The Davidson Wildcats that the Virginia Cavaliers face on Saturday aren’t the same Wildcats that made a Final Four run with Steph Curry, but they are still a very good program and Coach Bob McKillop gets his team ready as well as anybody in the nation. After Curry’s departure, Davidson had a couple of down years, but were back in the NCAA Tourney in 2015 and won 20 games in 2016. Last year was met with regression once again, as they finished just 17-15 and under .500 in the A-10. This year, they are 4-3 so far, with their best win coming over UNC-Wilmington.
This team does not have the elite scorer that they did with Steph Curry averaging nearly 30 points per game as a senior in 2009. But Peyton Aldridge, a 6’8” stretch-4 is averaging over 20 points per game for the second straight season. A year ago, Davidson had two 20 ppg scorers, but senior PG Jack Gibbs moved on. Aldridge is a 38% career shooter from downtown, and though he’s making just 35% this year, he’s a bigtime threat outside. It will be interesting to see who gets the challenge of guarding him. Isaiah Wilkins has the size and strength to play him, but doesn’t look that comfortable on the perimeter. Meanwhile, Devon Hall has the perimeter defensive skill, but is giving up 3 inches and 20 pounds. DeAndre Hunter may be the answer, as his length would bother Aldridge on the outside.
Pretty much everybody on Davidson can shoot. They are currently third in the nation in 3 point attempts (as a percentage of total shots). However, they are just 78th in 3 point percentage (as in percentage of made shots). Ten Wildcats have attempted at least 10 treys, and five have attempted at least 20. (For comparison, only three Hoos have taken 20, and five have taken 10.) Aldridge leads with 52 attempted three-point shots and but two other guys are right behind with over 40 (Kyle Guy has attempted 58.)
Point guard Jon Axel Gudmundsson is making about 44% of his 3s after just 32% last year. He seems to shoot well against bad teams and poorly against good teams. That bodes well for the Hoos, who play tight defense on the perimeter which may frustrate the Icelandic national. He’s 6’4” 190, so that’s a good matchup for Ty. Gudmundsson is also a strong defender, so he may matchup with Kyle Guy at times. Gudmundsson is second on the team in rebounds, rare for a PG.
McKillop rotates three different big men, Oskar Michelson (Finland), Dusan Kovacevic (Serbia) and Will Magarity (Sweden). I guess they couldn’t find a big man in the States? Magarity began his career at Boston College, and had 6 points (2-2 from 3) in 11 minutes against the Hoos in 2015. Michelson starts and has made 12/25 (48%) from 3 this year. But he was 4/28 last year and is a 31% shooter for his career. Kovacevic is the bruiser of the trio, and he’s the best interior player they’ve got. He played a season high 14 minutes against UNC and may see increased time again, considering the Hoos edge inside.
That leads me to a bigger point. Davidson is an offensive team. They score 83 points per game and give up 73 (comparison – the Hoos average 69 and give up 53). They are 64th in the nation in offensive efficiency, but just 123rd in defense. Because they shoot so many 3s, they do not get to the line very much (340th) in the nation in FT Rate — that’s a shame because they are 47th in the nation in FT%. But because of all the 3s, they are fairly efficient offensive even without getting to the line or getting offensive boards (305th). They are the best in the nation in not turning it over, so they don’t waste possessions. They shoot a reasonably high percentage, which makes up for their other shortcomings.
The way the Hoos are going to win this game is by dominating inside. The Wildcats played UNC and shot 42% from 3, 90% from the line and still lost by 10. They made 14 treys and yet UNC led the entire game. That’s because UNC out-rebounded them 54-23 (and 19-4 on the offensive glass). Don’t expect the same level of domination from the Hoos, simply because the Hoos do not crash the offensive glass with the same aggression as UNC. Davidson’s hope is that they make enough treys to keep it close and they come up with enough plays to come out on top at the end. The Hoos are too good defensively on the perimeter and too big on the interior for that to work.