Davidson heads to Tallahassee to take on Florida State in the first round of the NIT (link to bracket). Here are three keys for the Wildcats as they look to continue their good play into the postseason.
#1: Start Fast
One of Davidson’s biggest problems this season has been digging themselves a deep hole early in the first half.
The Wildcats are downright clutch in the second half, but haven’t kept themselves in enough games to let that ability come to fruition. The games that Davidson has won this season against top-flight opponents have been when they get out to an early lead or at least match the other team throughout the first ten minutes. Over their past five losses, Davidson has been outscored by 7.2 points in the first 10 minutes of the games. In order to make a deep run in this tournament, and start off with a win over FSU, the Wildcats need to not dig themselves a first half hole.
#2: Fix the Power 6 and Road Woes
The first matchup for the Wildcats, on the road against Florida State, combines the two things that Davidson has had the most trouble with recently: playing “Power 6” schools, and playing on the road. Power 6 schools are considered to be the schools from the “big” conferences (adopted from the term “Power 5 Conferences” in college football). Those conferences are the ACC, SEC, Pac12, Big12, Big10, and Big East – and Davidson has not done well against them recently.
Davidson is 0/3 this season against teams from Power 6 conferences, with losses to Pittsburgh, North Carolina, and California. The Pittsburgh game came on a neutral court, while the other two were on the road – all tough places to play against tournament teams. However going back a couple of seasons, you have to go back 10 games against Power 6 teams to find a win, which was a neutral site win over Georgia during Davidson’s 2013-14 campaign. That puts Davidson at 0 for their last 9 against Power 6 teams, and 1 for their last 14.
Road games have also been an issue for the Wildcats, who boast one of the best home court records in all of college basketball. Losing just two games over the past two seasons at home, Davidson sits at 15-1 at home this year. However, they are are 5-11 away from the confines of Belk Arena. Because Davidson has a 5 seed, that means they could potentially have to play three road games before a hypothetical trip to Madison Square Garden. However, these games present Davidson with an opportunity to get the monkey off their back, and enter next season with some confidence that they can win anywhere, and against anyone.
#3: Work Inside-Out
As it often is in these lists, all three items reflect each other. Davidson has been losing games on the road and against good teams because they have been getting off to slow starts. Why have they been getting off to slow starts? An inability to penetrate defenses, and an over-reliance on outside shooting.
Davidson is one of the best outside shooting teams in the country, but have a tendency to start games off quite cold. That, combined with an occasional hesitancy to penetrate defenses and just pass the ball around the perimeter, has contributed to a number of slow starts in games. I think what Davidson needs to do is capitalize on the recent emergence of Nathan Ekwu and the ever-solid play of Peyton Aldridge and work inside-out to start games. The more post touches these two forwards get at the start of games, the better it is for Davidson moving forward. Ekwu has shown a good finishing ability around the rim, and a much improved free throw stroke has made him a more viable option for longer amounts of playing time. Peyton Aldridge has quietly developed a very nice post game that involves a good hook shot as well as some short and midrange jumpers. This is a better alternative to settling for a lot of threes and outside shots early. Another option for Davidson is to get out in transition, where Jack Gibbs is very affective getting to the hoop and drawing contact.