As part of our week-long preview of Marquette in the NCAA Tournament, today we break down Davidson from a numbers standpoint. Later in the week we will look at the matchups that could decide Thursday’s outcome.
There were no surprises in the Southern Conference this season as Davidson ran through the regular season (17-1) and won the conference tournament for the second consecutive season. The Wildcats were the heavy favorites, seeing as they returned their top eight scorers and rebounders from last year’s team which won 25 games and lost to No. 4 Louisville in the NCAA’s second round.
Bob McKillop was voted coach of the year for the ninth time, a conference record, and his team had three players selected to the all-conference team. They are currently winners of 17 straight, the longest streak in the country, and will make their 12th appearance all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
The selection committee ranked the Wildcats the “top” 14-seed, and Jay Bilas’ final Index ranked Davidson the 64th best team in the country. The Sagarin ratings had them at No. 64, too, and KenPom ranked them No. 59.
Since the NCAA moved to a 64-team bracket, three-seeds are 96-16 against 14-seeds, and Marquette opened as a 3.5-point favorite.
The Wildcats to know
— Following in Stephen Curry’s shoes, power forward Jake Cohen became the first player to win back-to-back player of the year awards since Curry, and before that Western Carolina’s Frankie King in 1995. The 6-foot-10 Cohen averaged 14.8 points and 5.5 rebounds, using an array of physical post moves, solid outside shooting and stellar defense to anchor the Wildcats. In last year’s tournament loss to Louisville, he exploded for 24 points and 10 rebounds. The senior won’t be fazed by the spotlight of his last go-round in March.
— But Cohen isn’t the only Wildcat to win player of the year honors. Fellow forward De’Mon Brooks was the coaches choice a year ago (Cohen was selected by the media) and followed it up with a junior year of 13.8 points and 6.2 rebounds. The Wildcats look to get him going in the post early and often, and he does his work in just 26.8 minutes per game. His scoring numbers are down from a year ago, but he works well with Cohen and can play off the dribble, too.
— One could argue senior point guard Nik Cochran is the best shooter in the country. His 48.5 percent clip from beyond the arc is 8th in the country, and his 94.1 free throw percentage tops the NCAA leaderboard. The 6-foot-3 sharpshooter struggles defensively, but his offensive efficiency makes him your typical classic NCAA Tournament breakout candidate.
— 6-foot-4 shooting guard J.P. Kuhlman and small forward Chris Czerapowicz round out the starting five, with the latter acting as a stout defender and outside specialist (39.3 percent from three) and the former an efficient scorer.
— Past the starting five, the Wildcats tend to go two deep off the bench with sophomore shooting guard Tyler Kalinoski and 6-foot-6 forward Tom Droney.
— A significant X-factor for the Wildcats could be the potential return of senior forward Clinton Mann, who missed the last 16 games of the season with a concussion. He has been practicing with the team since last week, and the team’s sixth man could deliver a major boost to the rotation. In 17 games he averaged 7.3 points and 3.0 rebounds in 19.6 minutes.
With 345 teams in Division I basketball and 12 or 13 players per, it’s tough to be the best in the country at any one thing. Then again, someone or some team has to be the best at each category, so here’s a look at where the Wildcats rank among the nation’s best in certain statistics.
— Free throw percentage: 80.1 percent, 1st in the country — Led by Nik Cochran, the country’s leading free throw shooter (94.1 percent), the Wildcats have made a living off freebies. Jake Cohen hitting at an 83 percent clip on 152 attempts doesn’t hurt, either.
— Nik Cochran’s true shooting percentage: 71.4, 1st — Looking for one of the most efficient shooters in the country? Cochran is your guy. He shoots 47 percent on 2-pointers, 48.5 percent on 3-pointers and the aforementioned nation-best free throw percentage. When Cochran shoots, there’s a good chance the ball is going in.
— PPP with shot clock at less than 4 seconds: 1.323, 2nd — Just a fun stat here more than anything. Synergy tracks teams’ statistics when the shot clock goes under four seconds, and Davidson’s mark ranks behind only Florida State for best in the country. Maybe something to remember if this one comes down to the wire.
— Chris Czerapowicz’s turnover rate: 7.1, 5th — Turnover rate gets skewed with big men, but it’s an interesting note that the 6-foot-7 junior from Sweden has turned the ball over just 16 times in 845 minutes. Not bad.
Where the Wildcats are good
— Aside from the superlatives, perhaps the best indication of the Wildcats’ success is their minuscule turnover rate. At 17.0, its the 23rd best mark in the country. Against its five toughest opponents (New Mexico, Vanderbilt, Gonzaga, Duke, Richmond), that number jumped to 18.6, but it’s still a solid number for a team looking to pull an upset in the NCAA Tournament.
— It’s cliche, and it isn’t necessarily an advantage against Marquette, but the Wildcats are seasoned and have experience. Their top eight players last year comprised a group that trailed eventual Final Four Louisville by two late in the first half, and eight with less than two minutes to play. All eight returned this year. They also played at Cameron Indoor this year, so they won’t be overwhelmed when they take the floor at Rupp Arena on Thursday.
— The Davidson offense runs like a fine-tuned machine. Its effective field goal percentage (53.3 percent) is 28th in the country, it makes 36.6 percent of 3-pointers and gets to the free throw line with a solid frontcourt. Four players shoot 45 percent or better from the field and, while Cohen and Brooks do the heavy lifting, they aren’t all that reliant on the pair.
— Second chance points may be hard to come by, as the Wildcats allow offensive rebounds on just 28 percent of misses, the 42nd best mark in the country. Cohen, Brooks and Czerapowicz are sound rebounders who play physical.
Where the Wildcats can be beat
— Outside of Czerapowicz, Cohen and Brooks the Wildcats are not a stellar defensive team. An efficient offense masked some of their deficiencies, as they don’t force turnovers and, while they are long, they aren’t super-quick or athletic. They play man-to-man defense 94 percent of the time, so one-on-one matchups could give them issues against a faster Marquette team.
— Rotations shorten in the NCAA Tournament, but the Wildcats won’t have that luxury. They go just seven-deep, with a few others sprinkled in for spell minutes, meaning foul trouble would mean a whole heap of trouble. Cold spells would be fatal, though that hasn’t been an issue to date.
— Seventeen straight wins is impressive no matter how you slice it, but the best team, according to Ken Pom, the Wildcats beat in this stretch is College of Charleston (158) three times. Like most mid-majors, there are questions as to how a successful team will fare against a Power Six team. In their five “toughest” matchups, Davidson was 2-3, being blown out at Duke and Gonzaga, and falling to New Mexico. They beat Richmond (83) and Vanderbilt (85), but that’s it on their resume. Mid-major powerhouse to be sure, but can they pull off the upset?
Three keys to the game
Check back Wednesday for key matchups, statistical comparisons and a prediction on who win’s Thursday night’s contest.