WHO: Davidson Wildcats (24-7 overall, 14-4 A10)
WHERE: Seattle, WA
WHEN: Friday, March 20; 6:20 PM CT
WHERE DOES DAVIDSON PLAY?
Davidson went 24-7 overall and 14-4 in Atlantic-10 play. That 14-4 mark was good for a regular season conference title (the Wildcats finished a full game ahead of Dayton and Rhode Island in the conference standings) and a #24 ranking in the final regular season AP and Coaches Polls. Impressively, Davidson did this in their very first season in the Atlantic 10 conference, traditionally one of the better mid-major conferences around. Before the move to the A-10 this season Davidson had been longtime members of the Southern Conference, a league they had come to dominate (since 2000, Davidson won 10 of 15 conference championships).
HOW DID DAVIDSON GET HERE?
As noted above, Davidson won the Atlantic 10 regular season title with an impressive 14-4 mark in league play. They pulled that off by winning their final nine regular season games after a 5-4 start to league play. They won their first game of the conference tournament (a wild 67-66 comeback win over LaSalle) before getting drilled by VCU, 93-73, in the semifinal round of the tournament. Despite missing out on the Atlantic 10's automatic bid (that went to VCU as winners of the conference tournament), Davidson had a strong enough resume to easily warrant at-large consideration from the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Davidson posted an RPI of 35, and ranks 31 in ESPN's BPI rankings and 32 in the latest KenPom rankings.
WHERE DO I REMEMBER DAVIDSON FROM?
Probably from 2008, when they were the mid-major darling who came within a whisker of knocking off eventual national champion Kansas in the Elite 8, losing 59-57. Before that, Davidson had knocked off #7 seed Gonzaga (82-76), #2 seed Georgetown (74-70), and #3 seed Wiscosnin (73-56). That Davidson team was led by a skinny sweet-shooting superstar named Stephen Curry; you might have heard of him.
Now he just does stuff like this to NBA teams.
DO IOWA AND DAVIDSON HAVE ANY COMMON OPPONENTS?
One team -- North Carolina. Iowa notched one of their best wins of the season by holding UNC to 28% (!) shooting in a 60-55 road win in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge in December. Davidson got pounded by UNC, 90-72, on a neutral court in November.
WHAT WERE DAVIDSON'S BEST WINS OF THE SEASON?
Top of the list would have to be Davidson's 82-55 beatdown of VCU just over a week ago. That was a highly impressive thrashing of another NCAA Tournament team. Davidson's next-best win would probably be their 77-60 win over Dayton (another NCAA team) back in January. Beyond that, though, there aren't signature wins on Davidson's resume. The Wildcats played a pretty middling non-conference slate, minus games against North Carolina and Virginia (both losses); their best win outside of league play was probably a 110-99 (!) shootout over a Montana team that just missed the NCAA Tournament.
HOW DOES DAVIDSON LIKE TO PLAY?
Pretty fast and furious. Davidson averages 67.8 possessions per game, putting them on the high end in terms of pace in the NCAA Tournament field (17th fastest). Davidson uses all those possessions to score a lot of points -- 79.9, or 6th best in the nation, to be precise. Davidson is anything but a volume scoring outfit full of chuckers, though -- they boast one of the nation's most efficient offenses, with an adjusted efficiency rating of 118.5, 8th best (!) in the nation. Davidson is a wickedly good shooting team, with a 56.0 eFG% (11th best, nationally) drawn from 39.3 3FG% (17th best, nationally) and 53.5 2FG% (17th best, nationally). In other words, Iowa's defense may need to be operating at peak capacity in this contest for Iowa to have a shot to win.
WHO ARE DAVIDSON'S BEST PLAYERS?
Davidson's main man this year is 6-4, 180 lb senior guard Tyler Kalinoski. Kalinoski was tabbed the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and led Davidson in scoring (17.0 ppg), while also finishing second on the team in rebounds (5.6 rpg) and assists (4.1 apg). Kalinoski scores all those points not necessarily by dominating the offense (though he did attempt a team-high 401 field goals this year), but by being an efficient scorer and high-percentage shooter: he made 47% of his field goals, including 43% of his 3-pointers. He's also not a guy you want to put on the free throw line late in games -- he made 79% of his freebies. (He doesn't draw a lot of fouls, though -- he attempted just 75 free throws all season; Aaron White calls that a decent month.) Kalinoski is absolutely capable of getting red-hot and taking over a game.
But Davidson is anything but a one-man show. Two of Kalinoski's teammates, Jack Gibbs and Brian Sullivan, made second team All-Atlantic 10, and for good reason: Kalinoski got the plaudits for Davidson this year, but Gibbs wasn't far behind him -- 16.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.8 apg, 1.6 spg, and even better shooting numbers than Kalinoski (49% FG, 44% 3FG, 85% FT). If Iowa devotes too much attention to slowing down Kalinoski, Gibbs is very capable of picking up the slack. Sullivan was a more-than-adequate third wheel, too, averaging 12.8 ppg (on 40% FG and 35% 3FG), 3.0 rpg, and 3.9 apg. Finally, Jordan Barham also averaged double figures for Davidson, pumping in 11.9 ppg to go along with a team high 6.0 rpg.
WHAT IS DAVIDSON'S WEAKNESS?
One thing Davidson does not have? Size. Davidson routinely plays what is essentially a four-guard lineup, with Kalinoski slotted at SF and 6-4, 190 lb Jordan Barham listed as the nominal power forward. The tallest guy on the court in those lineups is most commonly 6-7, 205 lb Peyton Aldridge. There's no question that Iowa should have an enormous size advantage in the post with giants like Adam Woodbury (7-1), Gabe Olaseni (6-10), and Aaron White (6-9) available down low. Jarrod Uthoff (6-8) is a challenging matchup for pretty much any team, but a wing with his size and skill should be an absolute nightmare for a much-smaller Davidson. How well Iowa is able to leverage that size advantage will go a long way in determining whether they can win this game.
It's worth noting that Davidson's losses to North Carolina and Virginia both featured big games by the bigs for the Tar Heels and Cavaliers. Kennedy Meeks (6-9, 280) and Justin Jackson (6-8, 190) combined for 37 points (on 16/23 shooting) and 15 rebounds for UNC, while Anthony Gill (6-8, 230) had 25 points (on 11/16 shooting) and 13 rebounds for Virginia. When Richmond pantsed Davidson, 89-63, the Spiders' bigs were a key part of the rout: Terry Allen (6-8, 235) and T.J. Cline (6-8, 240) combined for 44 points (on 17/23 shooting) and 12 rebounds.
Outside of Woodbury, Iowa's bigs don't quite have the same girth that most of the bigs for those other teams had, but Gabe, White, and Woodbury aren't exactly lightweights, either. Aaron White has been on one hell of a roll for Iowa over the past month and this is a match-up that, on paper, appears to set up very well for him. There would be few things sweeter than one of Iowa's best players of the Fran Era keying the Iowa win that ends the 14-year drought between Hawkeye wins in the NCAA Tournament.