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As many of you know, I’m a proud Davidson College alum, so when the brackets came out and I saw that my Cats were playing my other Cats, I had a bit of an emotional breakdown. While I don’t follow Davidson Basketball nearly as closely as I do Kentucky Basketball, I do know a thing or two about the red and black Wildcats. Here’s what you need to know going into Thursday night’s game.
1. Bob McKillop is a coaching legend
Everyone thinks Steph Curry is Davidson basketball, but Bob McKillop, in his 29th season coaching the Wildcats, is one of the best in the sport. Not only did he get the steal of the century in Curry, he led Davidson to eleven SoCon regular season titles and seven SoCon tournament titles before the Cats moved to the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2014. He was named SoCon Coach of the Year eight times and took home the A10 Coach of the Year award after leading Davidson to the A10 regular season title in 2015. If not for Kentucky’s 38-1 run that season, he probably would have been named National Coach of the Year.
Simply put, McKillop is a damn good coach and chose to stay at Davidson despite better offers. He will be in the Hall of Fame one day.
2. They’re one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country
The only way Davidson will beat Kentucky is by shooting the lights out and they are capable of it. Davidson gets 42% of their points from threes, with NINE players averaging over 37% from beyond the arc, four 40% or better. They rank 10th in the country in made threes per game (10.7), 23rd in field-goal percentage (48.6%) and 26th in three-point percentage (39.3%). As Calipari put it earlier today, they’re exactly the kind of team that can hurt Kentucky.
How hot can Davidson get? They’ve made 20+ threes in two games this season, 26 vs. Charleston Southern and 20 vs. St. Joe’s. They’ve averaged ten threes in their last four games, including wins over Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure, both NCAA Tournament teams. Kentucky’s perimeter defense has been freakishly good this season, but we saw what happened when Florida got hot a week ago. Kentucky must use their length to clamp down on the arc and prevent Davidson from building momentum.
3. They’re one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country
What Davidson has in three-point shooting, they lack in rebounding. The black and red Cats rank 341st out of the 351 teams in college basketball in offensive rebounds with only 6.9 per game. Meanwhile, Kentucky ranks 46th with 12.1 offensive boards per game.
Davidson actually has some size on their roster, with five players 6’8″ or taller, but they have no match for Kentucky’s length and athleticism. If Kentucky can keep Davidson quiet from three and own the boards, they’ll be fine.
4. Peyton Aldridge is their best player
Aldridge is no Steph Curry (who is?), but he is Davidson’s best player this season. At 6’8″ 225 lbs., Aldridge leads the Cats in scoring (21.6 ppg), rebounding (7.8 rpg), and blocks (0.6 bpg), and is a mismatch for most teams due to his ability to score inside and out. He’s made 76 threes on 39.4% this season, including eight in an overtime loss to St. Bonaventure last month.
Fun fact you’ll probably hear a lot on the broadcast: Aldridge also played quarterback in high school and was briefly recruited by Nick Saban.
5. Kellan Grady and Jon Axel Gudmundsson are good too
While Aldridge is the straw that stirs Davidson’s drink, freshman Kellan Grady isn’t far behind. The A10 Rookie of the Year averages 18 points per game off 50.8% from the field, 37.7% from three-point. He had 17 points in Davidson’s win over Rhode Island yesterday, including the game-winning shot with just over a minute left. He ain’t scared.
Jon Axel Gudmundsson is also a player to keep an eye on. The 6’4″ sophomore guard from Grindavik, Iceland is third on the team in scoring with 13 points per game along with 6.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists. He may not get the buzz that Aldridge or Grady do, but he’s dangerous.
6. They play slow
Davidson ranks 18th in the country in KenPom’s adjusted offense (117.4 points scored per 100 possessions) and 335th in tempo, so get ready for some slow ball. In addition to milking the shot clock, they have the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the country right now (1.76) and rank third in turnover margin with only 9.6 turnovers per game.
Bob McKillop usually plays man-to-man, but in December, switched to a 2-3 zone that’s transformed his team’s play. Most of Davidson’s bad losses came early in the season before they made that switch.
7. They lost to North Carolina by ten in December
The North Carolina/Davidson game is always a big one and in December, the Wildcats lost to the #13 Heels by ten points. A few weeks later, they lost at #16 Virginia by 20, the first of three straight losses that forced McKillop to switch to a zone defense.
8. They haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since Steph left
Everyone remembers Davidson’s run to the Elite Eight in 2008 when they lost to eventual national champion Kansas. They’ve been back to the tournament three times since (2012, 2013, 2015), but haven’t made it out of the first round.
9. They might be the All-Name Team
Thanks to an influx of international players, Davidson’s roster requires a pronunciation guide. From Icelandic guard Jon Axel Gudmundsson to Serbian forward Dusan Kovacevic, Nigerian forward Nathan Ekwu, Finnish forward Oskar Michelsen, New Yorker Cal Freundlich, and good ole Charlotte boy Rusty Reigel, the Wildcats should be in the running for the tournament’s All-Name Team.
10. They’re a lovable bunch of nerds
Do you know how much I wish Davidson were playing Duke or UNC this week instead of Kentucky? I would get you all on the Davidson bandwagon. We’re a small school but a proud one, lesser known but tougher than most Ivy League counterparts. A strict honor code allows for the freedom to work hard and play hard, making for a lovable bunch of nerds who aren’t afraid to let the freak flag fly. Case in point: this ridiculous music video featuring Steph Curry that, it if were anybody else, could be used as blackmail.
In closing, I can promise you this: if you didn’t have to cheer against Davidson Thursday, you’d be cheering for them, which is why it’s really going to suck for this here blogger.