Mark Story

How Kentucky and Davidson match up — with a game prediction

'Just another basketball game:' Shai's NCAA Tournament strategy

Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander talks to media on Wednesday before UK’s first round NCAA Tournament game Thursday against Davidson.
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Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander talks to media on Wednesday before UK’s first round NCAA Tournament game Thursday against Davidson.

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:

Small forward

▪  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.

Advantage: Kentucky

Kevin Knox
Kentucky freshman forward Kevin Knox leads the Wildcats in scoring at 15.6 points a game. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Power forward

▪  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.

Advantage: Davidson

Peyton Aldridge
Davidson forward Peyton Aldridge (23) was chosen Atlantic 10 Conference co-Player of the Year. The 6-foot-8, 225-pound senior has scored in double figures in 41 straight games. Tim Cowie DavidsonPhotos.com

Center

▪  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.

Advantage: Even

Nick Richards
Kentucky center Nick Richards (4) had two points and five rebounds combined in UK’s three SEC Tournament games. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Shooting guard

▪  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.

Advantage: Davidson

Kellan Grady
The Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, Davidson freshman Kellan Grady, is averaging 18 points and making 50.8 percent of his field goals. Tim Cowie DavidsonPhotos.com

Point guard

▪  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.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (22) was named SEC Tournament MVP after averaging 21 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists in three tourney games while leading the Wildcats to the championship. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

▪  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.

Advantage: Kentucky

Jon Axel Gudmundsson
One of the more complete players in the country, Davidson point guard Jon Axel Gudmundsson (3) is averaging 13 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.0 assists a game. Tim Cowie DavidsonPhotos.com

Bench

▪  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.

University of Kentucky basketball player Wenyen Gabriel reacts to the Cats' seeding in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

▪  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.

Advantage: Kentucky

Intangibles

▪  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.

Bob McKillop II
Bob McKillop is 554-339 as head coach at Davidson and led the Wildcats to the 2008 NCAA Tournament round of eight behind the play of high-scoring guard Stephen Curry. Tim Cowie DavidsonPhotos.com

▪  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.

Advantage: Kentucky

Prediction

Kentucky 74, Davidson 62

Kentucky has made the tournament 56 times, the most in NCAA history. But that's not where its superiority in the tournament record books stops.

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