Davidson College returns to Atlantic 10 men’s basketball action Sunday afternoon, facing a new sense of urgency in its bid to possibly win the conference championship and land an NCAA Tournament berth along the way.
The Wildcats, whose program was “on pause” for nearly four weeks due to COVID-19 issues, resumed play Friday with a 101-51 victory over visiting Southern Virginia, an NCAA Division 3 team.
Sunday, Davidson (11-5, 6-2 A-10) will travel to St. Bonaventure (10-3, 8-3) for a 3:30 p.m. tipoff (NBC Sports Network).
Friday’s contest was a glorified exhibition for Davidson, but a change in A-10 plans for the postseason tournament made Friday’s game important.
The original schedule called for the tournament to begin March 10. That would have given Davidson only a couple of weeks to regain the momentum it had when COVID issues arose in January.
But the conference now plans to start the men’s tournament March 3 and be played in two stages, with everything but the finals slated for March 3-6. The two finalists will wait a week and play March 13. The changes were designed to allow for possible delays due to COVID issues.
The bottom line: Davidson will have only a week to get everything going again.
A number of other teams that faced lengthy COVID shutdowns this season stumbled when they resumed play. The A-10’s Saint Louis was nationally ranked when its program went on pause in late December. The Billikens lost their first two games when they resumed.
Davidson won’t have much time to get it right.
Rescheduling by the A-10 left Davidson with three tough remaining games — at St. Bonaventure on Sunday; home against the Bonnies on Wednesday; and next Saturday’s home game against A-10 leader VCU.
“We’re certainly challenged, playing a great program like St. Bonaventure,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said of Sunday’s contest. “That’s why getting back on the court (Friday) was pivotal.”
McKillop and other coaches say there is no blueprint on how to “restart” a team after a lengthy COVID shutdown.
The Davidson staff talked to coaches at several other schools, seeking advice. In the end, the Wildcats hope their approach — a nearly daily schedule of Zoom meetings to study game tapes and conditioning, along with the Southern Virginia game as a warmup — will do the trick.
“No doubt, we had mistakes,” McKillop said of Friday’s contest. “There were rhythmic mistakes, stamina mistakes. ... We could have practiced (instead of a game). But we wouldn’t have gotten that game experience. We’ve never faced anything like this before.”
So the Wildcats enter Sunday’s game with a five-game winning streak, but four of those games took place more than a month ago.
“Our players and coaches have worked very hard over the last couple weeks,” McKillop said. “We have tried to stay as sharp as possible.”
Davidson has one thing going for itself in Sunday’s game: The Wildcats are among just seven Division 1 teams that have not lost on the road this season. They are 4-0, but key road contests against VCU and Saint Louis were postponed.
Tournament seeding: VCU leads the A-10 with a 9-2 record, while Davidson and UMass are 6-2 and St. Bonaventure 8-3. It is clear that most teams will not play complete conference schedules this season, so the A-10 has announced that winning percentage in conference games will determine seeding.
At this point, Davidson could finish anywhere from first to eighth in the 14-team league.
Davidson at St. Bonaventure
When: 3:30 p.m.
Watch: NBC Sports Network
Betting odds: Bonnies are favored by 5 points. The over/under is 133.5
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle