If you are anything like me, you spent part of last night wondering how Davidson ever loses a game, since Stephen Curry can hit a three pointer whenever he feels like it. Sure Wisconsin played poorly, ignoring their huge advantage on the interior and settling for contested jumpers, and missing many free throws, but the Davidson offense was simply amazing.
So let's take a look at Davidson's 6 losses and see what we can figure out:
1. 72-68 "At" North Carolina
This is an easy one. They were playing the best team in America and only lost by 4 on a "neutral floor" (the Charlotte Bobcats arena, which I suspect was probably not very neutral). Tyler Hansbrough scored only 14 points and did not hit a field goal in the second half, giving us our first glimpse of Davidson's surprisingly quick and athletic defense. He did go to the line 10 times in typical Hansbrough fashion. What is perhaps more remarkable about this game is that the Tar Heels actually did sort of shut down Mr. Curry, who scored 24 points, but hit only 2/12 from outside the arc. Davidson easily could have taken this game.
2. 83-76 At Western Michigan
In Davidson's worst loss of the year WMU hit over 50% from 3-point range, and more importantly, managed to outscore Davidson by 10 at the charity stripe. This is an even bigger factor at second glance as Stephen Curry fouled out with 1:22 to play and with Davidson trailing by 6. Another thing that jumped out at me about this game is just how bad Curry's teamates were. Curry was his usual 5-11 from beyond the arc, but as a team Davidson was just 9/31, meaning that everyone besides Curry was 4/20. It appears that WMU played a very solid offensive game (like what the Badgers should have done last night) drew contact, and kept it out of Curry's hands. I can't find height stats, but I wonder how he does against taller guards.
3. 79-73 v. Duke
Once again, Davidson was outscored at the Charity Stripe by 9 points, although Duke had an atypically poor night at the line and probably should have won by more. If you look down the stat line, you'll see Davidson winning or very close in every category except 3-point shooting and free throw shooting. This is another game in which Curry was over 50% from behind the arc while the rest of the team was absolutely terrible (4/14). I wonder if Davidson's more recent success has been the result of fewer 3-point shtos by the non-Curry members of the team.
4. 75-68 At Charlotte
These two teams are cross-county rivals, and play this game for the Hornet's Nest Trophy every year. This game was also much close than the final score would indicate as Davdison trailed by only 2 points with just under a minute to play. It's actually pretty tough to tell that Davidson lost this game from raw stats alone. They dominated the glass (49 rebounds to 38) and the offensive glass (15-10), but ultimately it appears that tunrovers and three-pointers did in Davidson, as Curry's teamates once again put up brick after brick (3/20. Ugh.) As I go through the losses, I'm becoming more and more convinced that Davidson probably just reduced the number of 3s being taken by non-Curry members of the team.
5. 75-63 "At" UCLA
This is another "Neutral Site" game that definitely favored UCLA, as it took place in Anaheim. Davidson actually blew an 18-point lead in this game and suffered their third consecutive loss. Curry's game on this evening was very similar to his game against North Carolina, as he was held in check from outside (3/10), but unlike the NC game, Curry was not able to make up for it at the stripe, failing to go to the line. The only reason the game was this close is because the rest of the Davdison crew shot atypically well from outside, hitting 9/17 3s. The free throw disparity was ridiculous as UCLA hit 21 of 30 while Davidson hit 1 of 4. (Again why did the Badgers not pound away inside?) UCLA actually dominated this one after an early scare.
6. 66-65 At NC State
This is the last time that Davidson would lose before running off 25 straight wins. NC State hit a pair of free throws with 3.4 seconds left to eek out a 1 point win. Davidson was once again outrebounded, and couldn't get to the free throw line, but you do see a shift here to more Curry 3-pointers. he was 7/15 while the rest of the team was 4/13, and when you consider that NC State as a team matched the non-Curry Davidson players from outside (4/14) you can see how Davdison made up for their other statistical deficits.
After NC State Davidson went on a tear, destroying their conference in every game. A quick perusal of their NCAA tourney wins shows Curry has been seeing more and more of the teams 3-point tries compared to his teamates. In their early losses Curry was often getting about 1/3 of their total tries, while in their NCAA run he's been getting 50% or more. Against Gonzaga he was an insane 8/10 while the rest of the team was 3/11
. Against Georgetown he was a rather pedestrian 5/15, but the rest of the team was a putrid 1/13
. (In another reversal of early season trends, Davidson actually won this game at the line, getting there 13 more times than Georgetown and forcing Roy Hibbert to foul out.)
And of course, last night against Wisconsin Curry was 6/11 from behind the arc while everyone else went 6/13.
Basically, Davidson is really tough to beat if they can get Curry 50% or more of their total 3-point shots. The elite teams have managed to shut him down on occasion, but I would have told you that both Georgetown and Wisconsin were elite before the tournament started, especially on the defensive end, and they barely slowed him down. Early in the season Davidson featured a bunch of guys who liked shooting 3s, and all but one of them were terrible. Altering their game to get Curry more shots has probably also resulted in more FT attempts as the rest of the team takes it inside more.
Kansas is very good and will probably beat them, but Curry's shooting can cover up for so many deficits that any let-down at all by Kansas will keep Davidson in it.