The St. Bonaventure Bonnies (10-2, 8-2 Conf.) head down to Richmond on Friday to take on the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Rams (14-4, 7-2 Conf.). This game tips off at 7 pm on ESPN2 as it has colossal implications for not just the Atlantic 10, but for the NCAA Tournament too.
Currently, St. Bonaventure sits atop the Atlantic 10 standings while VCU lurks just a half-game behind them.
Back on January 20, VCU held a 40-25 halftime lead over Bona at the Reilly Center. It seemed as if the Rams were headed for another blowout victory over the Bonnies. But St. Bonaventure had other ideas as the Brown and White rallied to win 70-54.
When asked about VCU, St. Bonaventure Head Coach Mark Schmidt said, “[The first game gave] us confidence that we can play with them… But at the same time, it’s a whole different game. We have to get off to a better start. We have to play better than we did in game one if we expect to win. And they have some momentum, they have won four straight.”
VCU has unquestionably caught fire since that loss in Western New York. During that four-game winning streak, the Rams defeated the Dayton Flyers twice while also knocking off Rhode Island by a point in Kingston.
Before taking a deep dive at scouting the VCU Rams, let’s take a look at how this game impacts the big picture.
The Big Picture
At this point, St. Bonaventure ranks 39th in the NET while VCU sits three spots above at 36.
When selecting teams for the NCAA Tournament field, the Selection Committee prioritizes Quad 1 victories. The table below defines each quadrant based on the NET ranking of an opponent and the location of the game:
Since VCU is ranked 37th, a Bona victory on Friday night would count as a Quad 1 victory for the Bonnies. To date, Bona has a Quad 1 record of 1-1: winning at Richmond while losing at St. Louis. The Bonnies also lost at Rhode Island, a Quad 2 loss, which should not hinder their resume.
St. Bonaventure had limited opportunities during their non-conference slate, defeating only Akron and Hofstra. Neither of those victories jumps off the table, although Akron has played well as of late. The Zips currently rank 83rd in the NET. Since the Bonnies play in the Atlantic 10, Quad 1 victories are hard to come by, as opportunities come erratically when compared to Power Five conferences.
Nonetheless, the Bonnies have an excellent opportunity to bolster their resume and pick up their second Quad 1 victory of the season on Friday night. A Bona victory at the Stuart C. Siegel Center would prove huge come Selection Sunday.
Meanwhile, for VCU, a home victory over Bona would count as a Quad 2 win. VCU is 3-0 against Quad 2 but they do not have a Quad 1 victory to date. The Rams beat the Memphis Tigers on a neutral floor back on November 27, but Memphis ranks 60th in the NET. VCU would love for Memphis to play well down the stretch. That victory could blossom into a Quad 1 win if Memphis shoots up the NET rankings.
Furthermore, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has VCU as his last team in the NCAA Tournament field. The Rams need every win that they can get and a victory over the Bonnies would certainly increase their chances at making the Big Dance. For what it’s worth, Lunardi currently has St. Bonaventure in the field as an 11 seed.
Clearly, Friday night’s game has massive implications for both teams.
Scouting the VCU Rams
Since joining the Atlantic 10 before the 2012-13 season, the VCU Rams have the highest winning percentage (.648) of any team within the conference. VCU has found themselves at the top of the conference every year because of their terrific defense, tremendous depth, and solid coaching.
VCU has always had one of the best defenses in the country and this year is no different. VCU’s “Havoc” defense ranks 14th in the country in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. “Havoc” employs a full-court press for the entire game, which explains why the Rams rank in the top five in the following statistics: turnover percentage, block percentage, and steal percentage. In fact, VCU has forced at least 15 turnovers in every game except for one.
The Rams also turn those giveaways into quick points, as VCU holds a 22-3 record over the past two seasons when scoring 20 or more points off turnovers. Ironically enough, the last time these two teams played, Bona outscored VCU 26-10 in points off of turnovers. Nonetheless, the Bonnies will need to take care of the ball tomorrow, or else VCU will make them pay.
When discussing VCU’s defense, Coach Schmidt said “it’s hard to simulate their pressure. We know how to break it in practice, but it’s hard when they come at you going full speed.”
VCU has not given up more than 67 points since the loss in Olean three weeks ago.
Anchored by 6’9″ forward Hason Ward, the VCU defense has played terrific as of late. Ward, the Sophomore who has a wingspan of 7’4″, leads the team in averaging 2.4 blocks per game, which ranks second in the Atlantic 10. He also leads the team in rebounding, averaging 5.1 boards per contest. Since starting Center Corey Douglas sprained his ankle last week, Ward has started at the five-position in the last two games. If Douglas remains sidelined tomorrow, then Ward will matchup against Bona Center Osun Osunniyi.
Although VCU has only two scorers that average more than ten points per game (PPG), the Rams still have tremendous depth up and down the roster. In the January 20 game, VCU’s bench outscored St. Bonaventure’s 17 to three. VCU Head Coach Mike Rhoades will play eight to nine guys per game as he needs his guys fresh to employ their “Havoc” defense. In fact, eight players see at least 15 minutes per game.
Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland leads the Rams in scoring, averaging 19.2 PPG. Coach Schmidt called Bones, “one of the better players in our league.” Last season, when St. Bonaventure played VCU in Richmond, Hyland, a freshman at the time, dropped 21 on the Bonnies. He can score very quickly and at all three levels. Over his last four games, Hyland has scored 28, 24, 23, and 19 points. The Sophomore has been on fire as of late. The Bonnies will need to keep Bones in check to have a chance at victory.
Vince Williams and Levi Stockard III can wreck opposing teams on either side of the ball.
Williams, the 6’6″ Junior, averages 10.9 PPG. He scored 11 the last time these two teams met. Like Bones Hyland, Williams has lit up the scoreboard as of late. He dropped a career-high 19 points in the win over Dayton this past Tuesday. He also went five of eight from beyond the arc in that game too.
Levi Stockard III, the big and tough physical Senior from St. Louis, has scored 15 and ten points respectively in VCU’s last two games. Stockard actually had to miss VCU’s game against LaSalle back on January 30 because he was in the concussion protocol.
Another player to watch out for is Adrian “Ace” Baldwin Jr. Baldwin, the Freshman point guard from Baltimore, MD, has started every game so far this season. Ace averages a terrific 4.6 assists per game. His game is very similar to that of Yuri Collins, the floor general for the St. Louis Billikens.
Similar to VCU teams of the past, this Ram squad has tremendous depth yet again. Although Corey Douglas may be out, Hason Ward can fill that void.
Watch out for Jamir Watkins and KeShawn Curry too, both of whom see at least 16 minutes per game coming off the bench.
The Rams are looking to seek revenge against the Bonnies. They certainly have the ammo to do so.
Keys to Victory for Bona
The Bonnies have won at the Siegel Center only once: in 2018 when both Courtney Stockard and Jaylen Adams scored 21 points apiece. If St. Bonaventure wants to win at the Siegel Center for the second time in history, the Bonnies will have to (1) take care of the basketball, (2) shoot 40% or higher, and (3) get Jalen Adaway more involved.
As noted above, VCU forces turnovers like no other team in the country. In the January 20 game, Bona gave the ball away on 15 occasions. They actually won the turnover battle by four. Bona will have to replicate this on Friday night; they cannot afford to turn the ball over more than 15 times.
Bona has done a good job so far this season limiting turnovers. The Brown and White give the ball away on just 17.6% of their possessions, good for 93rd in the country according to KenPom.
In the loss at Rhode Island, Bona turned it over 20 times, a season-high. Last Saturday against St. Louis, when the Bonnies lost their second game of the season, the Bonnies gave it up only 11 times, but they struggled to keep the rock in the early going. Their sloppy start was one of the main reasons why the Bonnies faced a setback in Missouri.
Thus, the Bonnies cannot force ill-advised passes against the VCU press.
Whoever wins the turnover battle will likely emerge victorious Friday night.
Shoot 40% or Higher
In the loss at St. Louis, St. Bonaventure shot 36.4% from the field while the Billikens made 43.4% of their attempts. Bona’s poor shooting was another reason why the Bonnies came up short.
Back on January 20, the Bonnies shot 42.4% from the field while VCU shot only 32.2%. VCU and St. Louis have similar pedigrees, as these two teams are some of the best in the conference. It seems as if the 40% mark is the magic number and whoever can shoot better than 40% will likely win the game.
Teams usually shoot better on their home floor, as comfort with the depth perception plays a huge role. Coach Schmidt alluded to this in saying: “everybody is better at home, and VCU certainly is. They’ll shoot it better. It certainly is going to be another challenge.”
Last Tuesday against LaSalle, the Bonnies shot the lights out at home. Bona shot a season-high 60.9% from the field and also went 9 of 14 from beyond the arc.
Before the LaSalle game, Bona point guard Kyle Lofton drained only 9% of his three-point field goal attempts.
He changed his tune against LaSalle on Tuesday night, going three for three from downtown. It was the first game all season in which Kyle made multiple threes.
Schmidt discussed Kyle’s shooting with the media and Coach said: “[Kyle] really works at it. We knew that he would break out sometime because he puts so much time in it… shooting is a lot of confidence and he shot the ball well [against LaSalle] so hopefully, he gains confidence in that. When he’s shooting the ball, he’s that much better.”
Indeed, Kyle is that much better when his shot is on. Inside the arc, Kyle has shot the ball well. His shot from outside has been a different story. Hopefully, his success against LaSalle gives him a much-needed confidence boost in his outside shot at VCU.
With all of this in mind, the Bonnies will need to continue their hot shooting streak down in Richmond. 40% is the magic number. To get to that mark, the Brown and White will need to take clean looks, play unselfishly, and get every bounce possible.
Jalen Adaway, the Redshirt Junior from Logansport, Indiana, transferred to St. Bonaventure from Miami of Ohio. Due to NCAA rules, Adaway had to sit out the entire 2019-20 season. While with the Miami Redhawks, Adaway started 46 of 63 games over two seasons and averaged 8.0 PPG during that span.
Last year, some coaches felt that Adaway was the best player in practice. His teammates must have felt so too as they selected him to serve as a co-captain this season.
Adaway’s leadership has shown from the sideline as he has tried to fill the void of an empty Reilly Center. He is one of the team’s biggest cheerleaders, always encouraging his fellow Bonnies.
When I asked Schmidt about Jalen Adaway, Coach had nothing but great things to say about one of his captains:
“He is an undersized four-man, VCU has got some big guys, but he plays much bigger than he is. He is the most athletic guy we’ve got on our team. He’s playing with a lot more confidence offensively, shooting the ball a little bit better. He’s great on our baseline. But sitting out last year, it’s always a challenge to come back and be competitive and I think that he is finding his game as the season goes along. As he plays better, we’re gonna be a better team. He’s a mismatch problem for other teams. When he plays well as he did against LaSalle, we’re that much better.”
Adaway’s game has certainly improved since the beginning of this season. Against LaSalle, Adaway scored 20 points. He also had 10 at St. Louis last Saturday, a game in which he drained two from downtown. Perhaps Jalen should get the green light more often from deep. In his second season at Miami (OH), Adaway shot 35% from beyond the arc.
Furthermore, Adaway has been extremely efficient inside. He has shot better than 60% from the field in seven games already this season. He even went 11 of 12 against St. Joe’s back on January 6 and made seven of nine versus LaSalle last Tuesday. If Adaway can continue to get great looks and shoot more from the outside, any team that Bonaventure plays will have trouble containing him.
Finally, similar to guard Dom Welch, Jalen Adaway is a terrific defender and rebounder. In conference play, Adaway has snagged seven boards per game. He has been a beast so far for the Bonnies and I think the best is yet to come.
For the Bonnies to win at VCU, Jalen has to have a big game. Not only will his contributions aid the box score, but it will also open up other shooters, such as Kyle Lofton, which only makes this Bonaventure offense that much better.
It’s another huge game for the St. Bonaventure Bonnies. The entire country will tune in for this #FridA10 matchup of the week.
Last season, the Bonnies lost by 28 at the Siegel Center. This time around, I think the narrative changes. I think Lofton and Adaway have huge games. I also think Osun Osunniyi plays a clean game as he will likely matchup against Hason Ward inside. My only worry is that the Bonnies will cough up the rock too much, but the Bona backcourt has experience and athleticism: the perfect formula to beat the “Havoc” press.
Prediction: St. Bonaventure 68, VCU 66