Davidson could be a hot upset pick against Kentucky; here’s why

Following a thrilling 58-57 win over Rhode Island in the A-10 Tournament Championship, the Davidson Wildcats got back to the Big Dance and drew the #5 Kentucky Wildcats in the South Region. While Davidson fans didn’t have much trouble getting to D.C. for the weekend, Boise, Idaho may be a bit tougher. But still, the Davidson Wildcats have a chance to take down a blue blood program with the same mascot. It’s going to be fun.

It’s no secret that the Davidson Wildcats have one of the hottest teams in the nation right now, and beating St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island to win the title certainly drew some national attention. Kellan Grady got a shoutout from CBS’ Gary Parrish as the “player to watch in the South region.” It’s safe to say that Davidson could be a sneaky first round upset pick — that said, Kentucky isn’t the easiest 5 seed to have to face.

If you’re looking to move Davidson into the 2nd round — and maybe even beyond — in your March Madness Tournament bracket, I’ll give you a few reasons why Davidson could play David to Kentucky’s Goliath. The Wildcats in blue are coming off an SEC Championship that featured a rout over Colin Sexton and Alabama and a close win over Tennessee. They’re winners of 7 of their last 8 and arguably one of the hottest teams in one of the hottest conferences. But as we all know, Davidson is used to playing the role of the underdog.

The Defensive Glass

One reason to believe in the Davidson Wildcats is because of their efficiency on the defensive glass. Davidson has the 18th best defensive rebounding efficiency in the country, limiting opponents to gather only 23.4% of possible offensive boards. This is important. Why? Kentucky ranks 6th nationally on the offensive glass, gathering 35.6% of possible misses and turning those into second chance points. Kentucky lives for second chance points, and if Davidson takes that away, it’s going to have a much better shot.

Davidson can struggle with bigger and more physical teams, but they do a good job boxing out and limiting opponents’ abilities to score second chance points. While Davidson isn’t so good on the offensive glass itself, it might not need to be as long as shots are falling. Because Davidson is a team that takes very efficient shots and can shoot lights out from three, keeping an even number of possessions with UK, or even a surplus if the ‘Cats do a really good job on the boards, could result in a big win.

Free Throw Shooting

Davidson does all of the little things right, and free throw shooting, while not a little thing, has been its bread and butter all year, whether you noticed it or not. Just how good has Davidson been from the free throw line? The Wildcats are shooting 79.7% from the stripe as a team; that ranks 4th nationally. In Davidson’s tournament final against URI, the Wildcats were 14/16 from the stripe while the Rams were 9/17. Free throw shooting was the reason Davidson held on despite hitting just one field goal in the final 14 minutes of the second half.

This also works in Davidson’s favor because Kentucky has not been good from the line. In fact, they’ve been quite awful from a national standpoint, ranking 252nd nationally with a 69.7% clip. That’s not great, and if Davidson hits their free throws while Kentucky doesn’t, we could see quite the game in Boise.

Note: Davidson also has the 14th best free throw shooting defense in the country. This isn’t really a metric that can be controlled (except for home crowds), but it’s an added bonus that teams don’t shoot well from the charity stripe against the Wildcats. Rhode Island seemed to be exhibit A in that category.

Seniors Win in March

This is less tangible, but there’s something about a team in March that’s loaded with seniors. Kentucky has the youngest team in the nation statistically. The Wildcats have a core group of 4th-year players that have been making senior plays all month long. If you’re betting on experience, you’re going to want to take the Wildcats.