Sunday, December 31, 2006

Davidson Finishes December Unbeaten

For the first time since the famed 1968-69 season, the Davidson Wildcats went undefeated in the month of December. Led by a group of excellent free shooters, aggressive defenders, lights-out three-point snipers, courageous rebounders and leaders that are seemingly playing over their heads, the Wildcats have slipped into the Top 10 of the Mid-Major Top 25 poll, and different RPI estimates have them ranked in the Top 35 in the country.

The Wildcats are averaging 81.9 points per game, and their leading scorer, freshman Stephen Curry, is 21st among mid-majors with an average of 19.3 points per game. That number is 3 points higher than Brendan Winters' four-year average of 16.0 points per game. As a team, the Wildcats are sixth in the country with a clutch FT % of 76.9, and Jason Richards ranks third in the country with an average of 7.1 assists per game.

The highlights of December have come in the form of a tremendous trubbing of rival Charlotte in front of a record crowd in Davidson, key road SoCon road wins in the homes of conference contenders UNC-Greensboro and Chattanooga, and a tremendous effort to win the ASU Sleep America Classic with wins over Ohio University and Arizona State. The icing on the cake came this past Saturday as the Wildcats' defense forced 26 turnovers to pull past Western Michigan, despite shooting only 33% from the floor.

Although detractors might claim that Davidson's claim to success is undermined by the less-challenging scheduling that was formed this year due to the Wildcats' loss of 4 starters, Davidson has shown remarkable maturity as they had chances to beat both Michigan and Missouri in the final seconds. This team has played a very tough schedule and has responded in kind.

This year's early success has been the result of a combination of Wildcat staples and new ingredients in the milkshake of success. Hanging their hat on every players' ability to shoot from anywhere on the court, Davidson has maintained a wide open offense that relies on screening, passing, spacing and shooting. When big guys Thomas Sander and Boris Meno have shown the ability to hit the outside three-pointer, defenses have been less willing to double team and leave anyone open anywhere. It also helps when you have players like Curry and Archambault who can hit jumpers when double-teamed falling backwards out of bounds.

But Davidson has also been much more effective in the transition game as they have the guard and small forward speed to grab loose balls, contest every pass and dribble, and run the fast break. All of a sudden, half-court defense is not enough to slow down one of the program's highest scoring offenses in recent history. Davidson's 7.5 steals per game is enhanced by their +1.6 turnover differential in a defense that has held opponents to only 42% shooting and an average of 70 points a game. The offense starts with the defense, and this defense is good.

With remarkable spikes in attendance, media attention, and game success, this Davidson Wildcat basketball program is heading to new heights. Starting in next week's showdown against the College of Charleston, the Wildcats will now have to prove that they are the best in the Southern Conference. If they don't, then this December will become a passing memory.

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