The Davidson Wildcats fell just short of last year’s NCAA Tournament after a respectable 20-13 (10-8 A-10) season which included A-10 Tournament wins over La Salle and St. Bonaventure. Though the Wildcats would go on to lose to Florida State in the first round of the NIT, they’ll return a lot of promising pieces that could get them back to the Big Dance for the first time since 2015. Davidson lost in the first round of the tourney to Iowa last time it found itself in the field of 68. This year, Davidson could make it to the second round and beyond. Here are 5 reasons we could see Davidson back in the NCAA Tournament in 2017.
1. Jack Gibbs will be back
After averaging 23.5 points per game this past season, Jack Gibbs is turning into the most talented Davidson Wildcat since that guy who plays for the Warriors now. An absolute scoring machine, Gibbs always finds a way to make a big bucket when his team needs it most, and he’ll be relied upon heavily once again under Bob McKillop. Last year, he led the conference in percentage of possessions used and percentage of shots taken. He also ranked 8th and 12th nationally in those categories. Though Gibbs certainly has a knack for scoring, he’s a great distributor and rebounder as well. He dished out 4.9 assists and grabbed 4.1 boards per game last year. With this guy on the roster, there’s no telling just how far this Wildcat team will go. Look for Gibbs to be a front-runner for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year.
2. A strong junior class leads the way
The Wildcats have quite the group of juniors coming back to play in the 2016-17 season. Rusty Reigel, Jordan Watkins, Nathan Ekwu, Peyton Aldridge, and Oskar Michelsen are all talented players with some experience under their belts. Peyton Aldridge is ready for a breakout season after putting up some impressive numbers his sophomore year. He scored 15.5 points per game on 49.2% shooting from the field and 36.8% shooting from three point range. His inside presence is key as well; Aldridge grabbed 6.5 boards per contest last season. In addition, Watkins and Reigel have proven to be solid outside shooters who can fill up the basket in a hurry. Expect them both to see a lot more playing time this next season. Ekwu and Michelsen both have good touch around the basket and will certainly be called upon frequently. In addition to these solid juniors, Boston College transfer Will Magarity will be available after sitting out one year.
3. The third time’s the charm
This will be Davidson’s third year playing in the Atlantic 10 Conference, and by now, you’d think the Wildcats are starting to get used to their competition. Despite being a newcomer in the league in the 2014-15 season, the Wildcats shocked the conference and won it in the regular season. Though last year’s Wildcat team didn’t find the same level of success, the league is a bit more open this time around. Dominant teams like St. Joseph’s, VCU, and George Washington will lose a solid chunk of talent from last season, giving the Wildcats a better chance of finishing at the top and making the Big Dance. Though Rhode Island and Dayton will likely be the two favorites to win the league in 2017, Davidson isn’t too far behind. With the opportunity to cash in on some big wins in conference play and potentially win the league, we could start to like this team’s chances come Selection Sunday.
4. Young talent will help the Cats
Along with experienced upperclassmen, Davidson has some freshmen that could be major contributors right off the bat. Most notably, redshirt freshman Dusan Kovacevic will add some immediate size to Davidson’s already strong frontcourt. The 6’10” forward will help Andrew McAuliffe and Nathan Ekwu give the Wildcats a chance to fight with some of the bigger teams in the conference. Davidson ranked 312th in offensive rebounding percentage and 228th in defensive rebounding percentage last year, a stat that will need to change if it wants to go dancing in March. Additionally, KiShawn Pritchett and Jón Axel Guðmundsson should also be good bench options and solid players to help build for the future of this team. With the right mix of young and experienced players, Davidson might just have the recipe for a ticket to the tourney.
5. Bob McKillop knows how to get it done
There are a lot of great teams in college basketball, but the thing that separates the good ones from the great ones is an experienced coach. It’s tough to make a run in March without a true captain at the helm. Lucky for Davidson, it’s got that and more in Bob McKillop. Having been the head coach at Davidson since 1989, he knows the ins and the outs of the program and knows exactly what it takes to go deep in the Tournament like his team did in 2008 when it made a run all the way to the Elite 8. Though all of those players have moved on (including Stephen Curry), McKillop still remains with the program. If there’s any coach fit to get this team back into the Big Dance and ready for another deep run, it’s gotta be Bob McKillop.
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