Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports

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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.

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Let the Madness Begin

I’m currently somewhere over Nebraska. But in just under three hours, I will be on the ground covering the NCAA Tournament in Seattle, WA. This is a dream come true. Getting all the emails this past week as an official part of the media team has gotten me bursting with excitement for being there. And that doesn’t even include my excitement levels for the basketball.

Today, my plan is to check into the hotel, monitor the end of the first set of games while figuring out a way to eat something, then head over to Key Arena for an afternoon of practices and press conferences. Among the things I’m most excited for is getting the chance to watch the open practices up close. I want to see the differences between a Rick Pitino practice and a Bob McKillop practice. I want to see Kyle Wiltjer and Seth Tuttle and the work they put in to be great.

Tomorrow, I get to cover four games, beginning with Wyoming and Northern Iowa at 10:40 am and ending with the Gonzaga-North Dakota State game in the late slot. I’ll have a full article about Davidson-Iowa of course (I”ll probably also have a preview of the game tonight), but I’m not sure yet what content will look like for the rest. At the minimum, I”ll be tweeting about the games, so follow me (@Klaus_Faust) for that. But I will have my labtop on me and will watch as many games as I possibly can. After Davidson’s open practice finishes up around 6:30 (Pacific Time), I’ll make my way back to the hotel to watch the Arkansas game.

I’m strangely not that worried about this game. Being familiar with Wofford from Davidson’s time in the SoCon, I just don’t see how they’ll be able to match up with Arkansas. I think they’ll have trouble with the pace, and they shouldn’t be able to cover Bobby Portis. He needs a big game to restore his confidence after an abysmal SEC Tournament offensively. What makes me more comfortable with this team than past Arkansas teams is their poise. Ky Madden has become the Mr. Cool and Anton Beard seems unaffected by momentum. Should things go poorly, those two guards along with Michael Qualls can get the Hogs back into the game. My prediction is a 15-point win.

The game I’m most excited for today other than Arkansas is Butler and Texas. I went back and forth on this pick all week. Originally I had Butler, but now I’m with Texas. The matchups are quite intriguing here. Isaiah Taylor might struggle against Alex Barlow, and Kameron Woods should be able to counteract some of Texas’s size advantage with his defensive rebounding ability. But ultimately, I think Texas will get enough looks close to the basket that it will stay close. And the final minutes, I wouldn’t want to be Butler trying to navigate with such poor free-throw shooters on the floor. That’ll be the difference.

Other games I’m especially looking forward to are LSU-NC State, EWU-Georgetown and UNC-Harvard. But of course, I’m excited for them all. It’s the best time of the year. And as I’m about to run out of time on the Wi-Fi, I must finish this up now.

My final four is Kentucky, Arizona, UVA and Gonzaga, with Kentucky over Gonzaga in the final. My goal is to be 95th percentile or better this year – it’s also to beat my brother who’s notoriously good at this. Enjoy the day, and may the madness begin.

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Davidson’s Star Trio

(Written for today’s NCAA Tournament Preview edition of The Davidsonian. I will be traveling to the NCAA Tournament tomorrow morning to cover Davidson and the other games in Seattle. For updates, check the site and follow me on Twitter @Klaus_Faust)

Before the season ever began, Coach Bob McKillop was singing the praises of his new captains, guards Tyler Kalinoski ’15, Brian Sullivan ’16 and Jack Gibbs ’17 and the work they had done in keeping the team on task in the offseason. But despite lofty expectations from their coach – though certainly not from the national media – it’s safe to say any and all expectations within the program were broken by the trio this year.

“We’re built around those three guys,” fellow starter Jordan Barham ’16 said of the three guards, “All three of them are such good all-around basketball players. There’s not one thing you can really take away [as a defense]. Teams in the A-10 will try to run them off the three-point line and they’ll go by their guys and get to the rim. You’ll try to go off a ball screen, and they’ll hit a three.”

The offense starts with the three captains, who were each named to all-conference teams last week. They’ve been at the forefront of everything Davidson has done, always directing play on the court and making winning plays.

Kalinoski has mainly played off the ball, excelling in his senior year on the offensive end on his way to being named Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. Playing almost every minute, he was in double-figures in scoring every single conference game. But where he has made his mark has been with his composure and his ability to ignite second-half runs with his shooting and his defense. He’s shooting above 43% from deep and has knocked down shot after shot on his way to average 17 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 4.1 assists.

Sullivan’s season didn’t start the way he wanted shooting the ball from deep. But amidst those struggles came a better defender and a better passer. He became so much more than just a three-point shooter because he had to contribute elsewhere. So by the time he found his stroke, he was a much more complete player. When Gibbs went down with an injury, it was Sullivan who took over at the point, and his play helped ignite Davidson’s 10-game win streak to close out conference play.

Despite a knee injury that sidelined him for seven games during conference play, Gibbs is having a sensational leap scoring wise as the primary point guard, highlighted by a 37 point effort at UCF. It’s as if he’s gained half a step from a year ago. In transition, he has been lethal, seemingly always picking the right option. And his shooting percentages have increased dramatically, up from 32% a year ago to 44% this year from deep.

Davidson’s offense was peaking right when Gibbs went down before the Dayton game. But with Sullivan sliding over and Kalinoski taking on more ball-handling duties, the Wildcats didn’t lose a beat.

“I think Brian and Ty especially, with Jack being down, really made a concerted effort to keep guys accountable and lead by example and by the way they were playing,” Barham said. “I think everyone just bought in. Jack, being on the sidelines coaching people up, really helped. The three of those guys are so key to this team in so many different aspects even aside from their play on the court.”

Spacing wise, having all three of them on the court at the same time, which McKillop does most of the time, gives opponents nightmares. They can’t focus on one or two of them, because the other will go off. Teams have tried zones, they’ve tried man, but the games when opponents have shut down all three have been few and far between.

Their threat on the perimeter gives the offense many more options in the halfcourt in Davidson’s motion and screen heavy offense. Because defenders must remain tight on the guards coming off screens, it leaves them susceptible to back-cuts and drives from Barham, who in particular has benefitted from the attention the guards receive on the perimeter. Most shooters don’t like to screen, but these guys do that too.

As a team, Davidson ranks 8th in the nation in offense efficiency behind the three guards, up from 35th a year ago. Sure, the team is shooting slightly better this year, but the main difference has been impeccable ball control. Last year, Davidson ranked 64th nationally in turnover percentage. This year, they are second, behind only Wisconsin.

All three of this trio have stepped up to hit shots that kept the Wildcats’ season alive. Think back to a trip to George Mason, when Gibbs was out, when Sullivan sent the game to overtime with a contested three, just seconds after Oskar Michelsen ’18 had made one to cut the deficit to three. Or on the road at URI, when Gibbs hit a go-ahead step-back three in the corner to give the Wildcats the lead after a rough night of shooting. Or in the A-10 quarterfinal, after making a couple big triples down the stretch, Kalinoski had the presence of mind to drive to the hoop and lay in a winning basket as time expired against La Salle.

Had they missed those shots, those would have been costly losses. But these three have proven game after game that they have the utmost confidence in themselves and in their teammates. That is what you want from captains. You want stars on the court who can lead by example with consistently superb play. But you also want those who want their teammates to succeed, setting them up on the court with assists and off the court with steadfast commitment and leadership.

It is rare to see the three-guard system work so effectively in college basketball. But Kalinoski, Sullivan and Gibbs have found ways to complement each other in every fashion. Together, they’ve been the engine behind Davidson’s remarkable season.

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Clutch Genes Prevail Again

The good feeling surrounding Davidson basketball is swelling to immeasurable heights right now. Everybody is talking about how Bob McKillop is doing his best coaching job yet. National media have been catapulting on recent wins to write about how underrated a program this Davidson has and how remarkable the transition has been to the A-10. They’re writing about how this is a team that defies expectations – every single article mentions that this was a team picked 12th in the conference preseason.

But it’s time to forget expectations and legacy and start appreciating them as a basketball team right now. Today’s win against La Salle in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament was not pretty. But the beauty of this win – marked by senior captain Tyler Kalinoski’s buzzer-beater – was in how ugly it was. It was a win that highlighted this team’s strengths, but pointed out its flaws too. In the end, it was Davidson’s ruthlessness in the final minutes that made the difference.

The cynics will say this game showed Davidson’s over-reliance on the three-ball, especially in the second half. but I don’t think that is an issue. It felt like the Wildcats shot the ball poorly, yet they made 14 threes on 40% shooting from deep. They weren’t forced threes – they were all good looks in rhythm with the offense. But don’t forget Barham’s early buckets that kept the game close, or that when given the option to shoot a three on the final possession, Kalinoski drove the ball to the hoop. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking this team is one-dimensional offensively. Anyone who says that clearly hasn’t watched a McKillop offense very closely.

Nonetheless, one of the best aspects of Jack Gibbs, Brian Sullivan and Kalinoski shooting so many threes is that Davidson is never out of the game, not even down 18 in a high-pressure environment like this or down double digits with only six minutes left. The tri-captains are always one or two made shots from catching fire and turning momentum around. For me, aside from the last couple minutes, the biggest sequence in today’s game came right at the end of the first half, when Sullivan made back-to-back triples to cut the lead to single-digits at halftime. Davidson had been getting killed, but those shots gave the ‘Cats life and hope.

What I admire most about this team is the way they elevate their play in the final minutes. That sounds cliche, but think back to all the times Davidson has made plays down the stretch. There were made free-throws against UMass in the first road win. Down 6 with 14 seconds left at George Mason, Oskar Michelsen and Sullivan made threes to send it into OT, where Davidson won without Gibbs and a fouled-out Kalinoski. Down 10 in the first half at GW, and needing one final stop to seal the deal, Davidson got it. There was Gibbs’s contested three at URI to get a one-point lead with 13 seconds left and great ensuing defense. And even in the loss to St. Bonaventure, a perfectly executed play led to a Peyton Aldridge three that gave Davidson a one-point lead with 3 seconds left.

That leads us to today, when Coach Bob McKillop trusted his team enough in the final seconds not to call a timeout. He knew his players would make the right choices and trust the system they are so committed to. It doesn’t matter who gets the shot, because there are no heroes. This time it was Kalinoski, but tomorrow it could just as easily be Sullivan or Gibbs getting the call. How many teams have so many options at the end of a game? And how many teams come through as often as Davidson has this year? I can tell you the answer is nobody. That will prove to be useful in the coming games.

Not to be lost either is Davidson’s defense in the final minutes. Everyone stepped up and guarded. I am continually impressed by how much this team has improved on the defensive end. Sure, the first 36 minutes were ugly, but in the final four, they were locked in.

The night before the team left for Brooklyn, I sat down for an interview with Barham (be on the lookout for related content in Wednesday’s Davidsonian). He talked about how everyone is in complete control in the final minutes. It doesn’t matter how the rest of the game has gone, if you get a shot in the final minute on this team, you’re going to have the confidence to take it.

But it wasn’t all good in Brooklyn today. Davidson got crushed on the boards. Steve Zack had 24 points and 15 rebounds for the Explorers at the center position. In the first half, the Wildcats had no answer for him defensively. It may seem obvious to say Davidson will struggle if they have to face a premier center. But it’s a fact. Barham may be able to guard almost everyone on the court, but he won’t be able to handle a Frank Kaminsky or a Bobby Portis if it comes to that.

Andrew McAuliffe provided some good minutes defensively as a backup big, but he offers next to nothing offensively (in 18 minutes, he didn’t attempt a shot) and extended minutes from him hurt what Davidson does offensively. With him on the floor in the second half, La Salle backed off him and caused issues spacing-wise for Davidson’s normally seamless offense. That was partly the cause for the excess number of threes taken.

Today officially felt like March. The madness has arrived. But one thing we can all be sure about is that amidst the madness, Davidson will be as cool as the other side of the pillow. Nothing can faze this team. I am glad VCU beat Richmond because I think Richmond would have posed a much tougher matchup. Shake Smart had no answers 8 days ago when these sides met in Davidson, but expect a closer game this time with Treveon Graham more involved. With another shootaround to get used to the Barclays Center rims, I think Davidson will get another win. But it should be a good one. And hey, at least I won’t have to watch this one while in class.