Wildcat Weekly | Edition 1 | Cole Vulpis
The ‘Cats are BACK! Before this week, Davidson had not played a game since January 30, when they beat UMass in Amherst by a score of 69-60. After not playing for almost two weeks due to issues related to COVID-19, Wildcat fans were thrilled to hear on February 13 that the ‘Cats were back at practice. Two days later the ‘Cats scheduled a game against St. Bonaventure for Sunday. This created some anxieties for fans who were nervous about playing such a tough team as the ‘Cats first game back, but the day after Davidson announced that they would also be playing Southern Virginia University, a Division 3 program, on Thursday. The game was later pushed back to Friday.
Davidson went 1-1 this week. The Wildcats demolished SVU in Belk Arena by a score of 101-51, but fell to St. Bonaventure at the Reilly Center by a score of 69-58. This put Davidson at 11-6 on the season and 6-3 in the Atlantic 10 conference. Going into the St. Bonaventure game, Davidson was in a three-way tie for first in the conference. Now, the ‘Cats sit in 4th with two games left in the regular season.
Davidson vs. Southern Virginia
Davidson was on top for all but the second minute of the first half. Kellan Grady kicked off the ‘Cats scoring with a breakaway steal and dunk a minute into the game. These were the first points Davidson had scored in 20 days. The Wildcats then continued the day with a flurry of shooting. By the end, the ‘Cats won 101-51, going 38-67 from the field, 18-40 from deep, and 7-8 from the line. These 67 shots were the most they had shot all season in a game that ended in regulation. Additionally, this was the first time Davidson surpassed the 100-point mark since their quadruple overtime loss to George Washington on January 29, 2020. The ‘Cats also totaled 42 rebounds (9 offensive), 23 assists, 6 blocks, 1 steal, and 5 turnovers.
Bob McKillop made experimenting with new lineups a major emphasis of this game. Eight players totaled over 20 minutes. McKillop also went with a new starting lineup for the first time this season. Bates Jones (F) and Mike Jones (G) started instead of Davidson’s usual starting forwards, Sam Mennenga and Luka Brajkovic. Neither Mennenga and Brajkovic nor Nelson Boachie-Yiadom came in this game. The three all played on Sunday, so it seems that McKillop decided to scratch these physical forwards to prevent injury or to give other players more minutes.
Coach McKillop said in his post-game interview, “We got better today. We exposed ourselves to different looks, different experiences, [and] different lineups.” In this sense, the game against SVU was not only a tune-up game, it was a chance to get younger players the opportunity to get good experience playing and plan for the future.
Freshmen guard Grant Huffman is one of these players. Huffman averages just shy of 14 minutes a game this season but saw 24 in this one. Listed as a shooting guard out of high school, Huffman may have a future at Davidson playing point guard. This season we’ve seen Huffman hit three balls, but we’ve also seen him make great driving plays if he doesn’t turn it over along the way. On Friday, Huffman had a career high 16 points but also added two turnovers. As he learns to limit mistakes, he will become a key player in Davidson’s offense.
Freshman guard Emory Lanier and sophomore forward Davidson Kristensen also put up career-high point totals with 11 and 10, respectively. Both showed things we haven’t really seen them do before, with each showing the ability to make nice spin moves in the paint to create scoring opportunities. For Lanier, these were his first collegiate points and they came on a three-pointer assisted by Kellan Grady. Kristensen finished the game with a very well-rounded line of 10 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and a block. These players will also be very important for Davidson as they continue to develop.
In terms of the more experienced players, Kellan Grady did what you would expect against a Division 3 opponent and led the team with 25 points on 7-11 from three-point range. Hyunjung Lee was really the only Wildcat who shot cold on Friday; Lee finished with 7 points but was 0-5 from deep.
This win extended Bob McKillop’s record against non-Division 1 opponents to 60-0. The Wildcats have played non-Division 1 opponents less and less over McKillop’s tenure, with the last one coming early in the 2018-2019 season. It seems as though the ‘Cats gained a lot from this experience.
Davidson at St. Bonaventure
The Wildcats were projected by KenPom to fall to St. Bonaventure 69-65, and unfortunately they did not pull off the upset. Davidson led by 1 at with 10:46 left in the first. Then, the Bonnies went on an 8-0 run to go up 10-17. Davidson clawed their way back the rest of the half. Eventually, Grady and Lee sparked an 8-0 for the ‘Cats, putting them up 26-24. St. Bonaventure then went right back on top, closing the half with a putback layup from Osun Osunniyi to go up 28-26. This was the eighth second-chance point that the ‘Cats allowed in the first half.
The two-point lead from earlier would be the ‘Cats largest lead of the night. Brajkovic put Davidson back up by 1 with a three to open the second half. Things then started to get away. Perhaps the defining moment of the half happened with 12:45 left. Grady got shoved in the back on a deep three to make the game 44-43 and had a chance to tie it at the line. He then continued his struggles this season from the free throw line, and the Bonnies answered with three quick threes to go up 53-43. Lee did his best to put the team on his back and get them back in it. Despite Lee going 3 of 3 from deep to close the half, the ‘Cats lost 69-58.
Grady and Lee led the team with 19 and 18 points, respectively. The Wildcats shot 21-53 from the field, 13-37 from deep, and 3-6 from the line. Lee led the team in rebounds with 5. The team finished with 25 rebounds (6 offensive), 16 assists, 4 steals, and 6 turnovers.
The graphic from DavidsonDecoded really says it all. I’ll start with what went well for the ‘Cats. Davidson did a great job limiting turnovers. Mennega and Lee lead starters this season in turnovers per minute, but both went the entire game without one. The ‘Cats also saw little rust with their catch-and-shoot three-point shooting. All 13 of the ‘Cats made three-point shots came off assists. Despite the break, Grady and Lee had no difficulty making these plays. This is especially a good sign for Lee who went 6-9 from deep after going 0-5 against SVU.
Now, onto what did not go so well. Perhaps the most glaring stat line offensively was that Mennenga and Carter Collins each put up 0 points on a combined 0-8 from the field. This season it seems that when Collins is locked in, the ‘Cats are locked in. We’ve seen Collins ability to rain down buckets multiple times this season; he has surpassed the 20-point mark in each of Davidson’s three largest wins this season. Tonight was just not one of those nights. Kellan Grady also continued to struggle shooting free throws. He went 1-3 from the line in this game and has not gone 2 of 2 from the charity stripe since January 5 against Duquesne.
The reason the ‘Cats lost was not because of offense, however. Davidson did not fall at all in their offensive efficiency ranking in KenPom; instead, they fell about 20 spots in their defensive ranking.
Most of the defensive woes came on interior defense. Of course, the ‘Cats gave up 11 threes on 21 attempts, but it’s hard to control a team that’s just not missing. Jaren Holmes was simply locked in, going 5-7 from deep. Kyle Lofton and Dominick Welch also contributed by going 3-5. The interior problems, however, seemed to be mostly on the ‘Cats. Several times the defense collapsed, and the Bonnies were able to find Osunniyi or Jalen Shaw for an easy basket under the rim. Many Davidson fans wonder how Coach McKillop’s decision not to play the team’s main frontcourt players against SVU affected the team’s defense inside.
The team also had a glaring problem with getting boards today. The Bonnies out-rebounded Davidson 39-25. The Bonnies turned 5 of their 10 offensive rebounds into 11 second-chance points. The Wildcats are actually statistically one of the best rebounding teams in the country. They lead the nation in defensive rebounding percentage but struggled in this one. The ‘Cats simply missed the mark in all of their rebounding averages, and it seems that the extended pause may have been a factor in this.
A Look Ahead
Before the pause, it seemed that Davidson was on a likely path to a top-4 finish in the Atlantic 10 and a double bye in the A10 tournament. They still had to play several teams, but among them included games against Fordham, Saint Joe’s, George Mason, and George Washington. Then, the A10 announced a string of changes: The A10 tournament was pushed up, and teams that did not complete at least 60% of the median number of conference games played will be seeded by the NET rankings instead of win percentage. Davidson will meet this threshold, but with this change came something far more important. Instead of the opponents listed before, the ‘Cats schedule became much harder, with two games against St. Bonaventure and a game against VCU.
The first game against St. Bonaventure has already happened, meaning that Davidson will close the regular season with home games against St. Bonaventure and VCU. These both will happen this week on Wednesday and Saturday, respectively. KenPom projects the Wildcats to have a 49% chance in both games, losing each by a score of 68-67. Davidson needs to win twice to guarantee a spot in the top 4. One win would only guarantee the ‘Cats a spot in the top 6.
After the game, Davidson fell one spot in the KenPom rankings and six spots in the NET. The Wildcats needed nothing short of a miracle to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Now, an at-large bid seems essentially impossible. Winning games is still important for the ‘Cats to finish high in the conference standings and have the the best shot to win the A10 tournament. A win or two would also help guarantee them a spot to play in the NIT. Regardless, both games this week could be the most exciting games for Davidson this season. Knowing the history between Davidson and St. Bonaventure, the game on Wednesday could be one of the best games of the season for the entire conference.
Thanks for reading. Stay tuned every Monday at 10 AM for another edition of the Wildcat Weekly! For more Davidson and Atlantic 10 coverage, follow me on Twitter @WildcatCole24.