At Davidson’s 2016 Media Day, head coach Bob McKillop said that the depth and versatility of this year’s team was the best that he had seen since he took the job in 1989. Davidson, for once, has a roster full of interchangeable parts that McKillop can mold and adapt to every opponent. New additions to both the frontcourt and the backcourt, combined with Davidson returning two of the premier players in the Atlantic 10 Conference (Peyton Aldridge and Jack Gibbs, numbers 10 and 1 respectively in our preseason rankings) make them a contender this year in the Atlantic 10. Still, some questions remain for a team that is looking to make this season their third consecutive 20+ win campaign as a member of the Atlantic 10.
Brian Sullivan is going to be sorely missed in the Wildcats backcourt. Sullivan was not only a deadly shooter and scorer, but also was called on to help break pressures and run the offense when Jack Gibbs was not on the floor. In a memorable game his senior year against Richmond, with Gibbs out due to injury, Sullivan went all 40 minutes, scoring 21 points and making 5 threes en route to a Davidson win. He averaged 14.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game – excellent production from a senior, which will always be hard to replace. Sullivan was able to stretch the floor and thrive in McKillop’s system, shooting over 40% from three his senior year.
Jordan Barham was an athletic 6’5″ guard/wing that was often tasked with more post-play duties than probably ideal for a player with his skill-set. That skill-set revolved around attacking the hoop, athletic rebounds and dunks, and transition buckets. Barham was one of the few Wildcats that could attack off of the dribble, and his patented spin move down the lane with a kiss off the glass wrecked havoc on the opposition during his time in red, white, and black. Averaging 8.4 points and 3.7 rebounds per game his senior year, Barham has since signed to play professional basketball in Slovakia.
Jake Belford was a promising big man with the ability to stretch the floor who unfortunately had to retire from basketball during last year’s season due to an accumulation of injuries. Having reclassified once already, Belford was only able to play 6 games in his final season as a Wildcat, and his presence around the program will surely be missed.
Jon Axel Gudmundsson is the only true “newcomer” to the Wildcats program, though with three other players coming off of redshirts, there will be plenty of new faces on the court for Davidson this season. Gudmundsson is an exciting freshman from Grindavik, Iceland. At 6’4″ he can play a variety of positions, and will excel attacking the hoop, especially in transition. I expect Jon Axel to get a decent amount of minutes this season: there is a competition to replace Brian Sullivan’s starting spot at the “2” position, and if Gudmundsson doesn’t win that to start the season, he still should see significant play off of the bench.
In the category of “they’ve been here but have yet to play” are Will Magarity, KiShawn Pritchett, and Dusan Kovacevic. Pritchett and Kovacevic were the two incoming freshmen last season, and both were sidelined the whole year with injuries, eventually taking redshirts. Healthy heading into 2016-17, the two provide two very different looks for Davidson off of the bench. Kovacevic, who stands at 6’10”, will be a post presence for Davidson, who also has the ability to step out and make some jumpers. Pritchett is a 6’6″ guard who gives Davidson a number of different looks at the guard and wing positions: he’s one of those versatile tools that Bob McKillop pointed towards. McKillop gets another new weapon to deploy by finally being able to rip the redshirt off of junior transfer Will Magarity. Magarity, originally from Sweden, transferred to Davidson from Boston College, but was forced to sit out a year due to transfer rules. Magarity, at 6’11” and 240 lbs looks to pose a matchup problem for defenses everywhere, as he can step out and hit the three, as well as deploy a smooth midrange game. It will be exciting to see some fresh faces on the court for the Wildcats this year, and I fully except all four newcomers to make a significant splash.
With the aforementioned Jack Gibbs and Peyton Aldridge leading the way for the Wildcats, there is a solid group of returning players around them. Junior forward Nathan Ekwu, who started and played well at the center position towards the end of the season, looks to start there this year. One thing that McKillop mentioned was Davidson’s ability to “go big” or “go small” – mostly depending on the presence of Aldridge and Ekwu on the floor, and whether Aldridge is deployed more as a forward or more as a guard. Senior big man Andrew McAuliffe gives Davidson a physical veteran presence in the post as well – really, they have 4 or 5 guys, all with different skill sets, that they can play in the post.
At guard next to Gibbs is going to be a combination of Jordan Watkins, Rusty Reigel, and Oskar Michelsen. Watkins may be able to play some point guard to alleviate the workload on Gibbs, and Reigel and Michelsen will hopefully shoulder some of the scoring load that Brian Sullivan’s absence is vacating – especially from behind the arc.
Davidson has a very tough and ambitious non-conference schedule this season, but it is one where they have a good chance to grab a marquee win or two. The conference slate is highlighted by home games against VCU and Rhode Island. Davidson was scheduled to play a tournament starting November 17th in Puerto Rico, but due to concerns over the Zika Virus, the venue has been moved to Orlando, Florida. The field is the same, and Davidson plays Clemson in the first game, and then the winner/loser of Xavier and Missouri. Northern Iowa, Arizona State, Tulane, and Oklahoma are also in the field.
Davidson’s non-conference slate does not stop there, as they have marquee road games against preseason #3 Kansas and #6 North Carolina. Davidson plays rival Charlotte at home, and has two interesting road trips to Charleston and Mercer, which could be deciding games come March.
Davidson has a lot to figure out, with the addition of four new players, and new positions for others. The good news for the Wildcats is that regardless of the combination of players, Jack Gibbs and Peyton Aldridge will be there to lead the team and run the show. If Davidson can get the new pieces to mesh, and figure out their frontcourt rotation against the different types of lineups that opponents can throw out, they could be a dangerous force come conference play. The outlook for Davidson is a good one: if things gel the way they should, Davidson will be around the bubble of the NCAA Tournament come March, and in pursuit of a third consecutive 20 win season in the Atlantic 10.