14. Davidson Wildcats
Last Season: Given the circumstances newly minted head coach Matt McKillop was working with, last season went about as well as it could’ve gone for Davidson in a transition season. There were some residual effects of the reigning regular season champions: Foster Loyer, Desmond Watson, and Sam Mennenga were a big part of that. Other guys stepped up here and there, but it was mainly those three that were the engine of Davidson.
Besides an early matchup against Charleston, Davidson was in every game they played out-of-conference against some of the best teams. They even began A-10 play 2-1 until they hit a massive valley. A five-game skid followed by losing four of five with some wins mixed in, then winning four of their last five and getting to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. While tough-minded, Davidson ended the year at 16-16 — painfully average to put it bluntly.
Historically, Davidson isn’t a strong defensive team. They were 155th in adjusted defense in 2022 and held it down by staying at 170th last season. Offense is the calling card for obvious reasons, which absolutely plummeted going from 11th in 2022 to 131st in 2023 (Kenpom). They were a middle-of-the-pack offense in the A-10, the fourth worst three-point shooting team (32%) but were tops in free throw percentage (75%). Tempo is also a big part of Davidson’s style — 294th in adjusted tempo doesn’t exactly hit it for this program (Kenpom).
An already thin roster and a rookie head coach are certainly not the type of formula to contend, but McKillop squeezed a .500 season out of this group. He proved that he can manage a close game well when the talent is on the roster. Loyer and Mennenga were a big part of the success, the question was the players around them. The second season is looking a little questionable in terms of the personnel, but there is upside that cannot be denied.
Returnees: Grant Huffman, Connor Kochera, Reed Bailey, Sean Logan, David Skogman, Achile Spadone, Riccardo Ghedini
Out: Foster Loyer, Sam Mennenga, Desmond Watson
In: Angelo Brizzi (Villanova), Jarvis Moss (Stanford), Mike Loughnane, Hunter Adam, Bobby Durkin, Rikus Schulte
Potential Strengths: Players will be asked to step up in places Davidson previously hasn’t had to worry about. With the makeup of the team, we could see a number of different lineups closing games. Defense is where the Wildcats will make noise, as stated earlier they were a top 175 defensive team in Kenpom. They won’t get tons of blocks, but they don’t foul much and have the size to clear the boards.
Huffman, Brizzi, and Spadone are a nice point guard platoon that will give a ton of different styles depending on the type of game they’re in. Huffman is a crafty, tall guard who is going to be the organizer of the offense. Brizzi’s potential as a long-range shooter is one that will try to be unlocked at the A-10 level, and Spadone is a very smart player who can give you 10 minutes of solid play. Freshman Mike Loughane looks to be a well-rounded guard and add some of his magic after being named the MaxPreps player of the year in Massachusetts.
The wing position is really fascinating: McKillop is taking a chance on former Stanford stowaway Jarvis Moss as a wing scorer. Connor Kochera will be running around screens hoisting threes, as well as freshman Bobby Durkin, who set his high school’s record for most threes in a season with 78. Reed Bailey is going to leap into one of the top options after a very solid freshman campaign. His frame at 6’11” is an extremely annoying factor that other teams have to deal with, especially if he adds more volume to his already impressive 34% from three.
David Skogman and Sean Logan will add some size and rebounding inside, as well as some range shooting of their own. Freshman Rikus Schulte is another highly touted international recruit who will find himself in the mix for some minutes. Davidson isn’t going to have a true first, second, or even third option. This will be a team that works by committee every night, they will be able to adjust given their multifaceted talents and the skills they all provide.
Potential Weaknesses: While it is nice that there will be a lot of complimentary pieces that will be very disciplined, they lack an alpha scorer/clutch performer. Who is going to take the last shot when the game is on the line? When the game is a heavyweight fight, who is the guy that is going to step up and deliver the final blow?
There are too many unknowns for that question to be answered. Huffman would be a choice, but his three-point shooting has been less than passable for that to be the case. There is little (if any) evidence Moss can be that guy. Perhaps Bailey can be an option, but outside of those three guys, it’s a tricky puzzle to pick who will take the last shot.
While we’re on three-point shooting, the percentages as a team weren’t good last year. The hope is that with more choices among personnel, the better the numbers can be. Loyer did chuck a lot last season out of necessity, but perhaps a more even shot distribution can regain this program’s identity to guide it to some more wins. Kochera struggled last season adjusting to the A-10, Brizzi’s sample size is also too small, and everyone else just couldn’t hit/wanted to take those shots.
Outlook: Everyone wants to talk about the great mystery teams of this conference, and Davidson is quietly one of those teams. They have a lot of guys who are exceptional in a lot of different areas, but there isn’t that one guy who is the clear-cut leader on the team in my estimation. Again, wins will come from teamwork and sharing the ball. They can adjust to a lot of different styles with a diverse cast and a good coach. A pillow fight finish is likely but a finish in the 9-13 range cannot be ruled out, but clearly Matt McKillop has an eye on the future. The program needs more time to develop and influx more talent to get back to a contender.