Five things to know about Kentucky’s first round NCAA Tournament opponent, the Davidson Wildcats:
1. Davidson hits the tournament as a hot team
Picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic 10, Davidson ended up 13-5 in conference play to finish third. The Wildcats were 21-11 overall, but head coach Bob McKillop changed his approach after a 5-7 start, focusing more on the positives. The team caught fire after a 66-63 home loss to Richmond on Jan. 28 left them 10-9 overall and 5-3 in the league.
Davidson has won 11 of 13 since, the only two losses coming on Feb. 9 at then 18th-ranked Rhode Island 72-59; and Feb. 27 in an epic 117-113 three-overtime affair at St Bonaventure. By the way, that’s the same St. Bonaventure that defeated UCLA 65-58 on Tuesday night in a First Four game of the NCAA Tournament.
To win the Atlantic 10 Tournament last week, Davidson avenged both those earlier losses, knocking off St. Bonaventure 82-70 in the semifinals before stunning Rhode Island 58-57 in the final.
After the title game defeat, Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley said, “Whoever is going to draw them is not going to want to see their name next to them.”
2. Bob McKillop is one of the more respected coaches around
The 67-year-old Queens, New York native has been the Davidson head basketball coach since the 1989-90 season, when his first team went 4-24. He has done much better since, with an overall record of 554-336.
McKillop’s teams have reached the NCAA Tournament nine times -- 1998, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2018. He is 1-7 in the first round. But McKillop’s 2007-08 team, featuring a player by the name of Stephen Curry, reached the Elite Eight. As a No. 10 seed, Davidson beat No. 7 seed Gonzaga 82-72, No. 2 seed Georgetown 74-70 and No. 3 seed Wisconsin 73-56 before losing to No. 1 seed Kansas 59-57 in the Midwest Region final in Detroit. Kansas went on to beat John Calipari and Memphis in overtime in the national championship game.
Davidson dominated the Southern Conference, going 48-4 its last three seasons before moving to the Atlantic 10 in 2014. The four years in the A-10, Davidson has gone 14-4, 10-8, 8-10 and 13-5 this year before winning the conference tournament.
McKillop played college basketball at East Carolina and Hofstra. Except for one year as an assistant at Davidson, he was a high school head coach before becoming the Davidson head coach. He was named Southern Conference Coach of the Year eight times and the NABC National Coach of the Year in 2008.
In 2014, ESPN ranked McKillop as the 24th best coach in college basketball.
By the way, yes, McKillop knows UK coach John Calipari.
“John’s first recruit at the University of Massachusetts was a young man who played for me, and I was a high school coach at the time,:” McKillop said Wednesday. “So it’s interesting. The boy’s name was Kennard Robinson. And John went on to ensure that that young man graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts and played professional basketball in the Philippines. I trusted one of my quote, unquote, sons with John 30 years ago, 35 years ago, and he honored that trust. So I trust everything John says.”
3. Peyton Aldridge is Davidson’s top player
Sharing Atlantic 10 Player of the Year with St. Bonaventure guard Jaylen Adams, the 6-foot-8 Aldridge led the conference in scoring at 21.8 points per game this season as a senior after averaging 20.5 points as a junior. He’s making 48.7 percent of his shots this season, including 39.4 percent from three-point range. And don’t put him at the foul line. He’s 117-of-138 from the stripe for 84.8 percent.
Aldridge scored 45 points in Davidson’s three overtime loss at St. Bonaventure. He made eight of 11 three-point shots in the 117-113 defeat on Feb. 27. He scored 35 points in Davidson’s win over Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
The third all-time leading scorer in Davidson history, Aldridge was also a talented enough quarterback in high school to get a exploratory phone call from Alabama coach Nick Saban. He decided on basketball, however, where he has started every game for the Wildcats.
Note: Aldridge has scored in double figures in 41 straight games.
4. Kellan Grady is a rising Davidson star
A 6-5 guard from West Roxbury, Mass., near Boston, Grady was named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year after averaging 18 points per game. He had 10 games this year in which he scored 20-or-more points, including a 39-point effort in the three-overtime loss at St. Bonaventure.
Grady was named to the A-10 All-Tournament team after scoring 19 points in the quarterfinal win over Saint Louis, 23 in the semifinal win over St. Bonaventure and 17 in the win over Rhode Island in the championship game.
Coming out of high school, Grady was ranked as the 95th best prospect in the Class of 2017 by 247Sports. He was ranked as the 20th best point guard.
He came to Davidson because he idolized Stephen Curry. Taking after Curry, Grady made seven three-pointers in his first game as a Wildcat. On the season, the freshman has made 72 of 191 three-pointers for 37.7 percent.
It was Grady’s basket from the baseline with 1:14 left that gave the Wildcats the A-10 tourney title win over Rhode Island.
5. Davidson’s strength is its offense
According to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, Davidson is just 118th in adjusted defensive efficiency, but the Wildcats are 18th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Kenpom has Davidson No. 42 overall.
Davidson leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.76), rank second nationally in turnovers per game (9.6) and are seventh nationally in turnover percentage at 14.5.
The Wildcats love to play bombs away. They are 28th nationally in three-point percentage at 39.1. A total of 48.2 percent of their points come off threes, which ranks sixth among the 351 Division I tams.
In its season opener against Charleston Southern, Davidson made 26 of 53 three-point shots. The Wildcats have made 10-or-more three pointers in 16 of their 32 games this season.
“They are a really efficient team. They’re an execution team,” said Calipari on Wednesday. “We’re an inexperienced team. We’re not an execution team. They’re going to take 30 3-point shots. If they make 20, it has been a heck of a season for us.”
They are fourth nationally in free throw percentage at 79.7. Davidson made 14 of 16 free throws in the A-10 championship game. In fact, for the three-game tournament, Davidson was 35 of 42 from the foul line for 83.3 percent.
Here are the free throw percentages of its top five scorers: 84.8 for Peyton Aldridge; 79.8 for Kellan Grady; 79.8 for Jon Gudmundsson; 91.7 for KiShawn Pritchett and 73.1 for Oskar Michelsen.
Weakness? Davidson is not a good offensive rebounding team. Its offensive rebound percentage is 22.7, which ranks 321st in the nation.
Davidson men’s basketball 2017-18
vsNew Mexico St