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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
Nobody expects another 16-0 Southern Conference record, but if the Wildcats can replace their departed big men they'll be hard to beat again, because they've got the league player of the year and perhaps the SoCon's best backcourt.
The chances of another perfect SoCon season -- "Hard to do in any league," coach Bob McKillop said -- are slim. But the pickings aren't, and that makes Davidson one of the league favorites.
"We certainly believe we're going to be talented," McKillop said, "and we'll challenge people in our league."
McKillop, who should become the league's all-time winningest coach this year, is a master of resisting the overstatement. Nobody would dare count out the Wildcats, who've averaged nearly 20 wins over the last four seasons. They're coming off an outstanding year that, despite an upset loss in the SoCon tournament to Greensboro, was one to remember.
The perfect record in the league was remarkable, although the Wildcats weren't dominant. Nine of their victories were by seven points or less. But they showed it was no fluke. After the SoCon semifinal disappointment, the players regrouped, reloaded and went headhunting in the NIT. They won at VCU and Southwest Missouri State before falling at Maryland.
"The two victories in the NIT, and a pretty darn good half against Maryland, somewhat erased the disappointment of losing in the tournament," McKillop said. "It made us feel like the season wasn't for naught."
Departed are rebounding wizards Logan Kosmalski (11.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and Conor Grace, both playing in European pro ball. But Brendan Winters (16.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg) is back, and he's one of the better players in the country.
The 6-5, 200-pound senior shot 45 percent from the floor, 43.4 percent on threes (he hit 89), was chosen SoCon Player of the Year and received a summer invitation as one of 14 finalists for USA Basketball's national team in the World University Games. All the other invitees were from major conferences. Winters was the last player cut from the team that played in Argentina.
"He understands that when the team wins, he wins," McKillop said. "He doesn't have to score 20, 25 a night, which he's capable of, but it's better when he can fit into the team. And he's unselfish like that. He makes the other players on the team better, and that's something special.
"His scoring was actually down from the previous year, but we were better."
Winters will share the perimeter with 6-1 senior point guard Kenny Grant (7.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg), who averaged 5.5 assists, and Matt McKillop (7.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg), the coach's son and a 6-1 senior who shot 37 percent from long range.
"Matt can make big shots for us, which he's done a lot, and he sets the tone for the offense," McKillop said. "Kenny is as good as any point guard in the conference."
With three more experienced players in the rotation, Davidson is solid in the backcourt. Jason Morton (10.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg) is a 6-2 senior who was vital off the bench last year, while 6-1 sophomore Jason Richards (1.5 ppg, 0.9 rpg) and 6-4 senior Eric Blancett (1.7 ppg, 0.6 rpg) saw good minutes but didn't serve a scoring role.
The inside game will fall largely to 6-9, 235-pound junior Ian Johnson (11.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg), who shot 53 percent in a reserve role.
"He had an incredible spring and summer," McKillop said. "He's waited his turn and now I think he's ready to seize the opportunity."
As always, Davidson has an international flavor. One of the emerging players could be Boris Meno (1.4 ppg, 2.0 rpg) a 6-8, 215-pound sophomore from Paris. Thomas Sander (2.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg) played nearly every game and shot .765. He has a good finishing touch that extends to three-point range.
Freshman recruits Stephen Rossiter and Andrew Lovedale could also be in the post plans. Rossiter, 6-7, is from Monsignor Farrell High in Staten Island, where he averaged 19 points and 12 rebounds for a Staten Island league and Catholic School championship team and was tournament MVP.
The 6-8 Lovedale comes from the Manchester (England) Magic, where he was one of the top under-20 players and was the U-18 Player of the Year in Manchester. He's a native of Nigeria.
McKillop also signed Max Gosselin, from Quebec's Champlain St.-Lambert High. The 6-6 Gosselin was a Quebec first-team all-star who led his team to a provincial (state) title as a junior and to the title game as a senior.
There's more from abroad. Can Civi (pronounced John Chee-vee) comes from Istanbul, Turkey. He averaged more than 11 points, seven assists and six rebounds for the Efes Pilsen junior club team and played for the Turkish National Team.
Will the freshmen play this year? "All our spots are up for grabs," McKillop said.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
The Wildcats return enough to make them a serious threat in the SoCon again. Last year they opened with a win at Missouri, played tough in losses at Duke, Massachusetts, Seton Hall and Princeton, and then lit into the league schedule for 16 straight victories.
"Our conference run was a matter of a basket here, a basket there," McKillop said. "There was not a big difference. The margin of error in this league is ever so slight, and it should be very much that way this season."
With an experienced backcourt capable of clutch shooting, the Wildcats are again poised to make the basket here or there. Can the reserves who didn't score much last year become impact players this year? Can the post game live up to its high standards despite two key departures?
If history is any indication, and if Winters continues to make his teammates better, the Wildcats will be fighting for a conference title again.
For the most comprehensive previews on all 326 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 25th anniversary edition of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).