Meet the Davidson Wildcats (Q&A and Game Preview)

Posted In News - By Alan Kelly On Saturday, January 24th, 2015 With 0 Comments

Tonight George Mason (6-11, 1-4 A10) returns to the court after a week off to take on the Davidson Wildcats (13-4, 4-2 A10) at 7 pm at the Patriot Center. The first 3,000 fans will receive free Green Out t-shirts. In the first-ever meeting between the two teams, the Patriots will look to snap a four game losing streak, while the Wildcats will look to build off of a home win over #22 Dayton on Wednesday night.

Davidson will also be seeking their first win of the season in the state of Virginia. The Atlantic 10 rookies are currently 0-3 in the Commonwealth, with losses at UVA, at VCU, and at Richmond, but are the only team to score over 70 points in regulation against the now-second-ranked Virginia Cavaliers, losing 83-72 in Charlottesville on December 30.

The big story for the Wildcats is the health of sophomore point guard Jack Gibbs, who missed the Dayton game with a slightly torn meniscus in his knee, and may not play today either. Gibbs is averaging 15.8 points per game, while his shooting percentages exceed the golden 50-40-90 threshold that coaches love (51.7% from the field, 41.4% behind the arc, and 90.8% from the charity stripe). Davidson beat Dayton without Gibbs, but that feat may be hard to duplicate.

The game will not be televised, but will be streamed online on the Atlantic 10 Network, and broadcast on CBS Radio 106.7 FM The Fan.

To introduce the newest squad in the Atlantic 10 and learn just how good these newcomers are, earlier this week I asked Mat Shelton-Eide of A10 Talk to answer some questions about the Wildcats.

masonhoops: Just how good is Jack Gibbs, and how damaging is his knee injury if it keeps him out for a while? His absence didn’t seem to matter against Dayton.

Matt: Make no mistake, Gibbs is scary good. He should give A-10 teams nightmares the night before they play him. In fact, I wrote a piece on him over at A10 Talk where I compared his numbers to Steph Curry’s while both were sophomores. Spoiler alert, Gibbs is right there with Cury as a sophomore, and arguably better in some ways. Yes, Davidson blasted Dayton without Gibbs, but make no mistake, losing guys who can play like that hurts you longterm. That’s one less guy on the court that can torch the opposition, and one less guy your team has to potentially be on when the rest of your team is off. Need I remind folks Gibbs went 2-10 against Richmond the previous game and the Wildcats lost by 26? Or how about when he went 2-10 earlier in the season and UNC beat Davidson by 18? You just can’t lose players like that and expect it not to hurt you, even if you had one game where it didn’t.

masonhoops: Four of the five starters for Davidson average in double figures, and three players average at least 3.5 assists per game. We’ve already discussed Gibbs, so what can you tell us about the other starters?

Matt: Tyler Kalinoski should be priority No. 1 for any opposing team, probably even with Gibbs in the lineup, but certainly with Gibbs out. He is a heady player who can hurt you all over the court. A comparison I’ve made to VCU fans that Mason folks will understand as well is Brett Blizzard from those really good UNCW teams back in the early 2000s. He’s that kind of player and that good. After Kalinoski, and with Gibbs out, my second focus is probably on Brian Sullivan. Sullivan doesn’t have the ceiling of a Gibbs or Kalinoski but has proven to be nearly as dangerous this year. He’s a high-volume guy, has a lot of nights where he’s throwing up 10 or more attempts, you just gotta hope the ones he puts up from deep aren’t falling because he can be dangerous. Talent wise, I love Jordan Barham. The guy has the tools. He’s athletic but makes the smart plays everyone on that team seems to make. He’s only 6’4 but has connected on over 58% of his attempts every season he’s been at Davidson. That’s REAL hard to do. Lastly freshman Peyton Aldridge is another one of those young Davidson players that makes you realize just how good they are going to be in this league for the foreseeable future. 6’7″, 205 lbs., and he’s hitting 42.6% from deep. That’s a problem.

masonhoops: Wildcats coach Bob McKillop has largely limited himself to a seven or eight man rotation. What should we know about his bench?

Matt: The main guy you’ll really see now off the bench is Oskar Michelsen. He’s a 6’9″ freshman from Helsinki, Finland, who can stroke it from distance but is not the most physical player. He’s no match for George Mason’s bodies in the paint but he can hurt Patriots bigs from deep.

masonhoops: The Wildcats rank eighth nationally in points per game, sixth in assists, fourth in made three-pointers, and first in assist-to-turnover ratio. Is there any way the Patriots can hope to slow down that offense?

Matt: These guys run such a surgical offense you really have to be doing a lot right to slow them down. They will run a ton of motion on GMU and if the Patriots D isn’t communicating and being where they need to be, things can get out of hand quickly. Everyone knows they can shoot the three before they play them but the thing that will surprise (and annoy) Mason fans is just how easily they can get wide-open buckets down low. To slow them down it obviously all starts in the backcourt. Mason’s guards can’t give Kalinoski and Co. room to breath. You have to play a mature halfcourt defense, with lots of talking, or it’s an 80+ night for the Wildcats.

masonhoops: It really is a team game for the Wildcats. They have good players, but they’ve built something even better than the sum of their parts by playing as a unit. It’s a style which a certain former George Mason coach also used with great effectiveness. How far can this Davidson team go this season, both in the Atlantic 10, and in postseason play?

Matt: Tough to say. I think they could certainly win three games in Brooklyn to lift the trophy. Ultimately I think their ceiling is limited however because they really lack size/beef and a consistent D. Davidson currently ranks 5th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency but 213th in adjusted defensive efficiency. That’s a lot of shootouts you have to win to really make a run. This Davidson team is nowhere near as well-rounded as those Laranaga Mason teams either. They’ve got the guards and the offensive gamelan, but there is no Jai Lewis or Will Thomas type of player that can bang with the bigs they would face in an NCAA tournament if they get there. Those Mason teams had those guys down low but also had the guys like Skinn, Butler and Campbell that are certainly comparable to what Davidson is bringing in this year’s backcourt.

masonhoops: Just how good is Davidson head coach Bob McKillop (485-295 in 26 seasons)? Aside from the Steph Curry years, he’s largely been hidden from the national stage while Davidson played in the SoCon. Is this move to the A10 going to be his coming out party on a wider national stage?

Matt: I have been so impressed with McKillop. Davidson was a 20-win team last season but people questioned just how tough it would be with the jump in competition. I think we’re probably all believers now and I can’t wait to see what he does with an improved recruiting profile. He isn’t selling recruits on games against Wofford and Western Carolina anymore. Seeing that crowd the other night in a home conference win over a ranked Dayton team had to have Wildcats fans pretty excited about the future, especially when they consider all the talent they have returning and how much easier it will be for them to increase their level of talent when they are playing conference tourney games at the Barclays and Verizon Center, hosting teams like Dayton and VCU, getting games in cities like NYC, Philly, Saint Louis and DC instead of Chattanooga, Greensboro and Johnson City. The future is certainly looking quite bright for Davidson basketball, which unfortunately, might be bad news for George Mason this Saturday at 7PM.

About - Alan Kelly is a 2010 and 2013 graduate of George Mason University and a former member of the Patriot Platoon. He had the memorable experience of being in the middle of the college decision process as George Mason's Final Four run unfolded. He currently resides in Northern Virginia.

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