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Ticket Punched: Davidson wins 17th game in a row to lock up second straight NCAA trip

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Jake Cohen led Davidson to a dominating wire-to-wire win (USA Today Sports Images)

Last year Davidson had to be a bit satisfied to get to the tournament for the first time since 2008. Davidson will probably be hungry for something more than a one-and-done trip this year, which is bad news for some high seed.

Davidson lost by just seven points to Louisville in the first round last year, and it did not have a senior among its top eight players. This Wildcats team hasn’t lost since Jan. 14 and plowed through its Southern Conference championship win against College of Charleston on Monday night, winning 74-55. The Wildcats led 7-0 shortly after the tip and the game was rarely competitive after that.

De'Mon Brooks had a great night for Davidson with 24 points. The Wildcats hit 54.9 percent of their shots from the field and held Charleston to 29.8 percent. Davidson escaped in the semifinals with a 65-62 win over Appalachian State, but there was no drama in the final. It was an impressive performance in just about every way.

Most bracket projections have Davidson at a 13 or 14 seed. If that holds, some 3 or 4 seed is going to have the misfortune of facing a well-coached, experienced and balanced team that is riding the nation’s longest winning streak.

There isn’t a Stephen Curry on this team, but he’s a once-in-forever player for a team like Davidson. What the Wildcats do have is skilled senior big man Jake Cohen and a ton of quality depth.

Cohen is 6-10 and a back-to-back SoCon player of the year. He’s the kind of frontcourt player many lower seeds don’t have, and he can create matchup problems because he can shoot it from the outside. He made 39.6 percent of his 3-point shots this season, going into Monday’s title game. In the tournament last year, he scored 24 points against Louisville.

Cohen is one of many good shooters on the Wildcats. Going into Monday’s game, Davidson had five players who attempted at least 69 3-pointers this season, and they all hit at least 33 percent of those shots. Seven players average at least 7.3 points per game. One of them, Clint Mann, is a 6-7 senior who hasn’t played since Jan. 14 because of a head injury. Davidson coach Bob McKillop didn’t rule Mann out of the conference tournament, but he didn’t play and the optimistic report might have been a strategic ploy. If Mann can come back for the tournament, however, that gives the Wildcats yet another piece.

If the Wildcats are in a game that comes down to the end keep this in mind: Davidson led the nation by hitting a fairly insane 80.5 percent of its free throws coming into Monday's game. Point guard Nik Cochran hit 108-of-115 attempts, which is 93.9 percent and not surprisingly leads Division I. This team will not squander chances at the line in a close game.

Davidson has beat a couple major-conference teams (Vanderbilt and West Virginia), and lost at New Mexico – the kind of high seed it might draw in the first round – by just five points. The Wildcats lost to Duke by 17 and Gonzaga by 14 this year, but they’re not going to get stuck with a top-five team like that in the first round.

Davidson doesn’t have a lot of glaring weaknesses. They have good size for a Southern Conference team. They have a solid coach in McKillop who has significant experience in the tournament, as the Wildcats almost made the Final Four with Curry five years ago. This is a roster that has been to the NCAA tournament, so it won’t be in awe this time around. The Wildcats can score inside and out and if their 3-pointers are falling, as they often do, there’s no reason they can’t pull off a big first-round upset, especially if it comes down to them hitting free throws.

Some high seed is going to get very unlucky on Sunday when it finds out it drew Davidson in the first round.

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