Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mid-Major Madness: Davidson

This is the fourth in a new series here at March Madness All Season. “Mid-Major Madness” is simply a weekly column chronicling the small-conference sleepers that I feel have the best shot at pulling an upset or two during the NCAA Tournament. The only real criterion is that a team has to be a projected 11 seed or lower in the Big Dance and from outside the major conferences. Last week: South Alabama Next up: Davidson

Coming into the season, Davidson was on everyone’s radar. The Wildcats gave Maryland everything the Terrapins could handle in the first-round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, and returned everyone from that group. Furthermore, Davidson had scheduled preseason top-25 teams North Carolina, Duke, UCLA and North Carolina State for the non-conference season. Everything was set-up for the Wildcats to pull off an early-season upset, dominate Southern Conference play and head into the NCAA Tournament with a single-digit seed.

It didn’t quite work out that way. Davidson lost the aforementioned four games, albeit by a combined 23 points, but also dropped games to Charlotte and Western Michigan. Overall, the Wildcats went just 1-6 in non-conference play, with the lone win coming over North Carolina Central – not exactly the fast start many experts around the country had expected. Since conference play began, though, the Davidson everyone envisioned in the preseason has come to life. The Wildcats are 17-0 in the Southern Conference, leading the rest of the league by a full five games. Moreover, only three of the wins were by single-digits, as the Wildcats have a scoring margin of almost 17 points per game in conference play. Because of the disappointing non-conference campaign, though, Davidson will most likely have to win the Southern tournament to get a bid.

The Wildcats are led by their backcourt of Stephen Curry and Jason Richards, one of the best guard combos in the country. Curry is an outstanding three-point shooter who can also hit the mid-range jumper and drive to the basket for points. He is fourth in the country in scoring, and has stepped up his play of late, averaging almost 32 points per game in his last six contests, including a 41-point performance in a comeback win over UNC-Greensboro last week. He is a terrific free-throw shooter who can also rack up steals. Richards is the nation’s leading assist man, with most of those dishes leading to baskets by Curry. He can get into the lane to create for himself and his teammates, and is the second-best scorer on the team, so defenders can’t allow him to take open shots – he will knock them down. He takes tremendous care of the ball and does not turn it over very often. He has had just two games all season where he finished with less than six assists. The third starter on the perimeter, Max Paulus Gosselin, is a solid role player. His production has slipped since last season, but he is very good on the defensive end, picking up steals. Bryant Barr is a very good three-point shooter.

Up front, Davidson has several solid players that can all step-up and a provide a consistent inside presence to take some of the pressure off of the guards. Thomas Sander and Boris Meno form a solid duo up front. Sander is more of a combo forward who can score in a variety of ways, while Meno is more of a post player that can rebound with the best of them and also get buckets inside. Meno is also a very good shot-blocker. Like Meno, Sander is a solid offensive rebounder. Andrew Lovedale has been inconsistent throughout most of the season, but he is a very good rebounder who has ability to put up points in stretches. William Archambault sees plenty of minutes off the bench; he is coming off of a 28-point performance over the weekend in a win against Furman. Stephen Rossiter gets time.

Davidson is a tough team to beat when it is knocking down shots from long-range and getting offensive rebounds for easy second-chance points. The Wildcats are very efficient offensively, and they hardly ever turn the ball over, mirroring the play of their outstanding backcourt. Despite the reliance on their guards, the Wildcats are extremely effective inside the arc, which provides great balance. Defensively, Davidson likes to force turnovers to get easy baskets in transition, and they also are outstanding at grabbing defensive rebounds to get the offense started. The Wildcats limit second opportunities and defend the three extremely well. Davidson likes to push the tempo, but it is also very effective in a halfcourt setting, due mostly to Richards’ ability to get his teammates involved and Curry’s scoring skills.

Although Davidson missed out on most of its chances in the non-conference season against marquee teams, it will likely get another shot at a big-conference team in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament. This time, though, don’t be surprised if the Wildcats come out with a win.

1 comment:

  1. Max Paulhus Gosselin is a starter (not "off the bench"). Good write-up.