For a little background, I watched Davidson's games against Wichita State yesterday, its SoCon Tournament victory over Elon today, and its championship win over Western Carolina live before writing this post. I watched the Kansas game live as well, but that was back in Dec. and I don't remember any aspect of it well enough to reference, but yeah, they beat Kansas.
Anyway, here's your breakdown of Louisville's second round NCAA Tournament opponent.
WHAT THEY DO WELL
1. Shoot the Ball
We've all heard about it at this point, but Davidson is going to put at least four guys on the floor at the same time who can all light you up from the outside if you let them. The Wildcats rank 12th in the country in points per game, 14th in offensive efficiency, 22nd in three-point field goals attempted, and 35th in total field goals made. If you don't play well on the defensive end, they're going to to beat you. It really is as simple as that.
2. Shoot Free-Throws
I suppose this should probably be 1-A, but whatever, it's done. Davidson is No. 8 in the country in team free-throw percentage (76.6 percent), which makes the fact that they got to the stripe 708 times (2nd in the SoCon) during the regular season all the more important. I don't need to brief you on Louisville's past bouts with over-hacking, and now I also don't have to explain why a relapse Thursday afternoon could be fatal.
3. Take Care of the Ball
The more I watch Davidson on offense, the more apt I find Rick Pitino's characterizing of it as "The Princeton Offense on Steroids." There are the same cuts and sharp passes that you're used to seeing from Ivy League teams, but it's all occurring at an accelerated pace. Despite that being the case, the Wildcats still give the ball away just 11.8 times per game. They're a terrific passing team that makes quick and accurate decisions when they're being pressured.
4. Take Charges
These guys try to draw offensive fouls as frequently as any team I've seen this season, and their success rate is awfully high. This could end up being a major deal given Peyton Siva's propensity for being a bit out-of-control once he gets into the lane (spin move might not be worth it in this game). I would not be surprised at all to see Bob McKillop instruct JP Kuhlman and Nik Cochran early on to let Siva get a step on them with the hopes of goading him into a quick offensive foul. Peyton has to be as smart and as under control as he was in New York to avoid a repeat of the issues he had against Morehead State a year ago.
5. Have Depth
Davidson has a staggering eight players averaging better than 16 minutes of floor time per night, and just one (JP Kuhlman) averaging more than 30. Seven players have seen the floor in all 32 games, while reserve Will Reigel has failed to appear in only one game, and Clint Mann just two. Tired legs and foul problems have less of an effect on the Wildcats than 95% of Division-I.
6. Help on Defense
The Wildcats play straight man, and that isn't going to change on Thursday. While they lack the team quickness to keep guys like Peyton Siva and Russ Smith out of the lane, they are tremendous at knowing when to help or showing enough help to get into the mind of the penetrator. They also know exactly when to go over and underneath screens, which is key against a team like Louisville that has Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric, a pair of players far more capable hurting you with their outside shot than off the bounce.
Davidson also likes to double the post, another thing I don't see changing against Louisville. Jake Cohen or Clint Mann will hang on Gorgui's left shoulder to take that little jump hook away and wait for weakside help. This is a situation where Gorgui has struggled at times this season, so he'll need to keep his composure and either kick the ball back out quickly or look for the open man flashing to the basket. This is where guys like Jared Swopshire and Chane Behanan have to help out immensely. It's not enough to just for them to go to the rim, they have to scream for the ball if they're open so that Gorgui can confidently leave his feet and be able to make a clear pass for an easy basket. This is something that Davidson does well, but it's also an area where Louisville can exploit them if the Cards handle it better than they did during the regular season.
7. Be Sneaky
If Davidson beats Louisville on Thursday then the word "scrappy" is going to be tossed around more times than any of can count, but I think "sneaky" is probably the more accurate adjective for the Wildcats. They'll do things like give a nudge in the back to create space for a potential offensive rebound when a shot is in the air as opposed to after it hits the rim. Think about the last time you saw an offensive foul called before a shot hit the rim. It doesn't happen. They're going to push when they can, grab when they can get away with it, and flop when they think they can draw a whistle. This isn't meant to be an insult, it's just a fact. These guys are very good at getting away with mild violations of the rule book, and it's one of the areas where they know they can secure an advantage against a team like the Cardinals.
8. Move Without the Ball
Again, Princeton offense on steroids. Lots of screening and cuts away from the ball, and the frequency with which they move towards the perimeter makes defenders that much more susceptible to being beaten by the occasional backdoor cut (pay attention, Chane). You play zone, you're leaving yourself vulnerable to allowing one of their shooters to have a Darnell Archey-type afternoon. You play man, you risk getting back-doored to death...and then there's still the chance of one of their shooters having a Darnell Archey-type afternoon.
9. Utilize Shot Fakes and Jump Stops
Pretty self-explanatory. Our guys (Gorgui especially) have done a much better job of not biting on shot fakes in recent weeks. It's a trend that's going to have to continue against a Davidson team that will utilize them from the opening tip to the final horn.
WHAT THEY DON'T DO WELL
1. Shoot the Ball Well Under Pressure
Like just about any team playing basketball at any level, Davidson shoots a significantly lower percentage when its shots are being contested. The Wildcats, however, take this trend to the extreme. When you watch them play enough, you get to the point where you can predict whether or not their shots are going to go in with alarming accuracy. Though Davidson takes and makes a lot of shots, their field goal percentage is a relatively pedestrian 44.9 percent (110th in the country), and their three-point percentage an extremely average 33.9 percent (189th in the country).
Louisville's perimeter defense has been stellar all season, but it was remarkable in the Big East Tournament. If they can keep Davidson (Cohen, Cochran and Kuhlman in particular...Czerapowicz will pull from just about anywhere) from getting clean, square looks from the outside, then they're going to hold the Wildcats to a far lower point total and shooting percentage than most of the national writers are predicting.
2. Create Turnovers
Davidson actually defends the perimeter better than I've been seeing a lot people giving them credit for, but what they don't do is put any serious degree of pressure on opposing ball-handlers. The Wildcats have only recorded 180 steals this season (247th in the country), and are forcing just 12.5 turnovers per contest, and that's in a Southern Conference that isn't particularly guard-heavy. So many of Louisville's turnovers this season have been unforced, and that's something they simply can't afford to do in a game like this.
3. Be Athletic
Davidson is the ultimate "be fast, but don't hurry" team. They play at an up-and-down pace, they're constantly moving, but they don't have the athletes to kill you off the dribble or at the rack. Louisville, as it is always will against teams like this, has two extreme advantages: Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng. If those two guys take appropriate advantage of the opportunities that are going to be consistently presented, then the Cards are going to be playing again on Saturday.
4. Dribble With Their Off-Hand
The Wildcat guards are very sure with the ball, but their dribbling ability is generally utilized only to put themselves in a position to make a pass to a player cutting to the basket or coming off of a screen. When they do attempt to drive to the basket, they will almost always do so to the right. When they penetrate with their left hand, it generally doesn't work out too well. Point guard Nik Cochran is the lone exception here, as he appears equally quick in both directions.
5. Stay Out of Foul Trouble
Obviously this would be more of an issue if they didn't go eight or nine deep, but it's a big deal because a couple of the guys who are the most prone to racking up early whistles - De'Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen - are their two most important frontcourt players.
6. Defending Inbounds Plays Under the Basket
Davidson, like Louisville, is one of the few college basketball teams you'll see that doesn't zone out-of-bounds plays when the ball is being thrown in from underneath their own basket. This has left them susceptible to giving up a couple of easy baskets at the rim in all three games I've watched.
7. Defending In Transition
This is the one Louisville fans really wanted to see. Davidson likes to get up-and-down and they will take quick shots from the outside if they're available. The problem is that sometimes when they miss those shots, the long rebounds and scattered bodies create fastbreak opportunities for their opponents. Wichita State killed the Wildcats in this area in the second half of their game in Feb., and that really proved to be what put the game out of reach for the Shockers. They don't necessarily have to come off turnovers, but Louisville has got to get a solid heaping of easy fast-break points in order to win this game.
8. Rebound In the Halfcourt
Davidson's rebounding numbers are surprisingly stellar for a team with not a great deal of size, but that's because they're always playing at a pace that doesn't allow bigger teams to take advantage on the glass. The Wildcats block out very well but if guys like Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng are in the right place when a shot goes up on the offensive end, there's not much the Davidson frontcourt is going to be able to do to prevent an easy put-back.
De'Mon Brooks F, 6-7 (16.0 ppg/6.3 rpg)
The team's leading scorer and rebounder, this is the one Wildcat who possesses the combination of size and athleticism to play around the rim with a team like Louisville. He scores the hustle baskets and athletic finishes in the lane that teams have to have. He does have a tendency to be a little out-of-control when driving, and he also takes some unnecessary chances on defense. Had some issues with back spasms in late Feb., but that doesn't seem to be a concern now. Has taken more shots than anyone else on the team. Can hit the three-point shot, but has only attempted 56 (made 21, 6th most on the team). Really doesn't like to dribble left, but can score with either hand.
Jake Cohen F, 6-10 (14.0 ppg/6.0 rpg)
This is the "center who can shoot the three" that you've been hearing all week. Cohen has the potential to go off, there's no question about it, but even when he doesn't, he's the guy who does a lot of the little things that keeps Davidson in games. He's the team's leading shot-blocker, second-leading rebounder and he plays with incredible intensity. More so than any other Wildcat, he's deadly when he has space and is squared up, but shoots significantly worse when there's a hand in his face. He does possess a turnaround jumper from the baseline (turning to his right) that is extremely difficult to defend. Loves to utilize the pump fake. Has tremendous hands for a big guy. Will hang on Gorgui's left shoulder to take away his right hook. Is a very good defender, but has had some issues with being in foul trouble. He and Brooks split the SoCon Player of the Year awards (they have one from the coaches and one from the media).
J.P. Kuhlman G, 6-4 (11.1 ppg/3.9 rpg/2.9 apg)
Very level-headed and sure-handed guard. Slightly more athletic than his backcourt mate, Cochran, but not quite as capable a passer. An outstanding rebounder for his size, who always seems to be in the right position to snatch up missed shots in transition. Scored 19 points in 45 minutes in the SoCon championship game. Not great off the bounce with his left hand. Not a guy who appears capable of lighting up a team like Louisville, but also not one who's going to hand the Cardinals any sort of advantage.
Nik Cochran G, 6-3 (11.0 ppg/3.7 apg)
The guy who makes the Wildcat offense go. Easily the team's best ball-handler and leader in assists. Good shooter, tremendous passer. Has emerged as one of the team-leaders and go-to guys in clutch situations after hitting the dagger in the upset of Kansas in Nov. Extremely gritty player and a great leader. Struggles to create his own shot. Not a guy who's going to consistently bury the step-back jumper. Solid defender, but will struggle to keep a guy like Siva in front of him.
Chris Czerapowicz G, 6-7 (10.2 ppg/4.8 rpg)
Native of Sweden who moved into the starting lineup late in the regular season. If "some random guy" is going to go crazy and single-handedly destroy Louisville, this is going to be him. Hasn't been playing basketball all that long and has a ton of upside. His combination of range and size allows him to get his shot off more often than anyone else on the team. Will pull from anywhere, but struggles the most when fading to his left. Good rebounder, not a great defender. Extremely athletic. Exhibit A:
Clint Mann F, 6-8 (5.5 ppg/3.1 rpg)
Does dirty work in the paint. Big body, but not very athletic. Can be beaten off the dribble and on cuts when he's playing the four. Very good at taking charges for a big man. Not much of a threat from 15 feet and out. Has no problem using the five fouls he has at his disposal.
Tyler Kalinoski G, 6-4 (4.8 ppg/1.3 apg)
Reserve guard who averages under less than five points per game, but actually can create his own shot better than either of the backcourt starters. Plays very quick and very confident. Not as strong with his left hand. Not a great on-ball defender. Another guy with the potential for a random scoring outburst.
Tom Droney G, 6-6 (3.9 ppg/3.7 rpg/2.2 apg)
Was replaced in the starting lineup by Czerapowicz late in the season, but still plays 11-16 minutes per game. Solid size from the guard position, but not as much of a threat from the outside as the other backcourt players. Good passer, good defender. Helps considerably on the glass when he's in the game.
My guess is that this is about what you expected. Davidson is incredibly solid, but if both teams play to the best of their best abilities, it's Louisville that walks away with the win. If the Cards falter, however, there's little doubt that the Wildcats will have done enough to spring the upset.
Defend the perimeter, get fast-break points, find the shooters if Davidson grabs offensive rebounds, and make a decent percentage of the open shots that are given to you. That's Thursday's recipe for a trip to the round of 32.