Simplicity is key for Davidson
No. 13 Wildcats focusing on ball possession against No. 4 Louisville
PORTLAND - Bob McKillop is keeping it simple.
'Handling the basketball and getting a good shot every possession,' Davidson's head coach said of the keys to beating the Louisville Cardinals in the first round of the NCAA mens March Madness Tournament on Thursday.
Makes sense. Ball possession is one area in which the No. 13 seeded Wildcats have a distinct advantage over the No. 4 seeded Cardinals. Despite their run-the-floor style of offense, the Wildcats handle the ball well, turning the ball over on just 17.2 percent of their possessions. That ranks 13th amongst the teams in the tournament and 22nd in the country.
Louisville, however, is on the opposite side of that list, with the sixth-worst turnover rate in the field.
But as much as the Cardinals' turnover rate would appear to be a point of emphasis, Davidson is keeping the focus on itself.
'I'm not really sure that we can exploit anything other than the fact that we have to handle the basketball, otherwise that will turn into assists for them,' McKillop said.
Louisville's pressure defense is also able to create turnovers and it has a slightly better turnover margin than the Wildcats. They have four players who average more than a turnover per game, while sophomore guard Russ Smith leads the Cardinals with 2.35 per game.
'They're tremendous at converting turnovers into baskets, so we can not allow them to score transition baskets, as a result of our miscues,' McKillop said.
For Louisville, its focus is on Davidson's fast break offense and how to slow a team that never wants to settle down.
'Davidson is a unique basketball team,' Louisville's head coach Rick Pitino said. 'I've not seen anybody we've faced this year, with maybe the exception of Long Beach State, that runs on every single possession. They don't slow it down one possession, unless it's a sideline, coming out of a timeout situation. So they are as up-tempo as any team that we have faced this year.'
Not only can Davidson set the tempo, but its scoring can come from almost anywhere on the floor. The Wildcats have five players whose points per game average is in double digits. Plus, they have two different conference players of the year selections - De'mon Brooks, who leads the team in points and rebounds per game, was voted the Southern Conference Player of the Year by the coaches, while Jake Cohen was chosen by the media.
'They shoot it at multiple positions. They have two player of the year guys, who are both outstanding basketball players,' Pitino said. 'In order to be a good shooting team, you have to be a great passing team, and they're also a great passing team.
'The main thing any time you play a team like that is you have to disrupt their passing ability. It all starts with pressure on the basketball. If you allow them to pass the ball around, then they'll pick you apart, and certainly they have that ability.'
This is Davidson's first trip to the tournament since 2008 when it made an unexpected run to the Elite Eight behind the play of standout guard Stephan Curry. And on Thursday, the Wildcats are hoping to begin another magical run by beat Louisville, which is a 7.5-point favorite over Davidson.
However, in recent years, first-round opponents have stifled Louisville. The Cardinals have been bounced in the first round the last two years.
And if the Wildcats can make it three years in a row, McKillop is aware of the impact that can have on how outsiders, including recruits, could look at Davidson's program.
'I think what we experienced with Stephen Curry's prescience on our roster was an extraordinary injection of energy into recruiting,' he said. 'Our current roster all responded to that Elite Eight year and that preceding two years and said, 'OK, I can go to Davidson and get to the NCAA tournament.' So participation in the NCAA tournament is a great stage for us and accentuates our ability to recruit.'
The Wildcats come into the tournament having won 15 of their last 18 games. But the small-conference school has been through its share of tests this season. They beat No. 2 seeded Kansas on the road in December and played close games with both Duke and Vanderbilt.
'Well, I think we have to come in with the confidence that we've earned all year,' Cohen said. 'We've played a really tough non-conference schedule. I think we're well prepared to play in a game like this. I think we need to handle the pressure well. They're a good team. If we handle the pressure well, we'll be in good shape.'
On Wednesday, the Wildcats had a 40-minute practice session at the Rose Garden in Portland, Ore. This evening they'll hold another practice at a local high school. On Thursday, tip-off with Louisville is at 10:40 a.m. on TBS.