Vermont’s Latest Budding Superstar Prepares for Year Three
Last year, Ryan Davis introduced himself to Catamount country. This year, he’ll look to make an even bigger name for himself as Vermont’s next great big man star. During his sophomore campaign just a season ago, Davis had a breakthrough performance that saw him average 9.5 points and 4.4 rebounds a game while appearing in 31 games for the Cats. Davis would only make three starts on the year, but it was his tenacity off the bench that found him locking up the America East Sixth Man of the Year award. Poised for an even larger role this winter, Davis has the traits of a true star in the making. Can we expect more hardware in the young forwards future?
Grad transfer Daniel Giddens got the starting nod over Davis a season ago, but it was Davis who made the greatest impact. Averaging almost five more minutes a contest, Davis asserted himself as the prominent big man next to Anthony Lamb. Both Giddens and Lamb have moved on, meaning the spotlight will be on Davis as he prepares to take on even more responsibilities both on and off the court.
When Davis first arrived in Burlington it was clear to see the young forward had the necessary skills, but would need some time to hone and develop them. After a fairly lackluster freshman year in which Davis averaged 3.3 points and 1.8 rebounds a game, the big man would explode onto the scene the following year, more than doubling those averages. In fact, his points per game average a season ago (9.5) was more than his best outing as a freshman (8 points).
His gigantic leap forward a season ago has plenty of fans and pundits alike drinking the kool-aid. Davis is primed to take another step in his new role, as Catamount fans hope he continues to age like a fine wine. SHEESH! Davis raised the bar last year, setting a new level of expectations for himself. The now upperclassman aims to once again shatter the glass ceiling and etch his name in Catamount history.
How Davis can Make an Impact
Davis certainly made quite an impact a season ago. The aforementioned America East Sixth Man of the Year winner made significant strides from his freshman to sophomore campaigns. The big man would cap the year as Vermont’s third leading scorer, while also finishing third on the team in blocks and first in offensive rebounds. Davis proved his consistency throughout the year, as he hit the 10+ points and 5+ rebounds mark 12 different times. He made a tremendous amount of big time shots, but perhaps none bigger than the game-winner against rival Hartford to keep Vermont atop the America East standings.
The impact Davis is able to have this year should be even more noteworthy. Embracing a full-time starting role for the first time in his career, along with becoming one of the Cats preeminent figures makes Davis a key player to watch every night. Listed at 6’9, Davis is just a hair off from that elite F/C height, but the big man is a truly exceptional playmaker on both ends of the court.
One of the major facets in the development of Davis just a season ago was his shooting percentage, particularly being able to consistently finish around the rim. As a freshman, Davis mustered a humdrum 39% from the field and 21% from deep. Flash forward to his sophomore campaign where the big man made significant strides, jumping up to 53% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc. His 53% mark from the floor was second only to Giddens (58%), but considering that Davis took 219 shots compared to Giddens 76, it seems almost silly to compare the two.
Davis has a surprisingly solid stroke from deep and presents a huge mismatch for opposing defenses when he drifts out to the perimeter. His athleticism isn’t jumping off the chart at you, but Davis will make defenders pay if they try to close out on him. Davis can sell the up-fake and blow right past them to the basket. Giddens and Lamb might be gone, but incoming grad transfer Tomas Murphy will be there to help Davis shoulder the load. Murphy is a phenomenal insider scorer, meaning we might see even more three-point attempts in the future for Davis as he’ll look to create space.
Room for Improvement?
When Davis first arrived in Burlington he had the look of a typical big who dominated at the high school level almost exclusively because of his size. Davis was able to get by at times during his freshman year, but in order to play a significant role at the division one level he’d have to truly grind. Credit to Davis, as that’s exactly what he did. Who knows if it was Jenny Craig or Sarah’s Discovery, but the big man slimmed down while adding solid muscle. Imagine Minnesota Kevin Love to Cleveland Kevin Love. By all accounts it appears that Davis has continued his commitment to improving his overall health and fitness and as we saw last year, it certainly made quite an impact on his game.
However, despite the strides Davis has made from year one to year two, there’s still plenty of areas that could use a touch up. One of those would be rebounding. With a 4.4 rebounds per game average, Davis would finish third on the team behind the likes of Lamb and Ben Shungu. Both of those players are tremendous rebounders, but Davis is taller than both and without a doubt should have been pulling down quite a few more. In 14 of the 31 games he appeared in last year, Davis would finish with less than four boards. Vermont does have great rebounders at guard and at the wing, but as the Catamounts primary big man Davis needs to have a greater authority on the glass.
Another area of improvement for Davis which goes hand-in-hand with rebounding is becoming tougher and more physical in the post. Davis is without a doubt strong enough to bump around and handle himself, but he’s previously tended to shy away from contact with more finesse moves when operating out of the paint. Realistically this is just his style of play and if it’s not broke don’t fix it, but imagine how dominant Davis could be if he focused on finishing through contact with his shots.
Likewise, being more physical and assertive would help significantly on the defense end for Davis. In the previous years the Cats have had Giddens and Sam Dingba as their defensive enforcer in the paint. Neither were afraid of getting dirty and set the tone when opposing teams tried to attack the basket. Unfortunately the Cats don’t currently have someone who fits the mold of a Giddens or Dingba. Davis is a solid defender, but his game is geared more on the offensive side. By emphasising a commitment to playing stout hard-nosed defense, Davis can take the next step forward to becoming an elite player on both ends of the court.
After last year’s breakout performance Davis will likely have some pretty lofty goals ahead of him. The reigning America East Sixth Man of the Year will likely not be in line to repeat, as he has much bigger aspirations. Despite winning that coveted award, Davis was unable to find himself on any of the America East All-Conference teams. However, if Davis can paraly his success from a year and continue his accession, he’ll definitely be in contention to land first team honors come selection time.
Another goal for Davis could even be taking home the prestigious America East Player of the Year. With another solid year Davis might certainly find himself in contention for the award, but his biggest competition could very well come from running mate Stef Smith, who currently projects as the odds on favorite to capture the hardware. Even if Davis falls short in the America East Player of the Year race, being held in strong contention would continue to signal his rise and growth as a player. While plenty can change between now and then, Davis would widely be considered the favorite to capture the award come 2021-22 if he manages to finish second to Smith this year.
Throughout his career Davis has missed a handful of games due to injuries, so another checkpoint for the big man would be to play a complete season. This will be the first time in his college career that Davis will average over 20 minutes a game and ideally the training staff will have a plan in place to ensure proper rest and recovery. Big men typically take on more stress hustling up and down the court, so Davis will have to be mindful as to not overwork himself in certain situations. The best ability is availability.
From a statistical standpoint, Davis will likely continue to see improvement across the board. As previously mentioned, cleaning up the glass in particular should be a strong point of focus for Davis. Last year’s jump from 1.8 to 4.4 was a substantial improvement and hopefully there’s still plenty more to be had. Anywhere around 6-7 boards a game would mark a solid advancement in his ability to control the boards.
The last Catamount to see a significant jump from their freshman to sophomore year was Stef Smith, who went from 3.9 points a game, all the way up to 12.4. Granted Smith became a full-time starter that year, but he was still able to assert himself as a prominent player and future star for the Cats. Davis took a massive leap, but was still used primarily off the bench. With another 7-8 minutes a night looming in his future, Davis should likewise be able to follow in Smith’s footsteps.
This is a big year for Davis, as he’ll need to prove that last year was no fluke and that he can without a doubt handle the responsibilities that come with this new role. While many (including myself) believe that Davis will take his game to the next level, this year will also be a good indicator to gauge whether Davis is ready to become the guy for the Cats. This is a very senior-laden group of Cats. Is Davis ready to take the reigns?
2020-21 Statistical Predictions
- 26.6 minutes per game
- 13.7 points per game
- 6.4 rebounds per game
- 0.8 assists per game