"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Davidson Preview

Davidson Wildcats
November 28, HP Field House, Orlando, FL

Coach: Bob McKillop (578-350)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 70.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 71.0
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 52

Projected Starters: PG Jon Axel Gudmundsson (6'5" Sr), SG Kellan Grady (6'5" Jr), SF Luke Frampton (6'5" RS So), PF KiShawn Pritchett (6'6" Sr), C Luka Brajkovic (6'10" So)

Last year had to be a disappointment for Davidson fans. They returned the dynamic backcourt duo of Gudmundsson and Grady, both of whom were at least on NBA radars the year before. They had a ton of young talent, but after an 8-1 start, lost their last three meaningful non-conference games to Temple, Wake Forest, and North Carolina. They finished second in the A-10, including being one of two teams to knock of regular season champs VCU, and when early conference tournament upsets of VCU & Dayton left them the only top-100 (per Pomeroy) team in the semifinals, a NCAA bid seemed within grasp. Then they got lambasted by a mediocre St. Louis team and went to the NIT instead, where they squandered a 9-point second half home lead to fall in the first round to Lipscomb.

The good news is that after testing the waters, Gudmundsson and Grady are back. Along with Frampton, they form the most dangerous offensive backcourt in the A-10. All five starters are back, as is the only other player to average double-digit minutes in SG Carter Collins. The A-10 looks to have three NCAA caliber teams this year, and this is definitely one of them. The Wildcats will be tested again, with games against Auburn, Vanderbilt, Nevada, Wake Forest, and Loyola-Chicago in addition to the three Orlando games. The difference this year is that, according to T-Rank, they are pick-em or better in all of those games. In the A-10, they play VCU and Dayton just once each with both games at home. They are only projected as more than a 1-point underdog in 2 of their games: Marquette and at Rhode Island. This is a team that is going to win 20+ games, has a legit shot at winning their conference, and should be at least in the mix for an at-large berth come Selection Sunday.

Bob McKillop has had 18 straight winning seasons at Davidson, including 13 campaigns with 20+ wins in that span. The main reason is because of his dynamic offense. His teams are incredibly adept at running the break, running ball screens, shooting, and making good decisions. Everyone is involved, everyone can pass, everyone can shoot, and they take a LOT of threes (18 straight years in the top-65 of 3PFGA%). Davidson is also a team that won't beat themselves. They don't turn the ball over much, they don't expose themselves to fast-breaks by overcommitting on the offensive glass, and on the other end, they limit second chances. What's impressive about the last bit is that in the past two years, McKillop has taken advantage of his long guards by moving more to a 2-3 zone. The length of Gudmundsson and Grady bothers shooters on the perimeter and unlike traditional zone teams, they have been able to limit offensive rebounds. For comparison, the past two years Davidson has been top-35 each season in defensive rebounding percentage. The most notable zone in the country, Syracuse, has never been ranked better than #131 in the past 23 years.

I'll be honest, when I saw Davidson come up for Orlando, I shuddered. Their creative, well-schooled offense makes them an incredibly tough defensive matchup, and without the Hausers, shooting over their zone will be a challenge for Marquette. Davidson is a team that, like Belmont or Syracuse, are simply very difficult to match up with because what they do is unlike what anyone else does. The loser of this game will also likely draw a second-round match with Fairfield, which is by far the weakest opponent in Orlando, and also miss out on the chance to make a statement against preseason top-10 Maryland. Because of the importance of neutral court games and the implications on the schedule, this is unquestionably the most important non-conference game on the schedule, on par with the 2017 VCU game and 2012 Butler game, both played in Maui.

Marquette Connection: Anyone that listens to the Real Chilly Podcast knows the call from their introductory music. "Here we go, 5 seconds left, Marquette down by 1, trying to avoid the upset. Blue with the drive, the left hand, IT'S GOOD! 1 second to play, Vander Blue has put Marquette in front by 1!" Any Marquette fan whose allegiance goes back more than 5 years was likely jumping and dancing like an overcaffeinated idiot just like I was at BBC on the East Side of Milwaukee. Marquette finished the game on an 11-4 run. While some called it a choke, Davidson's 4 possessions before Blue's layup featured 1.200 points per possession, 75% free throw shooting, 100 eFG%, and just one turnover. They didn't choke. It was Marquette scoring a ridiculous 2.750 ppp, going 3/3 beyond the arc after starting the game 1/12, and having a 175 eFG% in the final minute of the game. Blue stole the final inbound to seal the improbable triumph. Marquette went on to follow that win with victories over Butler and Miami en route to the Elite 8. It all started with that Davidson game. If you never saw it or just want a reminder, you can get your goosebumps here.

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