For the first time in three years, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (8-1, 6-1 Conf.) received votes in this week’s AP Top 25 Poll. Winners of six in a row, Bona was awarded six votes, which is good for 41st in the country. For what it’s worth, the 25th ranked team, the Louisville Cardinals of the ACC, recieved 117 total votes.
Nonetheless, with St. Bonaventure on the periphery of the Top 25, we should now explore Bona’s chances of going to the NCAA Tournament in 2021, which will take place entirely in Indianapolis.
During each press conference so far this season, St. Bonaventure Coach Mark Schmidt has fielded questions regarding Bonaventure’s standing in the Atlantic 10 or on the possibility of securing an NCAA Tournament Berth. In each instance, he has redirected the question and has said that his goal is to focus solely on their next opponent, regardless of where Bona sits in the standings.
But we are roughly mid-way through this unprecedented college basketball season. Next week, the calendar flips to February and the year’s shortest month always makes or breaks a team’s season.
Thus, let’s explore St. Bonaventure’s upcoming schedule and how each game can impact the big picture. Of course, with Covid-19, these games can face cancellations or postponements at any time.
At Davidson – Saturday, January 30
Aside from the two games against St. Louis and a home matchup against Richmond, all three of which have not been scheduled yet, next Saturday’s game at Davidson is the toughest remaining game for the Bonnies.
St. Bonaventure and Davidson have this entire week off, so both teams will come into this contest well-rested.
Davidson currently holds a record of 10-5 with conference losses to Richmond and to Dayton in overtime. Davidson Coach Bob McKillop has yet another tough team and they certainly will test every opponent they play. Kellan Grady and company could give Bona some fits once again.
KenPom has Davidson ranked 63, while Bonaventure sits at 52 in those same rankings. Thus, for St. Bonaventure, KenPom sees this game at Davidson as a “Tier A” opportunity.
What does this mean? KenPom defines “Tier A” and “Tier B” opportunities as such: “A game in Tier A represents a top 50 opponent adjusting for the location of the game, and Tier B is the same concept for a top 100 opponent.” Nonetheless, this metric is very similar to the idea of “Quad 1, Quad 2, Quad 3, and Quad 4” victories and losses, which is what the Selection committee uses in determining the at-large bids for the tournament field.
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index currently gives the Bonnies only a 31.7% chance at victory while KenPom projects the Wildcats to prevail by a score of 67-66.
Ultimately, if the Bonnies drop this game at Davidson, their at-large chances will not drastically diminish. On the other hand, a win in Charlotte would prove huge for Mark Schmidt’s club. Keep an eye out for my preview of the Davidson Wildcats later in the week.
February: A Month of Land Mines
At St. Joseph’s – Wednesday, February 3
The Bonnies open up the shortest month of the year at St. Joseph’s on Wednesday, February 3. The Hawks are in the cellar of the conference, as they have yet to win a game in Atlantic 10 play. The Bonnies cannot afford to drop this one at Hawk Hill.
George Mason – Saturday, February 6
Three days after a trip to Philly, the George Mason Patriots visit Olean to take on the Bonnies. This is yet another game the Bonnies cannot lose if they want to go dancing. Although Mason sits at 4-4 in the conference at this point, they have beaten St. Joe’s twice, LaSalle, and UMASS in double overtime. Even one of the victories against Joe’s went into double overtime. With no quality wins on Mason’s resume, this would be a gut-wrenching loss for the Bonnies, especially at home.
At UMASS – Sunday, February 14; At George Washington – Sunday, February 21
Beginning with the week of Valentine’s Day, Bona has to make the trip to Amherst, MA, and to Foggy Bottom in DC to take on UMASS and George Washington. Both of these games have trap games written all over them. Tre Mitchell averages 20.0 PPG for UMASS and can disrupt St. Bonaventure’s Osun Osunniyi inside on both offense and defense. And, despite their poor record, George Washington plays tougher than what their win-loss total indicates. Nevertheless, Bona cannot lose these games.
Of course, as you can see, Bonaventure has two open dates during this stretch to make up for the games lost against George Washington and St. Louis earlier in the season due to Covid-19. I would expect the Atlantic 10 to announce amendments to this schedule soon as Bona has to host GW, Richmond, and SLU at some point. Perhaps the Bonnies host George Washington before the game in Foggy-Bottom which would give a home-home opportunity for both teams. But, then again, with Covid-19, the whole schedule can be turned on its side. Look no further than how the Bonnies played Duquesne twice in an eight-day span.
LaSalle – Wednesday, February 24
Before February concludes, St. Bonaventure plays host to LaSalle. The Explorers have played spoiler to the Bonnies before, and they would love to do it again. Five years ago, when the Bonnies were famously snubbed by the NCAA Tournament Committee in 2016, Bona lost a heartbreaker to LaSalle on a snowy Wednesday night at Tom Gola Arena in February. Perhaps, if Bona wins that game, then the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes would have gone home crying instead.
Last year, on Leap Day, the Bonnies also faced a setback at the hands of LaSalle in Philly. Thank goodness the Bonnies do not have to play at Tom Gola Arena this season, as that has become St. Bonaventure’s house of horrors. Since 2012, the Bonnies have only beaten LaSalle once in Philly, while the Bonnies have won their last two against the Explorers in Olean. The Bonnies can not let the Explorers play spoiler yet again, especially at home, or else their chances of going dancing will spoil on the spot.
Thus, these “land-mines” are games St. Bonaventure should win and must win. If the Bonnies stumble against one of these teams, then Bona will likely have to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament outright to get to the NCAA Tournament. Since the Bonnies faced numerous Covid-19 obstacles earlier in the season, they only played two non-conference games which greatly diminishes an Atlantic 10 team building a quality resume for the committee. This only emphasizes the importance of not stumbling in these games.
Dayton – Sunday, February 28
By the time the Dayton Flyers stroll into Olean on the last day of February, the Bonnies hope to be well-positioned within the Atlantic 10 standings and within the NCAA Tournament bubble.
The Flyers lost Obi Toppin to the New York Knicks and are not as formidable as they were a season ago. I feel so bad for Dayton fans as I truly believe that last year’s team could have won the National Title. What a story that would have been for Dayton and for the Atlantic 10.
But Dayton still has Jalen Crutcher and Ibi Watson. The Flyers are a tough matchup for the Bonnies, even though Dayton lost to Fordham earlier this season. At this moment, KenPom has Dayton ranked 85th. St. Bonaventure fans will want Dayton to keep winning so that Dayton’s stock rises. Bona would love for this game to blossom into a “Tier B” opportunity as a victory over the Flyers here will only boost Bonaventure’s tournament resume.
Another Date with the Spiders
The Bonnies also have to play Richmond once again in Olean. To date, Bona’s best win of the season is at Richmond, when the Bonnies prevailed 69-66 to open up the new year. Similar to the upcoming Davidson game, if the Bonnies lose to the Spiders, it’s not the end of the world. But two victories over a team that was ranked in the Top 25 earlier in the season would prove huge for St. Bonaventure’s at-large chances.
Two Unannounced Dates with #22 St. Louis
The Bonnies still have to play St. Louis twice, one game at Chaiftez Arena in The Gateway City and another game in Olean. The Billikens have not played since December 23 and are scheduled to host Dayton tomorrow night on January 26 and at Richmond on Friday night January 29. These two games will be vital for the 22nd ranked team in the nation. It remains to be seen how St. Louis will respond after this long layoff. But the Billikens are still the cream of the crop of the Atlantic 10 and played terrific in the non-conference. St. Louis defeated LSU, Indiana State, and NC State and their only loss came to the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who are now 21st in the country, on December 20.
If I were to guess, Bonaventure’s two games against St. Louis will likely take place in March. We could see a home-home series take place within a 48-hour span to conclude the regular season. Whenever the Bonnies play SLU, Bona needs to at the very least win one of those games to further enhance their resume.
For a better visual of the overall schedule for the Bonnies, and what it means for the big picture, look no further than this beautiful graphic from our friend @SBUnfurled:
Here's a look at the opportunities and landmines of our remaining schedule.
Don't sweat rescheduling that GW game, Bernadette, but make damn sure those other three TBD's get played. pic.twitter.com/ScaZo99Z3i
— SBUnfurled (@SBUnfurled) January 24, 2021
What National Bracketologists Are Saying
According to BracketMatrix.com, the Bonnies appear in 48 of 75 online brackets. Furthermore, St. Bonaventure’s average seed is 11.08. This clearly demonstrates that the Bonnies are firmly on the bubble at this point in time.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Bonnies projected as a 12 seed in his bracket. But Lunardi has the Bonnies winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament, in which Bona becomes an automatic qualifier. This is due to the fact that St. Louis has yet to play a conference game despite being ranked 22nd in the country. Right now, the Bonnies find themselves atop the conference standings, hence why they are labeled as automatic qualifiers in some brackets.
On The Athletic’s Mid-Major Top 10, St. Bonaventure comes in at third behind St. Louis and Boise State, respectively. Seth Davis of The Athletic also labeled St. Bonaventure as a “Cinderella;” he furthered this point by saying: “Mark Schmidt’s Bonnies don’t have any dynamic scorers, but they rank 11th in the country in scoring defense (60.7) and have surprisingly emerged as Saint Louis’ top challenger in the A-10.”
As of right now, the Atlantic 10 has one team firmly in the field: St. Louis. If the Bonnies can pick up three of five victories against the likes of Davidson, Richmond, Dayton, at St. Louis, and home versus St. Louis, then they should be in good shape. Of course, this comes with the notion that Bona does not stumble upon one of those land-mines discussed.
The Bonnies need to continue to play stout defense and they need to improve upon their shooting woes in order for this to fall into place. St. Bonaventure has the best defense in the conference while they rank 11th in the Atlantic 10 in three-point field goal percentage.
Ultimately, if those two things happen, then we should expect the Bonnies to win three of those five marquee games that I listed and find themselves dancing in Indianapolis.