The Davidson Wildcats have chosen a good time to be playing what coach Bob McKillop says is their best basketball of the season.
The No. 24 Wildcats (23-6) have won nine consecutive games and are the No. 1 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament after winning the regular-season championship in their first season in the league.
Davidson faces No. 9 seed La Salle (17-15) in a quarterfinals game at noon Friday in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Wildcats beat the Explorers 77-69 in their only meeting of the regular season.
The Wildcats have reached this point by playing a high-octane offense that is as entertaining to watch as it is difficult to defend.
Here are five things to watch for as Davidson pursues a conference tournament title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
What makes them go?
The Wildcats offense begins on the defensive boards (they lead the A-10, averaging 26 per game). They’re then in constant motion on the perimeter, cutting and screening to find any one of several dead-eye 3-point shooters. If the Wildcats grow cold, they can go inside to Jordan Barham, who is listed as a 6-foot-4 guard but whose extraordinary jumping ability makes him Davidson’s best threat near the basket.
McKillop says one of the first things he looks at in recruiting a player is whether he’s a good shooter. This Davidson team has them everywhere, with four players shooting at a better than 40 percent clip from 3-point range – Jordan Watkins (46.4), Jack Gibbs (45.5), Tyler Kalinoski (43.3) and Barham (42.9). A fifth Wildcat, guard Brian Sullivan, is a 35.8 percent shooter from long range, also a respectable number.
High scoring, but efficient
The Wildcats not only score a lot, but they’re efficient while doing so. Their 80.6 points-per-game average (No. 4 nationally), combined with a 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio (best in the country) are major reasons why Davidson is ranked sixth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency by kenpom.com.
Where they’re vulnerable
The Wildcats led No. 3 Virginia 36-32 at halftime in December. Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett, knowing Davidson doesn’t have a strong defensive presence in the post, implored his team to pound the Wildcats inside. That’s what Virginia did, outscoring the Wildcats by 15 points in the second half on the way to an 83-72 victory. That’s going to be the best way to attack a Wildcats team whose tallest players, 6-foot-11 Ali Mackay and 6-8 Andrew McAuliffe, don’t see a lot of playing time.
There would be rich irony if the Wildcats were to win in Brooklyn. After years of needing to win the Southern Conference tournament as their only route to the NCAA tournament, Davidson is probably already assured of an at-large NCAA berth.
“Winning the Southern Conference tournament usually meant a sigh of relief for us,” said McKillop. “Whatever happens this week will feel like exhilaration.”