- Ky McKeon
To create our top 40, we each rank the top 50 teams in our own individual view. A vote for 1st is worth 50 points, 2nd = 49, etc. Below shows our individual rankings, painting a better picture of who is high/who is low:
Key Returners: Jon Axel Gudmundsson, Kellan Grady, Luke Frampton, Luka Brajkovic, KiShawn Pritchett, Carter Collins
Key Losses: Dusan Kovacevic
Key Newcomers: David Kristensen
Outlook: Davidson took full advantage of a down A-10 last season, finishing 14-4 despite fielding a team full of youth and inexperience. Sure, the Cats featured arguably the best backcourt duo in the mid-major landscape in Kellan Grady and Jon Axel Gudmundsson (we call him JAG), but they lacked depth and upperclassmen leadership outside of the latter. That youth likely played a factor in a number of close losses during 2018-19, as five of the Cats’ ten losses came by four points or less and they fell short of the NCAA Tournament. Despite a significant uptick in conference competition, this season offers Davidson a prime opportunity for redemption with its top six players returning. Legendary head coach Bob McKillop enters his 31st year at the helm with arguably his most talented squad since 2008.
Despite ranking 2nd in the A-10 in offensive efficiency last year (per KenPom), the 2018-19 Cats featured McKillop’s worst offense since 2011. Pinpointing an exact reason for the inefficiency is difficult, but the likely answer is due to inconsistencies stemming from inexperience. The Cats were as likely to score 1.20 PPP on a given night as they were 0.95 PPP. Shooting and ball handling were very good, but not “Davidson elite” as in years past. McKillop’s famed motion offense is a well-known commodity in college basketball and there’s no reason to believe Davidson’s offensive dominance won’t return in 2019-20. Led by a four-guard lineup, the Davidson attack is one of perpetual, fluid motion, with all five players constantly cutting, screening away, and swinging the ball in, out, and around the three-point arc. When in sync, there’s few sights to behold as gorgeous as a Bob McKillop offense:
That curl action is a staple in Davidson’s attack and works in a variety of ways. Below, Grady takes advantage of his defender’s overplay and casually slips to the hoop:
The Cats are a jump-shot reliant team at the end of the day, ranking 2nd in the A-10 in 3P FGA and 1st in 3P% (37.3%) in 2018-19. Outside of JAG, Davidson rarely gets buckets via the drive and instead of crashing the boards, McKillop sends all five guys back on defense in an effort to slow the opposing offense and limit transition opportunities.
JAG’s return to the fold is the main reason pundits everywhere are calling the Cats a potential top-25 squad. The 6’4” senior took over last season as the team’s alpha, capturing the A-10 Player of the Year award in the process. A nightly triple-double threat, the Icelandic superstar does everything: he’s a sure-handed ball handler that gets to the foul line with ease; he’s money from outside the arc; and he ranked 13th in the country in minutes played (2nd in the A-10) in 2018-19. His counterpart, Grady, took a step back from his uber-efficient freshman season, perhaps hampered at times by a knee sprain that forced him to sit out four games in late December, but he still managed to lead the Cats in scoring and earn a spot on the A-10 First Team All-Conference squad. Grady is a high-volume shooter and scorer, and like JAG, is an iron horse from a minutes perspective.
Grady and Gudmundsson were expected to shine last season, but few could predict the type of year McKillop’s two freshman phenoms enjoyed. Luke Frampton embodied the role of “three-point specialist” in his inaugural year, attempting 252 threes to just 32 twos. He ranked 3rd in the conference in 3P% (42.3%) and added acres of spacing to McKillop’s offense. The now-sophomore is absolutely money from downtown and this season he’ll look to add more to his game than just catch-and-shoot.
Sophomore big man Luka Brajkovic occupied the middle in Davidson’s 4-out attack. Another pleasant freshman surprise, Brajkovic provided muscle in the paint to an otherwise thin team, ranking 7th in the A-10 in block rate and 8th in offensive rebounding rate. The 6’10” Austrian does most of his damage on the block with an array of hooks with either hand, but he’s also a willing passer and capable of stepping out behind the arc. This year’s squad still lacks frontcourt depth, with freshman David Kristensen likely a year or two away from contributing and junior Bates Jones serving as the primary backup, so Brajkovic is essential to Davidson’s A-10 title and NCAA Tourney hopes.
McKillop himself admitted that his short bench affected the Cats later in the season, so expect to see more of the aforementioned Jones, sophomore David Czerapowicz, and junior Carter Collins. KiShawn Pritchett returns to continue his role as McKillop’s de facto 4-man. Pritchett led the A-10 in 3P% last season and adds yet another smoking gun to the three-point arsenal. Despite always struggling with ball protection, Pritchett took a step in the right direction last season, reducing his TO Rate from 27.6% in ’17-18 to 20.0%.
Defense has always been the Achilles Heel for McKillop-coached teams, but the Cats have been near the top of the A-10 in adjusted defensive efficiency each of the past two years. 2018-19 featured McKillop’s best defense since 2009 and ranked 4th overall in the A-10. As mentioned earlier, the Cats do not crash the boards on offense, and instead retreat to the defensive end in an effort to limit fast break opportunities – last season, Davidson allowed the 20th fewest FGA in transition in the country. The Cats want to make opposing offenses work in the half court and mix in a healthy amount of zone with traditional man-to-man looks. Like any well-coached team, Davidson is a superb defensive glass squad (a common theme with most McKillop teams over the years), boxing out as a unit and grabbing “team rebounds” at a high rate.
Bottom Line: Davidson should compete for an A-10 title this year with the likes of VCU and Dayton. Inconsistencies that plagued the Cats last season should hopefully be cured by the uptick in experience and upperclassmen leadership from the guard position. Expect the offense to return to a nationally elite level and the defense to continue to be solid, as McKillop goes for his first at-large Tourney bid since 2015.