Curry, Davidson Are What This Tournament Is All About

By John Feinstein
Special to
Monday, March 24, 2008; 2:18 PM

There is something truly special about witnessing the coming out party for a transcendent new star during the NCAA tournament.

It can't be a player on a big-name team because they are on television almost every time they dribble a basketball and are hyped and re-hyped by the talking heads from November to March. Players like Tyler Hansbrough, Michael Beasley and Derrick Rose can't possibly catch anybody by surprise at this time of year. Even very good players like Villanova's Scottie Reynolds and West Virginia's Joe Alexander are known quantities to anyone who follows the college game even a little.

But only the real geeks knew just how good Stephen Curry was before this past weekend. Maryland fans may have had a clue because Curry put up 30 on the Terrapins last year as a freshman in a first-round game Maryland was fortunate to win. Those who will watch almost any basketball on TV -- like a game on MASN in January between Davidson and Elon -- will have a clue.

But most who watched Curry, with some key help from teammates Jason Richards and Andrew Lovedale, dismantle Georgetown on Sunday knew little about Davidson and less about Curry. The last time Davidson won an NCAA tournament game in 1969, Lefty Driesell was their coach and Richard Nixon had just started his ill-fated presidency. Curry's father, Dell Curry, who would go on to star at Virginia Tech and then in the NBA was five years old.

Those who live in college hoops geek-world knew that Davidson had a chance to be very good this season. Bobby Cremins, who returned to coaching two years ago at the College of Charleston, calls Davidson Coach Bob McKillop, "The Mike Krzyzewski of the Southern Conference." Putting aside the fact that McKillop's team is still playing this week and Krzyzewski's is not, Cremins's point is that Davidson has been the league's dominant team under McKillop for a long time now.

McKillop knew he had a team this year that had a chance to do things not done at Davidson for a good long while. That's why he scheduled early season games with Duke and North Carolina and UCLA and North Carolina State. He lost them all -- close, the last one at State by one point -- but his team clearly benefitted from the experience. The Wildcats fell behind by double digits on Friday against Gonzaga and then rallied behind Curry's 30 second-half points to win. Yesterday, they were down 17 in the second half against the No. 2 seed -- a deep, experienced team that had gone to the Final Four a year ago -- and rallied again. This time, Curry only had 25 in the second half to pull off the stunning upset.

There was a good deal of whining after the game from Georgetown apologists about both the location of the game and the officiating. Please. The game's location had nothing to do with the crowd getting loud when Davidson rallied. Anytime a high seed is in trouble the first weekend, especially against a double-digit seed (Davidson was a No. 10) the crowd turns against the favorite. The only exception to that rule would be when UCLA plays in Anaheim, or North Carolina plays in Charlotte, or in a year when Kansas plays in Kansas City, or Indiana plays in Indianapolis.

Georgetown could have played very close to home as a No. 2 seed if the school's administration hadn't decided years ago not to build an on-campus arena and, instead, go for the big bucks by moving first to Capital Centre and then to Verizon Center. Since Verizon Center is the Hoyas' home court, they couldn't play there. Raleigh was the next closest venue. Most of the fans there would have pulled for Gonzaga, or even Arkansas, or any other lower seed against Georgetown. They weren't pulling for Davidson. They were pulling against Georgetown.

It was no different than in Verizon Center on Saturday when the place started going nuts when West Virginia took control of its game against Duke. Did Duke get a bad draw because West Virginia is only three hours from Washington? Of course not. No matter where the Blue Devils go everyone but their own fans pulls against them. They lost because the Mountaineers were a considerably better team, period.

The same is true of the Hoyas. They didn't lose because of where the game was played or because of a ticky-tack foul against Roy Hibbert. It's worth noting that Hibbert could have fouled out at least three times down the stretch and the officials swallowed their whistles. He also barely touched the ball when he was in the game and that wasn't the fault of the officials. Georgetown lost because Curry, after struggling badly for 25 minutes, was amazing the last 15. He hit from inside and outside, set up teammates and made two remarkable plays late in the game, first swooping to the basket for a spectacular layup, then hitting a step-back three from well beyond the line with a hand in his face.

What's great about this story is that this was a kid who grew up in ACC country, the son of a father who played for what is now an ACC school, and was completely ignored by the ACC. Seth Greenberg, the Virginia Tech coach, told Curry he might give him a scholarship if he went to prep school for a year or he could walk-on. No one else in the league showed any interest at all. It's probably a safe bet that Greenberg wouldn't have been screaming for an expanded tournament a week ago if Curry had been on his team this year.

Curry went to Davidson, which was consistently a top-10 team under Driesell in the 1960s and has had many good moments under McKillop the last 15 years, but had settled into the role of a solid, mid-major -- a frequent NCAA tournament team but never really a threat to the big boys. The 2007 season was fairly typical: a 29-5 record, dominance in the conference (17-1) and an 82-70 first round tournament loss to Maryland.

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