As the season approaches, Mid-Major Madness will be taking a closer look at its preseason Power 15 teams.
To say that the Davidson Wildcats were overlooked last year would be a severe understatement. The Atlantic 10 coaches and media picked the Wildcats to finish No. 12 out of 14 teams in the preseason poll last October. Luckily for the Wildcats, the game is played on the floor and not on paper.
Davidson, led by Bob McKillop, compiled a 24-8 record and won the Atlantic 10 conference regular season title in their first season in the league after leaving the Southern Conference in 2014. They earned a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament but lost in the first round to an experienced Iowa team.
Good news for the Wildcats is that they lose only one senior from last year’s team. The bad news is that senior was Tyler Kalinoski. Kalinoski was the Atlantic 10 player of the year last season after averaging 16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.
Although they lose a lot of production from Kalinoski, the Wildcats return six players that played at least 17 minutes per game and four players that averaged at least 9 points per game a season ago. In other words, they have more than enough weapons and experienced players to make up for the loss of Kalinoski.
The most important of the returnees will be Jack Gibbs. The junior point guard averaged 16.2 points per game and shot an impressive 42 percent on 3-pointers last season which led to a second team all-conference nod. Gibbs suffered a slight tear in his meniscus that caused him to miss seven games but he came back and continued his production. Expect for him to take the leap forward and challenge for the player of the year in the A-10.
Brian Sullivan, another second team all A-10 performer, Jordan Barham and Peyton Aldridge (A-10 all-rookie team) will start alongside Gibbs and are ready to take that leap forward to fill in the production that Kalinoski took with him. All three averaged at least 9 points per game and shot 35 percent from beyond the arc.
The one player to look out for is redshirt junior forward Jake Belford. Belford saw his season end abruptly last year after he had season-ending knee surgery. Before the injury, Belford was averaging 7.5 points and 4 rebounds per game. Because he only saw action in six games, Belford was granted a medical redshirt and retains that year of eligibility.
Davidson was one of the best offenses in the country last year when they basically lived and died on the 3-pointer. The Wildcats were 7th in the country in scoring offense, 21st in 3-point percentage, 2nd in 3-pointers made per game, and had the 8th best offensive efficiency rate according to KenPom.
Davidson’s schedule is highlighted by two big time road games against potential top 10 teams. The Wildcats will go into Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina in an annual rivalry game between the two schools. North Carolina won last year’s matchup 90-72 in Charlotte. Davidson then travels out to California to face the Golden Bears of California in the game before conference play begins. Cal is expected to challenge for a Pac-12 title after a top five recruiting class put them back into national relevancy. The key for the Wildcats is to keep these games close as it is a lot to ask for them to win. But then again, if they get hot, Davidson is a team that can outscore anybody in the country.
The rest of their nonconference schedule is pretty lackluster as their next best game is against Pitt in New York City. The most puzzling game on their schedule is their fourth game of the year against Denison, a Division 3 school in Ohio.
The road to another A-10 title will be difficult as there are multiple teams fighting for the top spot this upcoming season. The Wildcats will face their first test with an away game at Dayton in mid-January and get to play Rhode Island at home. They also have home and home games against George Washington, VCU and Richmond. All three of these teams will compete for the top spot along with Dayton and Rhode Island.
If there is one thing Bob McKillop knows how to do, it's how to win basketball games. McKillop, who won the A-10 coach of the year award last season, enters his 26th season as the head coach of the Wildcats and has averaged 23 wins over the past 11 seasons. His teams are skilled, tough and they never quit. I don't see that stopping anytime soon. The Wildcats are going to contend for the A-10 title and will finish in the top four of the league. Davidson will return to the NCAA tournament and will be a tough matchup for any team they face. With their style of play and their dependency on the 3-pointer, they could be one-and-done or they could make a a deep run. If there is one thing that is for certain this season, it is that no one is taking the Wildcats lightly this year and are going to get everyone's best shot.