There will be no element of surprise nor Tyler Kalinoski next season for Davidson’s Wildcats.
But the Wildcats appear to be built for long-term success in the Atlantic 10, a league in which they have just completed their first season.
“The experience of this year was a consistent validation of our decision to join the Atlantic 10,” said Wildcats coach Bob McKillop on Thursday, one day before his team lost 82-51 to Iowa in the second round of the NCAA tournament at KeyArena. “It’s a conference that needs to be on a national stage in everything it does.”
The season didn’t end well for Davidson, which lostits final two games by an average of 25.5 points. But the Wildcats (24-8), playing a free-wheeling offense that was a revelation in their new league, won the A-10’s regular-season championship (winning 10 games in a row over one stretch), then received the first at-large bid to the NCAA tournament in school history.
Davidson’s route to the tournament for the 13th time was the best endorsement for the Wildcats’ move from the Southern Conference to the A-10. Davidson’s solid regular season was enough to secure its spot in the NCAA tournament, although the Wildcats probably needed their victory in the A-10 quarterfinals against La Salle to seal it.
In the Southern Conference, historically a one-bid league, a league tournament championship is the only way to the NCAA tournament.
“Here,” said McKillop of the A-10, “there is that belief that there are some at-large bids.”
With four starters returning and no other seniors in the regular rotation, Davidson will be among the favorites for next season’s A-10 championship, a far cry from the 12th-place spot predicted for them this season.
That lone departing starter, however, is senior guard Kalinoski, this season’s A-10 Player of the Year (the fourth consecutive season Davidson has had a player win its conference’s top honor).
“(Kalinoski) is definitely the main leader of our team,” said sophomore guard Jack Gibbs. “He’s been here four years and had a great career.”
In Gibbs and Brian Sullivan, Davidson will again have one of the league’s top backcourts. Another guard, 6-foot-4 Jordan Barham, is versatile enough to play inside. Freshman forward Peyton Aldridge started every game this season, a testament to his potential.
Forward Oskar Michelsen is a key component to Davidson’s offense. Big men Andrew McAuliffe and Nathan Ekwu will need to continue to develop to help bolster the Wildcats’ inside game (an area that was exploited in the A-10 and NCAA tournaments), and 6-9 Jake Belford will be back after missing most of the season with a knee injury.
Newcomers will include 6-6 small forward KiShawn Pritchett from Lake Norman High. Pritchett, who led the Lake Norman Wildcats to the 2014 N.C. 4A championship game, missed much of this season with a knee injury.
The Wildcats also recently received a verbal commitment from Dusan Kovacevic, a 6-10 power forward from Serbia who played at the Nacoochee School in Rabun Gap, Ga.
McKillop also hopes to upgrade the Wildcats’ nonconference schedule. Although the Wildcats played North Carolina and Virginia this season, the remainder of their nonconference schedule was weak enough that it might have cost them that NCAA tournament berth.