by Varun Maheshwari (he/him)
Varun Maheshwari: So I guess my first question is, we’re 6-1. We’re a very different team from last year. What can you sort of talk about this year’s squad? And the differences that, you know, you face as a first year head coach?
Matt McKillop: Yeah, well, like you said, we did lose quite a bit. And I, myself and our staff, believe that we had all of the right pieces returning to be a successful team. And, you know, we’ve shown that at times, so far, our record would indicate that as well. But we felt that the right pieces would quickly fit offensively. And I think we’ve seen the results of that. And our players all fit our system. They have skill, they have intelligence, they know how to play.
I think one thing that maybe took for granted as a staff and as a team, throughout the summer and throughout the fall was the defensive detail that a veteran like Luka Brajkovic ‘22 or a veteran like Michael Jones ‘22, or a veteran like, [Hyunjung] Lee and Nelson Boachie-Yiadom ‘22 brought to our team every single day. And I think we’ve seen that the biggest weakness we’ve had is pieces of our defense. And it has yet to become a habit that it becomes over the course of a career, over the course of an entire season, playing together. Often offense is the first thing for Davidson basketball, that we want to get everybody comfortable with and acclimated to. And while we did spend quite a bit of time on defense, I think there were some things that we thought would work because they worked with last year’s team that maybe aren’t working quite as well. And that’s a day to day thing. That is a work in progress. And I think it’s getting better. It’s gotten better in the second half yesterday against San Francisco was maybe the best we’ve been.
VM: Let’s dive into the Charleston Classic. They were a very good team and they ended up winning the whole thing. Could you walk me through the game against College of Charleston, and sort of just what happened in that loss?
MM: Like you mentioned, they’re very good. They’re very talented. They’re very old. I think the guy who led them in scoring 25, in his seventh year of college. They started three graduate transfers. So we had to match their physicality to be able to compete in that game. And it took us really until the second half, I believe, until we started doing that consistently. We fell behind in the first half. We closed the gap, I think we cut it to three points. So one possession game, early to midway through the first half. And then like they do, they forced some turnovers, they got some offensive rebounds, and they hit some threes and those threes were very deflating. But you did not see that same deflation from our team yesterday in the first half when I think San Francisco made six of the first eight threes. So we’ve been in that situation before we found ourselves in that situation before we knew how to better respond and to be more resilient than maybe we were that first game in Charleston. So as disappointing as every loss is, they’re a really feisty offensive rebounding team. They [CoC] sometimes hit the glass with four guys, even five players, which is very, very unusual. I think when you have a lot of veterans it’s a little bit easier to do that. But we did not do a good enough job on the defensive glass protecting offensive rebounds. That was the biggest takeaway from that game.
VM: Gotcha. I mean, this is more of a general thing, too, but I feel like rebounds have been a problem this season. Especially losing Luka. Right?
MM: Yeah and we’ve played some teams that are really good offensive rebounders, which is no excuse. But, you know, you’re looking at the KenPom statistics and like, “Well, how do we manage to play all these good offensive rebounding teams, the first three weeks of the season, when we’re a new group getting together and we’re not quite the defensive rebounding team that we’re known for being?” You mentioned Luka, but you know, for us to be a good rebounding team, it takes every single person doing their job. And if sometimes there’s a longer bounce, sometimes there’s a bad bounce, but you typically wouldn’t battle those battles when it’s a 50-50 ball, if you’re in the right place, and you’re doing the right thing. And too often, we have four guys or even three guys doing it and we need all five guys doing it. Old Dominion had a very strong offensive rebounding team. And they did not go as aggressively to the offensive glass in the second half of our game against them, because we did such a good job hitting them in boxing out in that first half. So we’re making steps in the right direction.
VM: Can you just talk about like his [Reed Bailey ‘26] role right now? What is his sort of projection for this season as a first year and our three star best recruit?
MM: Yeah, I wouldn’t compare him to Luka, he’s, he’s big, and he’s long, and that’s maybe the comparison that can easily be drawn. But he’s very versatile. And I think that is that has been seen numerous times throughout the season. He’s athletic, he’s a very good finisher, he can handle the basketball, he can pass the basketball. So he’s incredibly versatile. Peyton Aldridge ‘18, and was A-10 Player of the Year; one of the best players in the history of our program, if we were to compare read to somebody, I would probably put them more in the category of Peyton as versatile for me to complete the perimeter, more so than Luka.
But he’s been our go-to guy at times. We played games over the summer in Europe; two close scrimmages. We saw pretty early on what Reid would be capable of. I think yesterday [SF game] was a great matchup for him. And we knew that defensively he would be able to match up with his man one-on-one very well, and the same thing on the offensive end. But we’ve given some different assignments to Reed because of his athleticism and his length, because he’s smart enough to understand it. So it’s not just the scoring that maybe you see that we get excited about. It’s the way he can hedge ball screens and recover from ball screens, which is something that we’ve always struggled with defensively.
VM: A big part of our team right now, obviously, it’s our captain Foster Loyer ‘23. His workload has seemed to be a lot. I just wanted to kind of give you the floor to talk about Foster’s workload and what you expect from him this season.
MM: Yeah, I mean, when you’re as good as Foster, we need you on the court as much as possible. And you know, we have a plan to sub in and out for everybody when we go into a game, but then somebody picks up a foul, and the plan changes immediately. We don’t want to be playing Foster, 37 minutes a game, every single game, we have at times gone deeper into our bench. But we have to be doing that more often. The challenge is Foster is tough as nails, and he’s really good. And he doesn’t like coming out of the game. So when he’s on the court, great things happen. But we do have other players that can help us be really successful.
VM: But the changing culture of Davidson using the transfer portal and with our two transfers this year, David Skogman ‘24 and Connor Kochera ‘24, who both have been huge parts of our game so far, can you just sort of touch on them? And what they’ve brought in the first seven games and what you think they’re going to continue to bring moving forward?
MM: Yeah, well, they bring incredible character, incredible attitude and are an incredible fit for the way we do things on the court, but also in our locker room and on this campus. They fit Davidson in every way. And that is, you know, the changing culture will lead us probably to look at the transfer portal a little differently than maybe we have in the past. But we’ll never fall short of bringing in the right people that will thrive at Davidson. Connor and David, I believe, are those types of people and I would imagine everybody who comes into conversation with them would say the same thing. You’ve seen at times, each of them make a huge impact on the both offensive and the defensive side of the ball, and rebounding. We’ve won games because of their production. We’ve won games because of their leadership. We’ve won games because of their experience. We do have a lot of newcomers. But if you think about it, David is a very experienced college player as is Connor, having started games and having played a lot of college minutes against quality competition. So they’re leaned upon for many different things. offensively, defensively in our locker room. As leaders, we expect them to continue to improve, continue to get better and develop, but continue to find their role in our offense and continue to find the role in our defense to help us win.
VM: Charlotte on Tuesday, and then you have Delaware on Saturday. What do we look to expect? We have a big rivalry against them. We beat Delaware last year, but they’re always a good team. So what do we expect coming forward?
MM: So Charlotte has had a good start to the year. I think they won their first four games, and then they lost their two most recent games to UMass in the championship of the Myrtle Beach tournament. And then they lost on the road to Detroit Mercy. So another team that has really been using the transfer portal in a way that makes me not as familiar with them year to year as I have with Charlotte in the past. I think they’re starting two or three different players that weren’t even on their roster last year. I’m very familiar with their coach, their style of play and their stingy defense. They have Ali Khalifa who’s an incredible passer and I think he might have been the Freshman of the Year in that conference last year. They put the ball in his hands a lot and containing them at the five spot is going to be gonna be a major focus of our defense. They come from the Virginia background of playing the pack line defense, the Tony Bennett, stingy defense, and we had struggled against it for two years, but we were very effective against it last year. And we played it at their home arena last year. but like you mentioned it’s a big rivalry, fighting for the Hornet’s Nest trophy, quite possibly the ugliest trophy in college basketball, but I’ve been around this programming for a very long time. And we’ve had some great matchups with Charlotte but it is something I have circled on the calendar every single year because I know the history and I know how our alumni feel. I know how our players feel, I know how our former players feel, and this is an important game for Davidson basketball. Delaware, I have not thought about that at all. One day at a time but I think they were projected to finish towards the top of that league. They won the league last year and we were excited to go on the road to play teams of that caliber. We believe those are the ones that can define our season and show us that we can be road warriors and help us build confidence towards the Atlantic-10.