"As it turns out he is going to be in Charlotte this weekend," commissioner John Iamarino said, "just not quite the way we hoped."
Thanks to a scheduling quirk, Curry's first game in Charlotte as a pro comes Saturday night — right in the middle of the SoCon's first appearance here since 1971. It left the conference scrambling to adjust the tournament schedule so Davidson won't be playing at the same time as the Golden State Warriors-Charlotte Bobcats game.
"It is kind of ironic. Our only appearance in Charlotte happens to be SoCon weekend and the tournament happens to be in Charlotte," Curry said Thursday. "So it's going to be a fun day if the Cats are still in the tournament. If they are, I'm definitely going to make the game on Saturday. I'll be there cheering them on."
But Davidson making it to the tournament's second day is no guarantee. After going 62-4 in the league over the past three seasons with two NCAA tournament trips and a magical run to the NCAA Midwest Regional final in 2008, the Curry-less Wildcats (16-14, 11-7) fell to the middle of the pack this season and will face Elon on Friday afternoon.
The schedule adjustment puts Davidson in the afternoon session at the expense of North Division top seed Appalachian State (20-11, 13-5), which will play in the evening in its opener Saturday.
"Davidson folks didn't want to put their fans in the dilemma of either going to watch the Davidson game or going to watch the Bobcats play against Curry," Iamarino said. "So they made it known to us early on that they would prefer to be in the afternoon session. We discussed it on a conference call with the athletic directors in December. There was unanimous agreement that that made sense."
Going up against Curry in this town is not a good idea. Curry, the seventh overall pick in last year's draft after leaving school a year early, said Thursday's he's bought 80 tickets for the NBA game. That doesn't include the groups from Davidson, his high school and church that he anticipates will make it "like a home game" for him.
"We understood going in it was a roll of the dice whether he'd come back or not," Iamarino said on the decision to move the tournament from Chattanooga, Tenn. "Frankly, if he wasn't going to play I would have preferred him to come back to Charlotte on another weekend. But I didn't have (NBA commissioner) David Stern's ear on that one, I guess."
The departure of Curry, the SoCon's all-time leading scorer, has left a wide-open race for the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Wofford (23-8, 15-3) was the South Division champion and earned the No. 1 overall seed behind coach of the year Mike Young and Noah Dahlman, voted player of the year by the league's coaches.
"I think we've lost one time in 2010. I should just quit while we're ahead and be done with it," Young said. "Life's been pretty good for the Terriers here. We'll go to Charlotte full of great hopes and expectations, but knowing it's going to be a grind."
They'll likely be challenged by College of Charleston (20-10, 14-4) and Appalachian State. The Mountaineers jumped to the top of the league in coach Buzz Peterson's first season in his second stint with the school behind the media's pick for player of the year, Donald Sims.
"I kind of looked at it as a honeymoon year and try to do the best job you can and try to stay encouraged, recruit hard and get your team ready for the following year," Peterson said. "But these guys in the last seven or eight weeks have turned the corner. They've gotten better and better. ... It's been fun to coach them, but yeah, it caught me off guard a little bit."
Curry's decision to turn pro may have done the same to the Southern Conference. But they're making due despite an odd tournament format that will see the first two rounds played at Bojangles Coliseum and the last two at Time Warner Cable Arena — after Curry's Warriors leave town.
"Is it inconvenient? In a lot of ways, yes it is," College of Charleston coach Bobby Cremins said. "But whatever is best. In order to bring it to Charlotte, it had to be done. People were hoping that Stephen Curry would stay another year."
At least Curry may be in the stands on Saturday if Davidson gets to the quarterfinals.
"I've already got my tickets," Curry said. "It's all up to them now."