKillop's recruiting by raising his squad's profile.

Current players talk about Curry like the legend he is.

But they're also interested in establishing a legacy based on what they believe they can accomplish this season.

"Steph and Davidson are forever going to be affiliated. He's just that great of a player and that special of a person," said Cohen, who's averaging 14.9 points per game. "But hopefully we can continue to forge our own identity so that when people think about Davidson, they not only think about Steph, they think about our success this year and going forward."

The Kansas victory was the highlight of Davidson's season thus far, but a couple of tough losses have helped the Wildcats, too.

They led Duke by one at halftime in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Nov. 18 before collapsing in the second half. And the Wildcats were down by 18 points against Vanderbilt on Dec. 7 but closed the gap after halftime in an 87-83 loss.

"Both of those games were within two or three possessions at significantly important parts of the game," McKillop said. "It kind of affirmed to our guys, we're getting close. We're getting close to being successful."

The program hasn't experienced the NCAA tournament since Curry left the scene. But players said they believe this year could change that.

Cohen said the Wildcats can make the tournament and advance if they get into the field of 68. Kansas' recent success in the Big 12 only enhances that mindset, he said.

"I think we've showed that we can play with anyone," he said.

Five individual performances you might have missed

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Andrew B. Fielding/US PresswireScott Machado leads the nation with almost 11 assists per game.

Colt Ryan (Evansville): The 6-foot-5 wing scored 39 points in Evansville's 90-67 win against Bradley last Wednesday. The junior recorded 20 points in a 79-71 victory over Illinois State on Saturday.

Scott Thomas (Bowling Green): The senior finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight steals in a 65-57 victory at Miami (Ohio) on Wednesday. He had four steals during a 68-66 loss to Buffalo on Saturday.

Jake Cohen (Davidson): The 6-10 junior scored 29 points and grabbed 14 rebounds during an 87-69 home win over Charleston on Thursday. He was also 9-for-9 from the free throw line.

Scott Machado (Iona): The crafty senior point guard recorded nine assists in a 74-63 victory against Loyola (Md.) on Jan. 15 and 15 assists in his team's 91-71 win against Rider last Friday. Machado's court vision helped him earn a spot on the Wooden Award's midseason list. But he's also averaging 1.6 steals per game.

Mark Cisco (Columbia): The junior center scored 18 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in his team's 61-56 victory against Cornell on Saturday. Cornell grabbed just 26 total rebounds in that game.

Five recent scores you might have missed

No. 14 Creighton 66, Missouri State 65 (Wednesday): The Bluejays avenged an earlier home loss against Missouri State with this tight victory over their Missouri Valley foes. The Bears missed a pair of late shots to win a game that featured 10 lead changes. Doug McDermott scored 15 for Creighton and Gregory Echenique recorded 16 points.

VCU 69, William & Mary 68 in OT (Thursday): The Rams needed an extra period to dismiss the Tribe. Juvonte Reddic recorded a career-high 28 points for VCU. Darius Theus hit a layup in the closing seconds to seal VCU's win.

Youngstown State 68, Milwaukee 66 (Friday): Three Horizon League squads entered the week at 6-3 and two teams were 7-2. So this was a crucial win for a Youngstown State squad that continued its push for the league's title. Ashen Ward hit the game winner for the Penguins.

Delaware 77, Georgia State 74 in double OT (Saturday): The Panthers have gone 3-3 after winning 11 straight. Against Delaware, Georgia State squandered a 14-0 first-half advantage in its third Colonial loss. Freshman Jarvis Threatt scored 30 points for Delaware.

LIU Brooklyn 73, Wagner 66 (Saturday): The Seahawks had won eight straight before suffering this NEC loss to LIU Brooklyn on Saturday. Julian Boyd scored 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for the Blackbirds. Wagner was 4-for-19 from the 3-point line in its first loss since Dec. 10.

Five games you don't want to miss

Akron at Ball State (Tuesday on ESPN3): Both squads are 4-1 in league play. Akron is on top of the MAC's East Division. Ball State leads the West. Akron's Zeke Marshall (2.8 blocks per game) and his defense could swing the game in the Zips' favor.

No. 14 Creighton at Drake (Wednesday on ESPN3): At 5-4, Drake needs a win against the Missouri Valley's best team to stay in the hunt for the MVC title. But you should also watch because Doug McDermott (23.2 ppg) could be the national player of the year.

Nevada at New Mexico State (Thursday on ESPN3): The WAC's two best teams (Nevada entered the week with a 5-0 conference record, New Mexico State was 4-1) face off in this battle. New Mexico State is averaging 79.0 points per game (21st in the country), but Nevada has won 13 straight.

Boston University at Stony Brook (Friday on ESPNU): The two schools entered the week atop the America East standings with 6-1 conference records. Boston University beat Stony Brook 61-55 on Jan. 14 in Boston.

No. 20 Saint Mary's at BYU (Saturday on ESPNU): Saint Mary's entered the week with an 8-0 conference record. And the Gaels have already defeated BYU once (98-82 on Dec. 29). So the pressure is really on BYU to look the part of a WCC contender, especially after losing to Loyola Marymount last week.

The Mid-Major Power 15

(Conference USA, the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West are not represented in these weekly rankings)

1. Creighton: The Bluejays exorcised some demons by beating Missouri State last week.
2. Murray State: Undefeated and key player Ivan Aska is back. Unfair.
3. Saint Mary's: WCC's best has a chance to sweep BYU this week.
4. Wichita State: Tied with Creighton atop Missouri Valley at 8-1.
5. Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have won three in a row.
6. Long Beach State: LBSU is still undefeated in the Big West.
7. Harvard: Winner of four straight.
8. Nevada: The Wolf Pack haven't lost since Nov. 25.
9. Oral Roberts: The Golden Eagles are 10-0 in conference play.
10. BYU: Cougars can avenge earlier loss to No. 20 Saint Mary's this week.
11. Middle Tennessee State: The Blue Raiders are shooting 49 percent from the field.
12. Davidson: The Wildcats have one of the best scoring offenses in America.
13. Weber State: These Wildcats are dominating the Big Sky.
14. Cleveland State: The Vikings have won five of their past six.
15. Iona: Gaels are 2-2 in their past four after Monday's loss at Siena.

Myron Medcalf covers college basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mmedcalf3030@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MedcalfbyESPN