Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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What I’m Watching at the Emirates Cup

Now back from a memorable five day trip to Scotland, I’m getting fully pumped up for the Arsenal season to start. Tomorrow will be the first of three straight weekends I’ll see the Gunners play before I head back to the states. While the Emirates Cup may only be a preseason match, that hasn’t tempered my excitement for my second ever trip to the Emirates. Getting to see Wolfsburg take on Villareal beforehand is a welcomed bonus for what should be a fun day. (Can we also note how weird the marketing for the event is this year? Those robot eyes are downright creepy.)

There’s been relatively little in the last few days about the squad for the tournament, so anything about who the team will be is merely guesswork at this point. The starting XI I’d like to see would be Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Wilshere, Ramsey, Özil, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott, but I suspect it’ll be a mixture of presumed starters and squad players. But given that this isn’t my only chance to see the team this summer, I’ll be happy with whoever is out there.

The depth across the board right now is truly ridiculous, as Arsene Wenger could field two legitimate XIs without having to dip into the academy. We could just as easily see Ospina, Debuchy, Gabriel, Chambers, Gibbs, Arteta, Flamini, Welbeck, Cazorla, Rosicky and Giroud. And that’s before factoring in the likes of Serge Gnabry, Gedion Zelalem and Chuba Akpom, who probably will feature in some role this weekend. I haven’t even mentioned Alexis Sanchez, who will be returning from his post-Copa America holiday at the start of August. That depth is a large reason why I’m so optimistic about the season right now.

While Manchester United and Liverpool have been throwing around the cash, Arsenal has quietly built a very strong squad around their marquee signings of the last few years. Liverpool and United both still have obvious holes in defense, but the Gunners squad has none. Even at forward and in the defensive midfield role, Arsenal have two or three legitimate options. I’m not saying Wenger couldn’t add an even better player in the coming month, but any other business in the transfer window would augment an already strong squad. Even Chelsea is looking a little thin in midfield right now.

As far as this weekend, it’ll be a vital last bit of a rushed preseason before the FA Community Shield next weekend, which while many call it a glorified friendly, I doubt Wenger will want to lose to Jose Mourinho again. He will have his team ready. So this weekend then offers the final chances to many to impress. The name being thrown around the media this week as needing a strong Emirates Cup is Chuba Akpom. While I agree, I don’t think he will start a game given how close we are to meaningful games. If he isn’t loaned out, he will be required consistently to make immediate impact off the bench if he wants to contribute. So perhaps bringing him on late would be better preparation. I just don’t see a scenario in which he is starting Premier League games this campaign.

For me, the player with the most to prove is Mathieu Debuchy. With Debuchy being Wally Pipp’d last year by Hector Bellerin, he never got a chance to show his worth. Everybody seems to want Bellerin back in the side straightaway given how much promise he showed, but I wouldn’t bet against the French international Debuchy. If he shows he’s the same player he was at Newcastle in the early going, the right-back spot might be his to lose. I think we’ll see a lot of rotation between the two of them this season, but it will ultimately come down to form. Making a good impression in the final preseason games wouldn’t hurt.

I’m also quite interested in how Wenger sets up the midfield. Will he push Jack Wilshere wide again? Will he pair him with Aaron Ramsey in the middle? Where will Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott start? These are all crucial questions in the buildup to the season. Remember that last year Wenger deployed Tomas Rosicky as a false-9 in the first preseason games, so I’m not convinced he’ll stick with Wilshere out wide. However, one of he or Ramsey needs to play wide if they hope to start, because I don’t see Santi Cazorla being dropped next to Francis Coquelin. And up front, I’d stick with the Ox out wide and give Walcott another few chances through the middle. Altogether, we’ll learn a lot about Wenger’s thinking this weekend.

On another note, I’m thinking about getting a new jersey tomorrow to mark seeing Arsenal play a few times in person. I’m not especially in love with either the home or away though, so I’m going to wait to see them in person to make that choice. The next choice of which player to get though is even tougher. With Walcott’s contract status up in the air and Alexis likely sitting the three games I’m attending, I am now picking between Coquelin, Ramsey, Bellerin, and the Ox. I was given an Özil shirt from last year, so he’s out of the equation for this one. I’d go with Coquelin, but I’m afraid he won’t stick with the number 34 for long. I used to say Ramsey was my favorite player but I’m not so sure anymore. He’d be the safe choice. However, I might still be leaning Coquelin’s way. I might have to flip a coin between those two. If you have any advice, put it in the comments.

Anyway, this is a great time to be in England. Away from the miserable Red Sox and still able to follow all the NBA drama, I’m in the heart of soccer country as the season gets going. And by the time I get back it’ll be nearly football season. I get more excited about Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks every day. It’s always this time every year where I start watching Youtube videos of great Razorback games and listening to the networks’ college football theme songs. For the record, I think putting the offensive line on the media guide is extremely cool.

I can’t believe the news about the three Arkansas basketball arrested for forgery. Beyond being stunned by the impact to the program, I’m astounded by the stupidity of their actions. The evidence sounds pretty convincing to me, so I suspect they won’t play for the Hogs again and will spend the next few years in prison. What a shame.

Lastly, to end on a happier note, I want to congratulate former Davidson basketball star Tyler Kalinoski on signing with Elan Chalon in France. I can’t say I know much about that team, but they’ve got themselves a real winner and a heck of a basketball player.

I hope to write again this weekend about my day at the Emirates Cup tomorrow. Thanks for reading.


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The State of My Stateside Teams

I want to do today’s post a little differently. Instead of choosing one topic, I’m going to give each of my teams in the United States a paragraph. S0 here goes.

The Red Sox are a mess right now. It feels like I’m re-watching 2014, because like last year, every single time there’s the smallest bit of momentum, they drop the next two and three of the next four. I still think it’s worth holding course and seeing if David Ortiz and Pablo Sandoval can break their season-long slumps, but I’m getting less optimistic with every successive setback. However, it is encouraging to see a few of the players turn things around, notably Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, Wade Miley and Joe Kelly. If a couple more players can figure it out, maybe there is a run in this team. But no matter how bad it gets, as long as we have Eduardo Rodriguez going every five days, there will be something to look forward to. He is the real deal.

The Celtics are about to enter a really interesting part of the offseason. With large amounts of cap space for the first time in years, this summer will be a test of whether big free agents will be attracted to playing for Brad Stevens. My gut tells me no, but wouldn’t it be nice if LaMarcus Aldridge came for a visit? Regardless, a priority has to be re-signing Jae Crowder. I also want Danny Ainge to work as hard as he can to move up a few spots in the draft to get Willie Cauley-Stein. He could make a serious impact on the team defense, and is miles better than somebody like Kevin Looney, who is being looked at for #16. I’m opposed to giving up the Nets picks, but I think Cauley-Stein’s value above who we’d draft at #16 is worth surrendering an extra first round pick.

The Patriots continue to make news in all the wrong ways. Whether it’s appeal talk, Brandon Spikes’s hit and run or Malcolm Butler getting benched, it’s so negative that following the team this offseason has become unappealing. I think this could be an ugly year on the field too. It can’t be overstated that where all three AFC East teams improved, the Pats lost almost everything at running back and in the secondary. I’m legitimately worried about making the playoffs. This could be an bad year. It’s a really good thing the pressure is relatively off for a year after the Super Bowl win.

Arkansas baseball has been an inspiration. Zach Jackson’s three and two thirds inning save to close out the Super Regional was one of the most gutsy performances I’ve seen on a baseball field. These guys fight and these guys win. Getting to Omaha is the highest achievement this team could have imagined. Any success in the College World Series will just be icing on the cake. With the dire lack of arms in the bullpen due to James Teague and Dominic Taccolini’s injuries, making a run there will be extraordinarily difficult. But this is a truly special group – I wouldn’t bet against them. Nothing made me happier than the Red Sox drafting Andrew Benintendi in the first round and then Tyler Spoon in the 30th. I can’t wait to see Benintendi roaming the Fenway grass. But in the meantime, it’s time for the #OmaHogs to beat Virginia. Woo Pig Sooie.

After a successful year on the hardcourt, Arkansas basketball is looking at a rebuilding year. When Anthlon Bell is the leading returning scorer, that’s not a good sign. But for the next month, the focus of Hog basketball is on watching Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls in the NBA Draft. Portis is getting rave reviews across the league as one of the most NBA-ready players. And Qualls has managed to disappear from draft boards despite posting the lowest body fat percentage of anyone. I really wish Qualls had come back for his senior year, but alas, he made the same mistake B.J. Young did and gambled despite not being assured of being drafted. However, I think Qualls could be a success in the NBA, even if he isn’t drafted. I certainly want the Celtics to take a flier on him in the second round. He’s such a talented athlete that I think he has serious potential defensively with a year of good coaching. I think Portis will be solid, and could have himself a nice career, but his ceiling is low. With so many power forwards on the Celtics, he’d have a hard time getting going in Boston, and thus hope he gets drafted somewhere else.

Arkansas football is riding a ridiculous high right now. Suddenly Arkansas is mentioned as a national title threat. And despite a murderous schedule once again, I don’t disagree. For the Arkansas offense has the potential to be incredible. Two 1,000 yard rushers are returning behind the best offensive line in the country, which in Denver Kirland, John Skipper and Sebastian Tretola boasts three potential all-americans. Sure there are questions at receiver, but I liked what I saw from Keon Hatcher last year and as much flak as I give Brandon Allen, he now has two full years of experience. Plus, the new offensive coordinator Dan Enos is a coach who has had success with QB’s. The defense took three big losses through the middle, but largely remains the same group that held LSU, Ole Miss and Texas to a combined seven points. I realize I need to temper my expectations before the season starts, but the excitement is too real. September 5th can’t come soon enough.

The Davidson basketball non-conference schedule is slowly coming out and I’m liking what I’m seeing. Games at UNC and at Madison Square Garden vs. Pitt give Davidson big-time exposure and a real chance to earn RPI-boosting wins. But more importantly, it seems like the schedule will be a little stronger on the back-end too, which was almost an issue last year. It’s good to pile up wins, but the strength of schedule numbers needed to be higher. I’ve seen early predictors say this team won’t be the same without Tyler Kalinoski, but he’s just one player, albeit a really good one. Between Jack Gibbs, Brian Sullivan and Jordan Barham, there are many hands capable of filling his production. And with Jake Belford returning from injury and some size coming in with the recruiting class, I’m not convinced there will be even the slightest bit of drop-off from last year.

The last team I want to mention is the U.S. Men’s National team in soccer, who beat both Netherlands and the world champion Germans this week on European soil. I’ve heard many people say the wins don’t matter because they are friendlies without many of the sides’ top players, but that should not take anything away from the achievement. Taking many players without experience, the U.S. topped two of the best teams in the world. That’s a fact. And it can be a springboard for Jürgen Klinsmann and the program. You can’t tell me players like Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes aren’t better off in the career having this burst of confidence. This was a week to treasure for U.S. soccer fans.

 

 


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Why Davidson Should Reexamine Its Policy on Retiring Numbers

Stephen Curry and Davidson College are close to synonymous in the minds of millions of sports fans. The NBA MVP wore the Davidson name on his chest for three years, but has carried the school’s name with him wherever he’s gone since. Nobody can mention Davidson without Curry.

Davidson men’s basketball coach Bob McKillop, four wins shy of 500 for his career, has become an unofficial spokesman for Curry. Appearing on nearly every national sports platform there is, McKillop has spent countless mornings talking about his former star. Even six years past Curry’s departure for the NBA, McKillop is spending large portions of his time and energy talking up Curry, because frankly, Curry’s success and profile in the NBA can only help the Davidson basketball program.

The college too has realized just how important Curry is to the school’s image and brand. A disproportionate amount of posts on official college social media accounts are Curry related. And while some of them reference Curry’s time at Davidson and his magical run to the Elite 8 in 2008, most are simply another article about how great a player he is. During freshman orientation, Curry’s signature is shown on the big screen, not on a basketball but on the Honor Code pledge. In the minds of many, he is Davidson.

When the college was creating its new tv ad for the start of Atlantic 10 play this past year, the school narrowed their choices to three final scripts. One of which was 30 seconds of Curry and how Davidson allowed him to excel. To the relief of many, somebody realized the school shouldn’t go that far, and they eventually settled on the “We Make It Better” ad, which still communicates before saying anything else about the school that Curry was a Wildcat.

At the union late at night, the Warriors games will always be on, for nearly everybody on campus is in some small way a Warriors fan. Because we all love Steph, both who he is and all he did for the school. Our bookstore still sells number 30 Davidson jerseys, which the NCAA would assure you are in no way related to the current NBA superstar who wore that number at Davidson of course.

Yet walk into Belk Arena, home of the basketball team, and there is no mention of Curry in sight. Wander downstairs to the cafe and you might find a small framed picture on the wall along with many other athletics photos, but inside the arena, there is nothing. Look up to the rafters and number 30 is conspicuously not up there with the greats of Davidson basketball. Bob McKillop’s signature is now on the court named after the legendary coach, but signs of his famous player are nowhere to be found.

All of this can be explained. Davidson College has a policy that only players who have graduated can have their numbers retired. And Curry knew this when he declared for the NBA Draft after his junior year. Graduating from Davidson is tough, but even tougher for a professional athlete, because the school doesn’t offer summer courses, and has a policy that a student’s final eight credits must be taken at the college unless special permission is granted.

Towards the bottom of this Associated Press article about his declaring for the draft back in 2009, it says, “Curry met with the school’s president to see if other arrangements could be made to get his degree, but was told he’d have to take most of his senior-year courses on campus.” And I think that stance is fair. It’s understandable that the college wouldn’t want to just hand him a degree.

But despite this, Curry has maintained that he intends to finish his degree. During the NBA lockout in 2011, he returned to school and took three classes, finishing them up during training camp on the school’s allowance when the lockout ended in early December, shortly before exams would have been. However the end of the lockout meant he’s not quite done. Ahead of him lies one more semester, one that would include a thesis, likely on NBA and tattoos. But without another lockout, the next time Curry would be free for a full semester would be after retirement, which hopefully won’t be for another 12+ years.

When somebody hears about Davidson, the first two things that are normally associated with the school are Curry and free laundry. Well, Lula Bell laundry is now gone, so for many who aren’t familiar with the school, Curry is what is keeping Davidson on the national radar. And he carries that banner with aplomb, representing the school better than anyone else can.

At graduation this year, President Carol Quillen talked about how traditions shouldn’t just be upheld for tradition’s sake. She spoke about how wonderful the dialogue is about such issues at Davidson and cited the closing of Lula Bell as a way for the school to look forward rather than back. As one of the most vocal supporters of Curry as there is, you’d think she might see the changing tides at Davidson as a chance to tweak the rule that necessitates graduation for a number to be retired in the basketball program.

While I don’t necessarily agree with the need to relinquish tradition, I do think this is a time when Davidson can give back to the man that is giving Davidson such a terrific name right now. With the way the school is embracing his success and using that to fundraise and get the school’s brand out there, it is time the basketball program itself embraced Curry on a formal level too. If McKillop isn’t comfortable with retiring his number, a banner for his career point total or for his NBA MVP somewhere in Belk Arena would still be better than nothing.

Davidson could also use such an occasion to retire the late Mike Maloy’s number. Maloy was the first African-American basketball player at the school in 1967 and he, like Curry excelled on the court, taking the team to not one, but two Elite 8’s. He covered Sports Illustrated while at Davidson and was named an All-American three times. He, too, never graduated due to his basketball career, but was vital to the college for breaking the color barrier for the basketball program.

I’m aware that McKillop is hyper protective of Curry right now. Any and all requests to bring him to campus for one reason or another are almost guaranteed to be denied by our coach, who is justifiably looking out for his star. And perhaps he’d be worried that Curry wouldn’t have as much of an incentive to finish his classes if his number were retired. But I don’t think that is enough of a reason to justify not honoring him in some capacity.

As we all watch Curry excel in the NBA Finals, I believe it is time the college reexamines its policy on retiring numbers. For all that Curry is doing for the school’s name and the way the school is embracing that, he deserves formal acknowledgment of some kind in the basketball arena, the place where he made his mark, and a retired number could make the most sense. My hope is that by the time I graduate in two years, Curry’s 30 and Maloy’s 15 will be up in the rafters of Belk Arena along with Hobby Cobb’s 21, Fred Hetzel’s 44, Dick Snyder’s 10, John Gerdy’s 33 and Derek Rucker’s 11. It’s time we said thank you for what these players have done not just for the program, but for the school.

What do you think about this issue? Please comment below.


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Iowa Ends Davidson’s Season

SEATTLE, WA – #7 Iowa (22-11) proved too much for #10 Davidson (24-8) in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament, using a series of large runs to take the game 83-52. Davidson shot 33.3% from the floor and made only 6-28 from deep while being outrebounded 46-30. Iowa, who had a size advantage of at least three inches at every position, were relentless on the day. It ends a remarkable season for the Wildcats, who earned the first at-large birth in school history.

“They played a superb game,” Coach Bob McKillop said of Iowa after the game, “When we saw the matchup last Sunday, we knew it would be a tremendous challenge for us and it certainly was. The combination of length and efficiency really bothered us. It put them in such a terrific position to win this game.”

Out of the break down nine, Davidson focused on attacking the rim. Buckets from Jordan Barham and Jack Gibbs had the lead down to six, but Iowa countered with a 18-3 run to take a 62-41 lead with just under 11 to play on a nice play by Aaron White. And from there, it was smooth sailing for the Hawkeyes, who were at complete ease all game. As Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said post-game, “I’m not sure we can play much better than we played in this game.”

Every time Davidson hit a shot, or strung together a couple of good possessions, Iowa had an answer. The Hawkeyes were composed throughout, and never wavered from their approach to methodically wear Davidson down with their large size advantage. And where the Hawkeyes had every answer, Davidson had none for Iowa’s star forward White.

White, an All-Big 10 first-teamer, who was efficient if unspectacular in the first half, fired on all cylinders in the second half. He finished with 26 points on 11-14 shooting. But in the second half, he was 8-9 from the floor for 17 points. He also chipped in 6 rebounds.

“Looking at the roster size before the game I knew I had a size advantage to whoever I was guarding,” White told reporters in the postgame press-conference. “I got to give credit to my teammates and also Coach McCaffery for running a lot of stuff for me to get me in position to score. But there was a stretch there where I was just feeling confident, feeling good with my shot – with my hook shot – and I was finishing around the basket.”

Davidson’s star Tyler Kalinoski on the other hand, himself Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, struggled to get anything going after sitting much of the first half with three fouls. He finished with just 5 points on 2-9 shooting, unable to get good looks from deep due to Iowa’s ability to put someone much bigger on him. And whenever he looked to drive, there was adequate help nearby. It is a real shame that in his final game in a Wildcat uniform, he wasn’t able to have the sort of game that defined his stellar career.

“It seemed like every shot we took, every pass we made, there was length there,” Coach Bob McKillop said after the game. “I’ve never seen our guys as tentative and as hesitant as they were. We moved the ball around the arc a lot and did not go inside out. We didn’t attack and deflate with dribble penetration, which is normally a staple of what we do to get our shooters open.”

Jack Gibbs also struggled to find any sort of rhythm. Pushed so far beyond the line for many of his three-point attempts, this was never a matchup in the smaller guard’s favor. Gibbs was Davidson’s joint leading scorer with 14 points, but didn’t have a great game, shooting only 2-9 from deep and committing 5 turnovers. He will look to use the offseason to get back to where he was in January pre-knee injury, as since his return, he hasn’t been quite the same on either end.

Sullivan’s task was simply too much. With 6’6″ Peter Jok draped on him much of the game, he wasn’t able to get in a shooting grove. Iowa did an effective job of running him off the line, and forced many contested twos in the lane. He was only 1-9 inside the arc.

Peyton Aldridge also was joint leading scorer with 14 points, hitting his jump shot more than he has been in recent weeks, but he was forced into a role defensively that he was not cut out for, and was a team-worst -33 in +/-. Just a freshman, he has big things ahead, but pairing him with a bigger center going forward will be crucial to what Aldridge can do for this team.

Only Andrew McAuliffe’s play on the block could slow down the Iowa bigs. Of all the Wildcats to get more than two minutes in the half, he was the only player with a positive +/- in the first half. He didn’t let them get anything easy near the paint, partially solidifying a Davidson front court that was completely overmatched without him in the game. And offensively, while not a three point threat, he was always around the basket demanding attention when a shot went up. However, when he had to take a breather, the Wildcats got manhandled on the glass. And by the end of the first half and throughout the second, he wasn’t nearly as effective having played so many minutes early.

Iowa’s length really bothered Davidson from the game’s opening couple minutes, as the ‘Cats had turnovers on three of their first four possessions. But before the first media timeout, the Wildcats had used an 8-0 run to lead 8-5. However, as Davidson tried to find a rhythm, fouls piled up as Iowa used their size to their advantage. Kalinoski picked up a cheap third foul not a minute after checking back into the game with 8:20 to play.

With Kalinoski on the bench for the majority of the first half with those fouls, Iowa used an 18-4 run to take a 15 point lead with 4:17 to play in the half. They frustrated Davidson with their ever-changing defenses, and got second-chance after second-chance with their enormous size advantage. Davidson used a late run to cut it to nine at the break, but it was all Iowa in the half.

This loss will hurt for a long time, but Davidson should be proud of everything they’ve accomplished this year. With expectations incredibly low, this team won an Atlantic 10 title in their first year in the league. Stop and think about that for another second. It’s truly remarkable.

“It’s hard to look at now, I think just because I’m so disappointed with how Tyler and all our seniors had to go out,” Brian Sullivan remarked on the season as a whole, “But I think after some time I’ll be able to appreciate what we did just being the first ever at large team at Davidson. Obviously the expectations outside of the locker room were not very high and I learned a lot over the course of this season just in the belief of ourselves and what we’re capable of. Obviously I don’t feel that right now, but I think big picture it’s a tremendous year for us.”

Losing only Tyler Kalinoski and Ali Mackay, Davidson should be poised for another great campaign next year, especially with center Jake Belford returning from an injury that sidelined him since December. Bob McKillop is only four wins away from 500 in his career, so that likely win is something to look forward to next November.


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Davidson Preps for Iowa

After moving up in the basketball world to the Atlantic 10, Davidson might have expected more respect from their opponents than they got when Iowa junior Jarrod Uthoff said he’d never heard of the school. But you can bet that Iowa will be well aware of the threat Davidson poses after the slew of round-one upsets coming from the non-power-conference schools and from the relationship the coaches share.

As far back as 1975, A Bob McKillop coached team at Holy Trinity High School played against Iowa coach Fran McCaffery for La Salle College High School, the team’s star player. Since then, the two have shared the court many times as coaches, with McCaffery leading UNC-Greensboro for many years in the Southern Conference. McKillop said, “he presents problems because in many ways he does a lot of the things that we do. He runs a motion offense, he runs a fast-paced attacking offense, and he’s got great size and length and versatility to do it.”

The immediate concern for Davidson against the Hawkeyes is the staggering size differential. Iowa’s starting lineup goes 6’2″, 6’6″, 6’9″, 6’9″ and 7’1″. Plus, they have the Big 10’s 6th man of the year in 6’11” senior Gabriel Olaseni. By comparison Davidson starts one player over 6’4″. If Bob McKillop elects to go man-to-man as he’s done most of the year, one can assume Iowa will look to post up any of its frontcourt players.

For Davidson, defending the bigs without fouling will be the key to the game. The Wildcats have dealt with size relatively well this year, with some notable exceptions. In an early November matchup with UNC, one of the biggest teams in the country, freshman big man Peyton Aldridge scored 25 points, but the Tar Heels grabbed 18 offensive rebounds and their length really bothered Davidson’s shooters. It wasn’t necessarily that the Wildcats couldn’t drive against the big men, but instead it was the length of the guards that didn’t allow Brian Sullivan and Tyler Kalinoski to get any good looks and find a rhythm.

That was something Iowa star forward Aaron White spoke about in today’s press-conference. “Obiously Davidson, their strength is their three-point shooting basically from all five spots on the floor,” White said. “It will be a big thing for us to run them off the line, use our length to our advantage and contain them that way. If we run them off the line, force them to our help, I think we’ll be okay.”

White, who played in an all-star game with Brian Sullivan in high school and also played for Coach McKillop for Team USA in Russia, will be a key player to stop. He is Iowa’s leading scorer and is at the forefront of their motion offense. He might not be a household name among Davidson fans, but he has been a great player in the Big 10 for a while. Jordan Barham likely will be tasked with defending him.

As the season progressed, Jordan Barham took on a different role defensively, stepping into the four position defensively in many games. For a 6’4″ player, the way he has defended the post has been remarkable considering he’d been defending the two and three almost exclusively before. In his last eight games, he’s had seven or more rebounds in all but one. But he’s also stayed on the court more so than Davidson’s other bigs have. Aldridge and Nathan Ekwu, the two freshmen, both have struggled with fouls at times. And one thing Davidson doesn’t have is depth in the frontcourt.

Davidson might have to use their “big” lineup a little more than they normally do against the Hawkeyes. Oskar Michelsen will be called upon for big minutes, and if he’s able to keep defenders honest with an early three or two, his presence could be huge. Andrew McAuliffe too will play a crucial part in this game. The sophomore rarely stands out on the stat sheet, but his development this year cannot be understated. While he doesn’t grab many rebounds, his positioning on the block defensively and his box-outs have allowed Barham and the gurads to come in for the boards.

Iowa hasn’t faced a team quite like Davidson though. They haven’t had to defend an offense with so many shooters. And when they have played teams with big men who can shoot, they have struggled. Aldridge’s stroke has gone quiet in recent weeks, but if he can get back to what he was doing in late January and early February offensively, he can cause some issues and open up the paint for drives and backcuts.

Sullivan and Kalinoski too will need to be on the game shooting wise, as Davidson will need to at least match their typical production from deep to be in this game. With their experience, they will need to be the ones that must not be fazed by the stage. As Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, Kalinoski will be the focus of Iowa’s defensive gameplan. But his versatility and ability both to shoot from deep and put the ball on the floor should force the Hawkeyes to stay honest, giving him the extra step necessary to get good shots off.

“For us, the key is just to continually move,” Sullivan said, “We have rules to our offense, [the key to getting good shots] is just to follow them, to help people out, to screen, to finish our cuts, really just to keep the floor spaced, continue to be unselfish as I think we have been all year, and just honestly keep the attack and the pressure on them.”

In their open practice this evening, the Wildcats looked focused. Unlike many teams all day, Coach Bob was not messing around with this practice. I’m not sure Louisville players broke a sweat in theirs, but the Wildcats were on the run all practice, getting shots up and working with a high level of intensity. These guys are ready.

I’ll be on the scene all day, so follow me on Twitter (@Klaus_Faust) for pregame thoughts and updates.