Eagles, Davidson to finally face off

Winthrop and Davidson have had two of the top mid-major programs in the nation the past few years, and some folks have wondered why they haven't played during the regular season.

With the campuses 45 miles or so apart, it seemed like a natural, and former Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall and Davidson coach Bob McKillop had tried to get something going a couple of years back but couldn't work it out.

Well, ESPN has taken care of that, at least for the next couple of years. Davidson, from the Southern Conference, will visit Winthrop on Feb. 22 to play the Eagles in one of the 14 TV games during the O'Reilly ESPNU BracketBuster weekend series.

Winthrop will be participating in the event for the third straight year. The Eagles are 2-0, defeating Northern Illinois at home 98-97 in overtime in February 2006, and beating Missouri State 74-64 on the road last February in a Friday night TV game.

"We are very excited to again be playing on Friday night before a national television audience," head coach Randy Peele said. "Davidson is an outstanding program with an outstanding coach in Bob McKillop. It should be a a great college basketball game for the fans."

After his Eagles lost at UNC Asheville on Saturday, Peele said he told his team he thought they'd lost any chance of getting a TV game. But he said the fact the Eagles were willing to play on Friday night helped.

"Davidson was the team we wanted to play. I'm excited about the fact we're going to play Charlotte and Davidson next year. Those are naturals. We should play every year. It's a win-win for everyone involved."

As part of the deal, Winthrop will play at Davidson next year.

The time and network for the BracketBuster game will be announced next week. It could be at 7 p.m. on ESPN2 or 9 p.m. on ESPNU, but appears likely to be a 7 p.m. game since Utah State will host the University of California-Santa Barbara that night, as well. ESPN2 will carry six games, ESPNU five, with carrying two and ESPN Classic, for the first time, taking one game.

McKillop's Wildcats went into this week with a 15-6 record, including 13-0 in the Southern Conference. They have won 11 straight. Davidson features Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy candidate Stephen Curry, the nation's fifth-leading scorer with a 24.4 average. Curry is the son of former Virginia Tech and Charlotte Hornet standout Dell Curry.

"They're really good," Peele said. "They're well coached and their basketball IQ is outstanding. They're disciplined, and they play well on the road. It's a challenge."

The Eagles, 14-8 overall, are 5-2 in the Big South and trailing UNC Asheville by two games. The Eagles' loss at UNCA snapped a five-game winning streak.

Despite being within in shouting distance of each other, the programs have met just seven times, with Davidson holding a 4-3 edge. They haven't met since the 1991-92 season, Davidson's last season as a member of the Big South Conference. Six of the seven games were played when the two were in the same league.

Both teams are involved in league races. For Winthrop, the game falls between at road game at VMI and a home date with Charleston Southern. Davidson plays at UNC Greensboro on Feb. 13 and does not have another game before coming to Winthrop.

"The positives far outweigh the negatives," Peele said.

Bracket Buster TV Lineup

Friday, Feb. 22

Marist at Cleveland State

Davidson at Winthrop

Saturday, Feb. 23

VCU at Akron

Siena at Boise State

UW-Milwaukee at Bradley

Drake at Butler

Rider at Cal-State Northridge

George Mason at Ohio

Creighton at Oral Roberts

Kent State at St. Mary's

Nevada at Southern Illinois

UC Santa Barbara at Utah State

Miami (Ohio) at Valparaiso

Sunday, Feb. 24

Wright State at Illinois State

Networks and times announced Feb. 11