Another season, another important piece for Bob McKillop to replace at Davidson.
Prior to last year, McKillop lost the reigning A-10 Player of Year, Tyler Kalinoski , who had led the Wildcats to a surprisingly successful inaugural year in the conference. This year McKillop has an A-10 POY favorite still on his squad in Jack Gibbs (23.4 points per game) but must replace since-graduated Brian Sullivan, who made the second most three pointers in program history.
Sullivan lacks the star power of Kalinoski, but his loss will nonetheless be felt as he begins a pro career in Germany. The pieces are there to fill the void Sullivan left and if they click, Davidson should remain in the league’s upper tier.
All told, Sullivan was a workhorse for McKillop last season, playing the most minutes per game (37.1) on a team whose depth was ravaged by injuries. But he was more than just an experienced player McKillop could roll out on the court. His three point shooting (41.0 percent on 244 attempts) and movement without the ball were an essential cog in McKillop’s high scoring, efficient, three point-dependent offense. He accounted for 30 percent of the three pointers made on a team that scored over a third of its points from distance. He’s a major loss.
The Wildcats are what they are under McKillop, and that’s not a team that will try and win with defense. They’re going to shoot a lot of three’s and be comfortable racing the opposition to 80 points. If they are going to challenge for an NCAA berth next season, they’ll need to maintain an offense that ranked 30th in Kenpom efficiency.
Several players could step in alongside Gibbs and replace Sullivan’s shooting and playmaking. The most obvious candidate is junior guard Jordan Watkins, whose role should increase after averaging 22.0 minutes per game and making 37.8 percent of his 98 three point attempts in 2015-16. Given McKillop’s penchant for developing guards - of which the most glowing examples goes without saying - Watkins could be in for a big jump.
Fellow junior guard Rusty Reigel, who started 12 games last year, will likely also be asked to take on more of a scoring role after averaging just 2.1 field goal attempts in 16 minutes per game last season.
Newcomers in the frontcourt could add outside shooting as well. Boston College transfer Will Magarity, a 6-11 Swedish forward is, in McKillop’s words, a “perfect fit” for the Wildcats’ style of play, though he’s career 29.3 percent three point shooter in two seasons of limited action (12.7 mpg). There’s also versatile 6-10 forward Dusan Kovacevic, a Class of 2015 signee who lost his freshman year to injury.
Sullivan was reflective after scoring 23 points in McKillop’s 500th win, which came last November against Denison.
“That’s a lot of wins, and it obviously started a long, long time ago,” he told the Charlotte Observer after the game. “There’s been a lot of great players, great people that have been a part of all of those wins.”
Sullivan may not be a Steph Curry, De’Mon Brooks, Tyler Kalinoski or Gibbs, but he was an important part of a chunk of McKillop’s lofty win total. If we’ve learned anything about McKillop, it’s that he’s been able to continually develop quality players like Sullivan.
He’ll need to keep that going as Davidson enters 2016-17 very much in the A-10 and NCAA conversation.