Virginia Military Institute was not on the cover of Sports Illustrated last week, but the feature story SI lavished on the Keydets basketball team seems to have been enough to invoke the magazine's famous jinx.
Since being featured in SI and the New York Times and receiving other forms of nationwide love, VMI's basketball team has stumbled, losing two straight — at Coastal Carolina and Presbyterian — and ceding the role of Big South Conference favorite to Radford.
The Keydets (20-6, 11-4) lost, 100-97, at Coastal Carolina last Saturday, their frantic, pressing, 3-point shooting style falling victim to a buzzer beater by the Chants' Mario Edwards.
"The pace was certainly at the pace we wanted to play at, we just didn't make shots and they did," VMI coach Duggar Baucom said after the game.
Then, VMI turned in an inexplicable performance at Presbyterian on Monday. In that game, the nation's highest-scoring team (95.9 ppg) scored just 15 points in the first half on the way to a 63-57 loss, the fewest points the Keydets have scored this season.
VMI made just 5 of 26 shots in the first half while falling behind by 27-15, and shot 33.9 percent for the game, including 9 of 33 (27.5 percent) from 3-point range.
The Keydets' skid has dropped them behind first-place Radford (16-10, 13-2) and dangerously close to third-place Liberty (20-8, 11-5) in the Big South. Liberty, meanwhile, has won four straight with Seth Curry leading the Flames in scoring in each of those games, while Radford has won seven in a row behind center Artsiom Parakhouski, who has 44 points and 22 rebounds in the Highlanders' last two games.
VMI can get back on track with a win at home Saturday against Radford. Top seed in the Big South tournament is huge, as the games are played at on-campus sites with the higher seeds hosting. The Keydets would much rather be gunning for their first NCAA Tournament bid in 32 years at home in cozy Cameron Hall than on the road.
Walk in his shoes
After Andrew Lovedale's freshman season at Davidson in 2006, he asked his teammates if he could have their used basketball shoes. He packed up about two dozen, took them back to his hometown of Benin City in Nigeria and handed them out around the neighborhood.
That modest effort has grown into a program called Kicks from Cats — The Andrew Lovedale Shoe Drive. The school is selling T-shirts to support the effort, and fans are asked to bring a pair of sneakers to Saturday's BracketBuster game against Butler. Lovedale, now a senior, hopes to be able to take thousands of pairs of shoes and other basketball gear back to Benin City later this year.
"It really has become a cause in the town of Davidson," coach Bob McKillop said. "Community groups, church groups are supporting this mission. It just goes to show what one young man can do if he takes the initiative."
To buy a T-shirt, visit the Davidson College Book Store online and look for the White Out T-Shirt.
Around the rim
--After a brutal 2-15 start to the season, Furman is showing some signs of life in the SoCon. The Paladins have won three of their last five, and one of the losses was a competitive 75-60 game against Davidson, a team that had drilled them by 40 three weeks earlier.
Third-year coach Jeff Jackson credits the surge to the improvement of young inside players such as freshmen Brandon Sebirubmi and Neil Duval and sophomores Bryson Barnes, Noah States and Connor Nolte.
"Our young post players have started to figure it out a little bit," said Jackson, whose team hosts Wofford on Saturday. "They haven't mastered it, but they are a little wiser, a little more sage in what they need to do. That's helped us over the last couple of weeks.
--In the SoCon North Division, only UNC Greensboro (3-13) has been officially eliminated from the conference tournament bye race.
In the SoCon South, Georgia Southern (5-11) and Furman (4-12) are officially out of contention for a bye.
--When The Citadel's Demetrius Nelson was named SoCon player of the week last week, he became the first Bulldog to win the honor since Warren McLendon in week four of the 2004-05 season. When Bulldogs guard Cameron Wells won it this week, The Citadel won two in the same season for the first time since Cliff Washburn and Alan Puckett in 2000-01.
And the Bulldogs won two in a row for the first time Regan Truesdale won two straight in 1984-85.
SoCon and Big South teams with the best shot at making the NCAA Tournament:
1. Davidson ... How's that ankle, Steph?
2. Radford ... Highlanders rolling behind the Big Belarus, Artsiom Parakhouski.
3. Liberty, VMI ... Seth Curry vs. the Holmes Twins in the Big South.
4. Chattanooga ... Mocs are playing well and have home-court edge in SoCon tourney.
5. The Citadel ... Cinderella wears combat boots?
1. Stephen Curry, Davidson 29.0
2. Stephen McDowell, Chatt. 19.1
3. Andrew Goudelock, C of C 16.8
4. Noah Dahlman, Wofford 16.7
5. Cameron Wells, Citadel 15.7
1. Nicchaeus Doaks, Chatt. 9.2
2. Isaac Butts, App State 9.0
3. Tim Johnson, Wofford 8.9
4. Andrew Lovedale, Davidson 8.8
5. Ben Stywall, UNCG 8.6
Big South Scoring
1. Chavis Holmes, VMI 21.9
2. Seth Curry, Liberty 20.6
3. Travis Holmes, VMI 19.6
4. Jamarco Warren, CSU 18.4
5. Anthony Smith, Liberty 17.7
Big South Rebounding
1. Joseph Harris, Coastal 11.2
2. A. Parakhouski, Radford 10.9
3. Joshua Henley, G-Webb. 10.0
4. Al'Lonzo Coleman, PC 8.5
5. Omar Carter, CSU 8.0