Davidson Wildcats Full 2017-18 Season Preview
Last year was tough for the Wildcats, who found mid-season struggles and came up just short of doing something special in March. Davidson put up great fights in non-conference play against North Carolina and Kansas, but home losses to Richmond, George Mason, and Fordham pretty much killed this team’s chances of cracking the top 6. The Wildcats got hot towards the end of the year, though they blew leads against Rhode Island and Dayton in the regular season. The A-10 Tournament was a different picture; the Wildcats came alive and defeated La Salle and Dayton in triumphant fashion. Unfortunately, Rhode Island would prove to be too much for Davidson to handle, and this team’s season would end in the A-10 Tournament semifinals.
The race for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year is always an interesting one to follow; this year should be no different. Jaylen Adams and E.C. Matthews will both be in the running, but the guy to steal the show might be a Davidson Wildcat. Peyton Aldridge seems primed for a breakout season. As a junior, Peyton averaged 20.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per contest. And believe it or not, Peyton wasn’t even the Wildcats’ leading scorer. Without Jack Gibbs (22.1 PPG) scoring like nobody’s business, there’s no telling just how high Aldridge’s ceiling will be.
Next season, Peyton is going to be the guy both in the paint and behind the three point line. He took an incredible 300 attempts from 2 point range last season and cashed in on 54.3% of those. Not to mention, he was the 5th best three point shooter in the Atlantic 10 firing at 41.8% in conference play. Peyton Aldridge’s rebounding has been impressive throughout his career at Davidson, especially on the defensive end of the floor, and he’s really good at not turning the ball over. I’m curious to see just how far Peyton Aldridge can go next season. The Wildcats have other options, yes, but Aldridge should be touching the ball on every single possession.
Jon Axel Gudmundsson
JAG will be one of my favorite sophomores to watch next season; the freshman showed a lot of poise and promise towards the end of the Wildcats’ 2016-17 campaign. Particularly in the A-10 Tournament, Gudmundsson showed the league just what he’s capable of. Undoubtedly, JAG’s best game of the season came in Pittsburgh against La Salle where he dropped 16 points, dished out 7 assists, and pulled in 4 boards. He’d go on to score 34 points in 3 Atlantic 10 Tournament games, and in the process, Gudmundsson dished out 13 assists and only committed 3 turnovers.
I see a lot of promise in JAG’s game as a dual threat: passing and three point shooting. His three point shooting numbers have room for improvement (32.7% last season), but he was 6-10 throughout the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Clearly, he’s showing progression. Similarly, Jon Axel Gudmundsson’s passing numbers improved throughout the course of the season, and most importantly, the freshman began committing fewer turnovers. He had 3 fewer giveaways in the latter half of the Wildcats’ season, and that was when he was earning more playing time as well. As a sophomore, JAG has a chance to emerge as Davidson’s 2nd best player, and he should be a real force in the A-10 this season.
With the exception of one breakout game against Charlotte last year, Jordan Watkins really struggled to get anything going his junior year. Particularly, sub .300 shooting percentages from 2 and 3 is concerning for a guy who’s utilized for his jumpshot; Jordan Watkins knocked down 37.8% of his long range attempts in 2015-16. Due to shooting woes and the improved play of Jon Axel Gudmundsson, Watkins’ playing time dwindled towards the end of last season, and I wouldn’t expect him to see tons of court time in 2017-18 either. That said, his 6/8 three point shooting performance against rival Charlotte last season proves that he hasn’t lost the talent; hopefully for Davidson, Jordan Watkins can work to get his shooting touch back before November.
There are a lot of good things that come when Rusty Reigel is on the floor, but not all of them show up on the stat sheet. His name is the embodiment of his game; he’s scrappy, he’s a fighter, and he always seems to come up with a big play when the Wildcats need it the most. Rusty had a very important 10 point game against VCU last season; he was also a key catalyst in helping Davidson escape Appalachian St. in its season opener. An interesting question to consider will be this: can Rusty earn a starting spot this season? He’s typically been a role player off the bench, but there hasn’t been a lot of certainty as to who is going to start at the 3 this year. Likely, it could be KiShawn Pritchett or Luke Frampton, but if Rusty manages to impress early on, we could see him crack the starting 5.
Nathan Ekwu had a down season in 2016-17, missing some time with an injury and ultimately, never really getting his footing. That could change this year. Ekwu scored in double digits 6 times in 2015-16, and the sophomore really came out of his shell late in the season. He had 18 points and 8 rebounds in a win over Saint Joseph’s, and he recorded his first career double-double in the 2016 A-10 Tournament against La Salle. A fully healthy Nathan Ekwu could mean another dangerous asset for these Davidson Wildcats. The height of this team’s ceiling will greatly depend on frontcourt guys like Ekwu, Magarity, and Kovacevic. If the Wildcats can use their size to be physical and dominant on the boards (something this team historically does not do well), it’s going to find increased success. Davidson was 12th in the league in offensive rebounding last year; Ekwu’s down year was a big reason why. Nathan Ekwu needs to forget about last season and pick back up where he left off in 2015-16.
Will Magarity is a player with a lot talent and a lot of potential his senior season. The Boston College transfer was Davidson’s third leading scorer last year, and he’ll look to improve upon his scoring numbers without Jack Gibbs on the floor. Magarity averaged 8.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game last season — not too shabby. What’s interesting is that Magarity was extremely effective when shooting inside the arc. From two-point range, the junior shot 66.3%, good enough for 26th in the nation. Even better, he was 70% in conference play. If Magarity can start to ease off the three point line (25.6% last season), he can become the true center that Davidson needs. The Atlantic 10 will be lacking size this season, so Will Magarity will have a tremendous opportunity to assert his build down low in the paint.
Oskar Michelsen really didn’t do much for Davidson last year, as he was very limited in playing time. Shooting just 14.3% from deep on the season is a concern, and those kinds of numbers aren’t going to win you much playing time in McKillop’s offense. Like a number of rising seniors on this Davidson roster, Oskar needs to prove his shooting ability to earn more minutes.
Despite some ups and downs, KiShawn Pritchett came a long way his first season with the Wildcats. He earned a starting spot in the latter half of the season, and he’d go on to average 3.9 points, 1.9 assists, and 2.6 rebounds — a player with all-around talent. I look at Pritchett’s game and see a number of areas for improvement: a poor three point shooting percentage and an uncharacteristically high turnover rate are two places to start. Traditionally, Davidson’s offense relies heavily on all 5 players being able to shoot the three ball. Pritchett (28.8%) has a ways to go, especially as a starter in this rotation. But Pritchett is becoming a big asset on defense, committing just 2.6 fouls per 40 minutes last season, and as of right now, that’s where the rising sophomore provides the most value to Davidson’s 2017-18 team.
Dusan Kovacevic certainly has room to grow this season. He averaged 2.4 points and 2.1 rebounds per contest as a sophomore, and those numbers could grow if we see him get more playing time. Kovacevic has yet to prove himself as a dynamic post threat and should play behind Magarity and Ekwu for the majority of the season. He had 12 points and 6 rebounds last season against Hartford, which was the best performance of his career. Bob McKillop should look to develop Kovacevic, as he’ll be one of the big men of the future when next year’s seniors depart from the program.
Kellan Grady is a 4 star recruit that the Wildcats desperately needed heading into the 2017-18 season. Why? Star point guard Jack Gibbs is gone, and Grady should be an effective replacement. It will be interesting to see how Bob McKillop runs Davidson’s offense with Grady at the helm. If we’re being fair, Jack Gibbs was more of a shooting guard than a point guard, and he had the green light whenever he touched the ball. That’s not going to be the case with Grady, a player that should prove effective both scoring and passing the basketball. It’d be interesting to see if Davidson plays more of a traditional style and looks for more post feeds through Grady. This team relied heavily on Jack Gibbs for offense, and things will need to change.
Carter Collins is a 2 star point guard from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. With an overload of senior guards this season, and a very-likely starter in Kellan Grady, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Collins redshirt this season. Should he not, he’ll be playing limited minutes and trying to develop for the 2018-19 season when the Wildcats lose a plethora of graduating seniors.
West Virginia shooting guard Luke Frampton held interest from a number of schools, and ultimately choosing Davidson, he should make a big impact. Expect Frampton to earn immediate playing time at the 2 or the 3 next year; he could even earn a starting spot if he’s knocking down shots like he’s capable of. He should be one of the more exciting freshman in the Atlantic 10 to watch next season.
While we don’t know much of Davidson’s non-conference schedule just yet, we know that the Wildcats will be playing a neutral game against North Carolina in Charlotte. This is an awesome development for McKillop’s squad, as usually it has to travel to Chapel Hill for a non-conference game against the Tar Heels. The Wildcats should get a good crowd out to a neutral site game against the defending national champions, and they’re always competitive against UNC.
We also know that Davidson will be playing in Hawaii over Christmas for the Diamond Head Classic. The tournament usually proves to be a good battle amongst mid-major programs, but this year’s field has some perennial Power 5 programs as well. USC, a team that should be ranked in the Top 25, is playing, and Miami FL is also in the mix. Davidson has a first round date with New Mexico St., and Hawaii, Princeton, Akron, and Middle Tennessee round out the field. All in all, this is a great tournament, and if the Wildcats could walk away 2-1 or better, I’d call it a win in my book.
Home- La Salle, Massachusetts, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis, Fordham, George Washington, Rhode Island, Richmond, St. Bonaventure
Away – Dayton, Duquesne, George Mason, VCU, Fordham, George Washington, Rhode Island, Richmond, St. Bonaventure
Davidson gets to face Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure twice, making for some tough home and away games but also some great opportunities. The Wildcats will also play host to Saint Joseph’s and Saint Louis, two teams that are likely to be ranked ahead of Davidson heading into next season. The Cats have a chance to beat quality A-10 teams at home, but they’ll also have to take on VCU and Dayton on the road. Davidson will likely be a middle-of-the-pack team, and their schedule seems to show that.
It’s normally rare to see a team improve after losing its best player, but Davidson could be an exception. Here’s why. The Wildcats’ record wasn’t indicative of how this team played towards the end of the season. Kenpom consistently had Davidson ranked as the 4th best team in the league, and Davidson blew quite a few leads at home this past season. For the way Davidson played, it wound up with one of the worst records possible, which is tough for a team to realize. That said, I think this team’s ceiling is very high with returning seniors and some incoming freshman. I like Davidson to finish anywhere from 6th to 8th in the conference this year, and if they really exceed expectations, maybe the Wildcats have a shot at the NCAA Tournament.