Last year, Duke beat Davidson 75-47 in Cameron and held then-freshman phenom Stephen Curry to five points on 2-9 shooting. Both teams are likely to be different this season.
Davidson is struggling a bit more than we would have expected, the UNC game aside. Although Curry is averaging 26 ppg, and Davidson is throwing up 86.6 ppg, they're not exactly crushing people.
They lost to Western Michigan, a fairly mediocre team thus far, and got pushed by Appalachian State. That's a conference rival, so it's a little different, but still, we would have expected them to drill ASU like a dentist on crack. They barely won, and Curry hit 38 out of Davidson's 71 points. Not ideal.
The other opponents were Emory and NCCU, and it's hard to learn much from those blowouts.
But even though Duke hasn't lost to Davidson since the early 80s, Bob McKillop always brings his team in ready to play, and they always show that they're smart and well-coached, even if Duke is killing them. And that's saying something impressive about the Wildcats, or really, any team: if you still execute and play a disciplined game even when you're getting killed, you're a solid team. They always stay focused and disciplined.
The biggest problem Davidson has had is simple: not as much talent. Curry is a big exception to this general rule, and obviously Duke will have to control him as they did last year (and equally obviously, Curry is going to want some payback), but in general, it's been true.
Davidson also starts Jason Richards, a 6-2 senior, Thomas Sander, a 6-8 senior, Boris Meno, another 6-8 senior, and Max Paulhus Gosselin, a 6-6 junior from Canada. Davidson has recruited internationally for years, and that continues as six players on the current roster hail from abroad. They also continue the tradition of McKillops as players: following Matt is brother Brendan, a freshman playing for his father. His brother is currently an assistant at Emory.
Since several of their opponents are pretty lame, let's focus on UNC and Western Michigan to get an idea of what they've been doing.
Against the Heels, Curry scored 24 but only hit 8-22. Jason Richards hit 12, and Andrew Lovedale came off the bench for 12 as well.
They were outrebounded by a much bigger UNC, but only by 37-29.
UNC shot 46.2% to Davidson's 38.8%. Davidson was only 4-22 from three point range.
Against Western Michigan, Curry hit for 25 and shot 9-6, and Richards hit for 23. But the Broncos shot 59% from the floor, and won the rebounding battle 29-25, and the three point battle as well, 12 to 9.
Normally, you'd expect Davidson to try and control the tempo against Duke, but with the Wildcats averaging 86.6 ppg, they aren't slowing it down much this year.
But it might be a good idea to try. Duke is averaging 86.5 themselves, and they're beating teams by almost 27 points, and they're applying incredible pressure.
Davidson might be thinking of zoning Duke in order to cut down the penetration by DeMarcus Nelson, Gerald Henderson, Greg Paulus and Nolan Smith, but Taylor King makes zoning Duke very problematic.
In the last couple of games, King has simply been devastating. Duke has traditionally been a team of runs, and they've made the three point shot a big part of that. Like J.J. Redick before him, King is capable of single-handedly breaking a game open, and also in spectacular fashion.
But in some ways the most interesting development has been that of Kyle Singler. Everyone knew that he was good, and probably unusually good. What surprises is how good he is defensively, and in particular how well he has defended against bigger players. He's generally considered Duke's best all-around player, but he's also one of their best defenders. That's huge for Duke's prospects, and presents some big challenges for Davidson, a smallish team anyway.
We usually try and look for some argument for an opponent. Davidson has a great scorer, and that can always keep you in a game. But Duke has multiple defenders to throw at Curry, starting with DeMarcus Nelson, but they can also turn to Gerald Henderson, Greg Paulus, Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer... if he manages to go off against that sort of constant pressure, it's going to be a remarkable achievement.
Their second primary scorer is Richards, who is definitely capable, but who will also face a ton of pressure.
One of the things Duke is doing really well is making it hard just to move the ball. They're trapping more than they've done in a long time, and it's going to tax both guards, who then have to come down and have enough legs left to shoot well.
Davidson has long since incorporated influences from the international game, but Duke has as well, and is now incorporating the Phoenix Suns offense, courtesy of Olympic assistant Mike D'Antoni. Adding that, the pressing defense, and explosive three point scoring, and it's an imposing combination. It's still early, but Duke has at times been a juggernaut.
We admire Davidson a great deal. We're just not sure how they can counter it.