Entering the season, Stephen Curry and Davidson had aspirations of achieving a national ranking by season's end and having an at-large bid in the bag. However, the first month of the season has been nearly disastrous for the Wildcats as well, as many other teams from both major and mid-major conferences throughout the country. Granted it is very early in the season still and very few teams are at the point of panicking, but there are several NCAA Tournament hopefuls who very well may find themselves scrambling as their out of conference slates are starting to wind down.
Teams from major conferences for the most part will have an opportunity to redeem their sluggish starts during conference play. However, racking up wins over Furman and Wofford in conference will not carry any team to an at-large berth come March. Yes, every season teams rebound from these woeful starts, but it is a given that a mid-November win over North Carolina is a lot better than a four-point loss. The question is whether or not playing the Tar Heels tight will be enough to put a team like Davidson in contention for an at-large berth. One thing for sure is that the Wildcats will be in Carolina’s corner the rest of the season.
Davidson is not alone in getting off to a disappointing start to their season; here is a look at the early season disappointments, led by the Wildcats:
Following a stellar freshman campaign, Stephen Curry has been even more spectacular in his sophomore season. He has become even more dynamic on offense while becoming much more assertive on the defensive end, which is not easy for a six-foot guard. However the same can not be said for his team. No one will question the caliber of Davidson’s early-season schedule; it was definitely tough. But playing quality teams tight may not be enough for the tournament committee, as there comes a point where teams need to win a few games against their more highly-touted opponents.
Davidson has taken on Duke and as mentioned earlier, the top-ranked Tar Heels, losing to each by six and four, respectively. The other two Wildcat losses were not quite as forgiving; losing to Western Michigan and Charlotte could be damaging blows to at-large hopes. Western Michigan is a good team, but a team that Davidson should beat and desperately needed to defeat. Ahead for the Wildcats is UCLA and North Carolina State, the last two opportunities for Davidson to notch a big out of conference win of note. If neither game proves victorious for Curry and the Wildcats, they will have to take care of business in the weak Southern Conference and head into March knowing they can at least give the big boys a run for their money.
Entering the season, Saint Joseph’s looked to be on par with Atlantic Ten favorite Xavier as a good bet to be playing in the NCAA Tournament. However, after failing to notch a win at the Carrier Dome versus Syracuse, at home against Gonzaga, and suffering a setback to Patriot Conference favorite Holy Cross, the Hawks can not afford too many more setbacks heading into Atlantic Ten play. As was the case with Davidson, the Hawks played all of their tougher opponents tight, not losing by more than five all season, but wins over Penn State and Farleigh Dickinson are not going to standout on their résumé.
One advantage Saint Joseph’s has over Davidson is that the Atlantic Ten is much more formidable than the Southern Conference. The Hawks will get cracks at conference foes such as Xavier, Rhode Island, and Dayton to enhance their prospects of a postseason berth, as well as non-conference dates with Creighton and Big Five rival Villanova. Saint Joseph’s is a big and experienced team, four regulars are over 6’8 and their top eight players in minutes played are all at least in their sophomore season. Head Coach Phil Martelli has also been in the trenches and could very easily right the ship in Philly.
Their top three scorers are listed as freshmen, although Bill Walker did play a handful of games last season before being injured, and they have played like a team whose top three players are freshmen. Despite trotting out the most heralded frosh in the land, Michael Beasley, Kansas State has had trouble finding consistency all season. Other than their opening game versus Sacramento State, where Beasley managed 32 points and 24 rebounds, the Wildcats have either struggled in wins versus less than impressive opponents or lost on their way to a 5-3 start. Beasley has been stellar in his first eight games averaging nearly 26 points and 15 rebounds per contest.
Kansas State has lost to Oregon, Notre Dame, and George Mason, all good opponents, but leaving the Wildcats with only two more opportunities (Xavier and California) to post a significant non-conference victory. The Big Twelve will provide Frank Martin’s squad with many chances to pad the Wildcats’ résumé, but getting one against either Cal or the Musketeers will surely give Martin a little peace of mind before his team has to take on the likes of Texas, Kansas, and Texas A&M. Kansas State certainly has the talent, but does not want to have to rely on Beasley pulling off a Kevin Durant type season.
Larry Eustachy’s squad had high aspiration heading into the season, despite their weak non-conference slate. Suffering setbacks to Alabama and California, the Golden Eagles’ top two non-conference foes, combined with no more significant opponents until conference play makes garnering wins in Conference USA essential for Southern Miss. That in itself is also a problem as Alabama-Birmingham, Tulane, and Tulsa are also having rough starts making it appear that the conference will not be as deep as it looked in the preseason.
Obviously two contests with Memphis will provide a golden opportunity for 2-3 Southern Miss to post that signature victory. Southern Miss has a talented group of guards to depend on and turn around their season. Also, seven-footer Gjio Bain provides size in the paint to at least compete defensively with bigger teams. The Golden Eagles can still recover with a strong showing in Conference USA, but can not afford too many losses like the one to South Alabama or their season could slip away very quickly.
Featuring one of the best backcourts in the country, Wyoming has hopes of winning the Mountain West Conference. While these dreams are still alive, the Cowboys have been terrible this season. Sitting at 3-3, with losses to Akron, Denver, and Wichita State, the Cowboys are the only team in the Mountain West Conference with a record not surpassing .500. Brandon Jones and Brandon Ewing have been good this season, but maybe not quite as good as expected and obviously have not been spectacular enough to lead Wyoming to the start they needed to be considered a factor within the conference.
Wyoming’s wins have come versus Arkasas-Pine Bluff, Colorado-Colorado Springs, and Lamar, not exactly murderer’s row. If you take a glance at Wyoming’s schedule, Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Colorado are the top two remaining opponents on the non-conference schedule. Even within the Mountain West, only a handful of teams provide an opportunity to earn some quality wins. Four or five losses in the conference may certainly spell doom for Wyoming’s already troubled season.
There are many teams in the country such as Kentucky, Washington, and Georgia Tech who would not mind the ability to turn back time, but all three have a season of potential marquee victories both in and out of conference. The aforementioned teams need to start winning immediately and can not afford too many losses should an at-large bid be in their cards.