Davidson’s Surprising Concern

Davidson survived a road game this weekend against UNC Wilmington because of its star players Kellan Grady and Jon Axel Gudmundsson. The duo combined for 50 points on 65% shooting from the field, 42% shooting from deep, and a perfect 11 of 11 line the free throw line. The game was close largely because Davidson gave up 17 offensive boards while collecting only five such rebounds itself.

For Davidson, this isn’t a first. The team has long relied on good shooting from three point territory and accuracy from the line to cover up height (and occasionally athleticism) deficiencies.  The 2014-2015 Davidson team started four guards, two who were 6’0 or less, alongside 6’8 Peyton Aldridge. But that team shot 39% from deep, moved the ball well without turning it over, and everyone did their best to chip in on the glass. The Cats managed to shock the conference that season and win the A-10 regular season in its first year in the league.

This team is hoping to follow a similar formula. Davidson’s win over UNC Wilmington last night was no fluke; it has been outrebounded on the offensive glass four times already this season and been victorious. Against a Wichita State team that has already beaten Providence and Baylor, the ‘Cats were outrebounded 15-4 on the offensive glass but still managed a victory. Five different Davidson players are averaging between 4.0 and 5.9 rebounds a game; everyone knows they have to chip in on the glass. Davidson doesn’t need to outrebound its oppponent, so long as it does not get demolished on the glass.

Davidson’s problem this season is that it hasn’t done enough to make up for its height disadvantage with three point shooting. Both NCAA tournament teams in 2015 and 2018 teams shot 39% from deep; Davidson’s 2016 and 2017 squads shot 36% and 34% respectively. This year’s team is lower than all of them at 33%.

Obviously this year’s team does not have Peyton Aldridge. For his career, Aldridge was a high volume 39% shooter who forced opposing centers to guard on the perimeter. Oskar Michelsen and Will Magarity also could shoot from deep, allowing Davidson to play five out even with two bigs in the lineup. This led to open shot for other Davidson players. Luka Brajkovic has been a revelation in the post, but he doesn’t yet have a three point shot he trusts.

Both Grady (37 in 2017/2018; 38 in 2018/2019) and Gudmundsson (41 in 2017/2018; 42 in 2018/2019) have been unaffected. Kishawn Pritchett, however, has seen his shooting percentage plummet: he shot 44% from deep last year, but is at only 29% this year. Luke Frampton has not been afraid to gun it from deep, against UNC Wilmington and Charlotte he took 20 shots from the field, every single one a three pointer. He is currently shooting 32% on seven three pointers a game. David Czerapowicz and Dusan Kovacevic are taking about three triples per game between the two of them and hitting less than 20% combined.

There is reason for optimism that these percentages will tick upwards. Pritchett’s percentage might have been expected to drop, but not so precipitously. Frampton hit five of ten against UNC Wilmington and he is only a redshirt freshman. Carter Collins is shooting an encouraging 39%, albeit on less than two attempts per game.

McKillop has shown an admirable willingness to buck former conventional wisdom and play his five best players, size and position be damned. He is doing the same again this year, and Davidson looks like one of the better teams in the conference. But a four guard lineup that is only average from three point land will  struggle to accomplish what Davidson did in 2015 and 2018.