Am I the only Gonzaga fan that still cringes and gets angry thoughts when thinking about Davidson? Even though last season produced a Sweet 16 appearance for the Zags, I still think about what could have been if the 2007/2008 team could have just held on in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament. Of course, it was that great run to the Elite 8 that helped put Davidson basketball on the map, and turned Stephen Curry from a talented player into a household name. However, when these two teams meet up in the Battle in Seattle, the names will be much different, as will the expectations for both programs. Davidson is in their first year without Curry, and as you might imagine, it will be very difficult to find a replacement for the type of production and leadership that Curry provided for the Wildcats. Gonzaga will also probably have lower expectations heading into the Battle in Seattle, as last year the Bulldogs were ranked in the top 10 and were facing a nationally ranked UConn team. However, this game will provide some insight into whether the Davidson program has the ability to stay on the national scene even with the departure of arguably its greatest superstar.Last season: As strange as it may sound, I would think that many Davidson fans would consider last season a little bit of a disappointment. Despite winning 27 games, the Wildcats were not able to return to the NCAA Tournament and repeat their terrific performance from the previous season. The main reason that Davidson didn't make the NCAA Tournament was because of the inability to win the key non-conference games. The Wildcats dropped games against Oklahoma, Purdue, Duke, and Butler, with a win over any of those teams likely sending them to the Big Dance. During the years where Gonzaga struggled, the Zags have always been able to take care of business in conference play. This was not the case for Davidson, as the Wildcats lost in the Southern Conference tournament, thus denying them the guaranteed tournament berth. Despite a fantastic season, which saw Curry average over 28 points per game, Davidson was forced to settle for a spot in the NIT. After opening the NIT with a victory over South Carolina, the season came to an end in a great game against St. Mary's.
New Faces: While no one individual can be expected to replace the production of Curry, the Wildcats have a nice set of newcomers who will help ease the scoring burden. The most highly recruited of the group is 6'4 JP Kuhlman. Kuhlman is an excellent scorer, and with his size, can score both inside and outside. He is expected to make an immediate impact for head coach Bob McKillop. Jake Cohen also has a chance to see some early minutes for Davidson. The 6'10 forward has the ability to be a force on the defensive end, as he does any excellent job of using his height to block and disrupt shots. He also shoots the ball well from the outside, which will be a huge asset with his size. Rounding out the group is Nik Cochran. The 6'3 Canadian is an excellent shooter, but it appears that he might be a little farther away from contributing because of his lack of strength and experience against top level competition.
Players to watch: After losing both Stephen Curry and Andrew Lovedale, it is difficult to find where the offense will come from for this team. One guy that will certainly have to boost his production and take on a bigger role is Will Archambault. The 6'6 forward moved into the starting lineup for the Wildcats at the end of last season, and finished the season as the 3rd leading scorer. Archambault is an excellent shooter from beyond the arc, but also has the size to take his defender into the paint and score. It will be interesting to see if Archambault is capable of becoming more of a scorer, or if he is better suited to play as a role type guy for this team. Brendan McKillop may be the son of the head coach, but he is also an excellent player who seems ready to step into a starring role. McKillop averaged only 4.9 points off the bench last season, but he is a heady guard who can shoot the lights out when he is in a rhythm. He should have more of an opportunity to score and run the team with the departure of Curry. A lot will be expected of highly touted sophomore Frank Ben-Eze. Ben-Eze is one of the most decorated recruits to step foot on the Davidson campus. However, as a freshman, Ben-Eze never found consistent playing time for the Wildcats. With the graduation of Lovedale, Ben-Eze will have an excellent opportunity to show his talent and play consistent minutes.
Concerns: It's so difficult to figure out what Gonzaga should be concerned about heading into this game with the uncertainty that surrounds both teams. After thinking about it, it came to me that the greatest concern is in fact the uncertainty surrounding this Davidson team. Over the past couple of years, teams knew that if they could slow down Stephen Curry, they could beat Davidson. However, this year, the Wildcats will return to the systematic and structured offense that Bob McKillop normally uses. With so much screening and motion going on, this is the type of offense that can be nearly impossible to stop when the Wildcats shoot the ball well. As many Gonzaga fans can attest, there have been some teams that certainly have had unbelievable shooting performances against the Zags defense.
What we are watching for: This game should be an excellent opportunity for the entire Gonzaga front court to gain confidence and put together a dominant performance. The Wildcats don't have much depth or experience in the front court, and this is the type of game that could see Rob Sacre, Elias Harris, and Andy Poling have big nights. Harris has more athleticism and ability then anyone Davidson can put on him, while both Sacre and Poling are just bigger and stronger then what the Wildcats can match with. If this front court is going to develop over the season, this would be a big game to boost their confidence and development.