'Just another basketball game:' Shai's NCAA Tournament strategy
How South Region No. 5 seed Kentucky (24-10) and No. 12 Davidson (21-11) match up at each position for their 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament round-of-64 contest on Thursday — with a game prediction:
▪ Kentucky’s Kevin Knox made the SEC All-Tournament Team in spite of making only 17 of 41 field goals while the Wildcats won their 31st SEC tourney title. For the tournament, the 6-foot-9, 215-pound freshman averaged 14.7 points and 6.0 rebounds. On the season, Knox remains UK’s leader in scoring (15.6 ppg) and made three-pointers (56).
▪ Davidson’s KiShawn Pritchett is one of three guards in the starting lineup. A 6-6, 230-pound sophomore from Mooresville, N.C., Pritchett has modest overall numbers (5.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.3 assists) but is a capable three-point shooter (42.5 percent). Pritchett made three treys (on eight attempts) in Davidson’s 58-57 win over Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 Tournament finals.
▪ In spite of failing to make a field goal (on two attempts) in the SEC Tournament finals, Kentucky’s PJ Washington otherwise played well in St. Louis. The 6-7, 236 pound freshman from Dallas averaged 12.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and shot 57.1 percent in the SEC Tourney. For Washington, one area of postseason concern is the foul line, where he is making only 62.4 percent of his free throws.
▪ Davidson’s Peyton Aldridge is the Atlantic 10 Conference co-Player of the Year. He enters the NCAA tourney averaging 21.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg and shooting 51.2 percent (37.6 on three-point tries). The 6-8, 225-pound senior from Leavittsburg, Ohio, turned it up a notch in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, averaging 24 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 3.3 assists while shooting 57.1 percent to earn MVP honors.
▪ Kentucky freshman Nick Richards played only 21 minutes total in the SEC Tournament, producing three points and five rebounds. After scoring 10 points in UK’s home win over Alabama on Feb. 17, the 6-11, 240-pound product of Kingston, Jamaica, has scored just six points total in the seven games since.
▪ Davidson’s Oskar Michelsen, a 6-9, 220-pound senior from Helsinki, Finland, averages 5.5 ppg and 2.5 rpg. However, Michelsen, a 39.6 percent three-point shooter, can draw the opponent’s post player out of the lane. In the Atlantic 10 Tournament, he took only 13 total shots but made four of 10 three-pointers.
▪ Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo averaged 5.3 ppg in 21 minutes a contest in the SEC Tournament. The 6-5, 198-pound redshirt freshman from Queens, N.Y., did make six of 13 shots in St. Louis, including two of four three-point tries. For the season, Diallo is averaging 10 ppg and 3.5 rpg.
▪ Davidson’s Kellan Grady was named the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year after a stellar freshman season. The 6-5, 195-pound product of Boston averages 18 ppg and 3.3 rpg and is making 50.8 percent of his shots. He was even better in the Atlantic 10 tourney, averaging 19.7 points and making 55.3 percent from the field. Grady’s baseline floater with 1:14 left was the winning shot in Davidson’s win over Rhode Island in the A-10 finals. The Washington Post has proclaimed Grady as one of five “under-the-radar players” who will shine in this NCAA Tournament.
▪ If it wasn’t apparent before the SEC Tournament that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is Kentucky’s indispensable player, it certainly became so in St. Louis. The 6-5, 180-pound freshman from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, was on the bench for only eight of 120 total minutes in three SEC tourney games. In earning MVP honors, Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 21 ppg, 5.0 rpg and 6.7 assists while making 21 of 38 shots. He also turned the ball over only five times.
▪ Davidson’s Jon Axel Gudmundsson is a similarly well-rounded player. A 6-4, 190-pound sophomore from Grindavik, Iceland, Gudmundsson averages 13 ppg, 6.1 rpg and 5.0 assists while making 39.6 percent of his three-point tries. Demonstrating his versatility, Gudmundsson has led the Wildcats in rebounding 12 times this season.
▪ Kentucky’s Wenyen Gabriel was an SEC Tournament sensation. The 6-9, 205-pound sophomore hit 13 of 18 shots, 11 of 15 three-point tries and averaged 13.7 points and 4.7 rebounds in the three games. Freshman guard Quade Green did not shoot well in the SEC tourney (4-of-14, 0-of-6 treys) but had 11 assists vs. one turnover. With Jarred Vanderbilt not expected to play due to injury, Sacha Killeya-Jones could be needed for productive minutes. The 6-10, 221-pound sophomore was active in the SEC finals against Tennessee with two points, three rebounds and two blocked shots.
▪ Davidson essentially uses a seven-man rotation. Will Magarity, a 6-11, 250-pound senior from Stockholm, Sweden, is the primary frontcourt reserve. Magarity is averaging 5.5 ppg and 4.1 rpg in 19.9 minutes a contest and shoots 38.9 percent on three-point tries. Rusty Reigel, a homegrown 6-2 senior from Charlotte, is the main backcourt backup. Reigel averages only 3.8 ppg but has made 28 of 55 three-point tries this season.
▪ Kentucky has not lost a round-of-64 NCAA Tournament game under John Calipari. In fact, since the NCAA tourney expanded to at least 64 teams in 1985, UK has lost its first game only twice — 91-77 to Ohio State in 1987 and 74-66 to Marquette in 2008. Kentucky and Davidson have played once before in the NCAA Tournament, with UK winning 75-55 in the 1986 round of 64.
▪ Davidson has emerged as a popular “12 over 5” upset pick nationally. The fact that so many are touting it may make an upset less likely, though. With star guard Stephen Curry leading the way, Bob McKillop coached Davidson on a Cinderella run to the round of eight in 2008. Since then, however, Davidson has lost NCAA Tournament round-of-64 games in 2012, ’13 and ’15.
Kentucky 74, Davidson 62