The St. Bonaventure Bonnies (10-3, 8-3 Conf.) head back down to Virginia to take on the George Mason Patriots (9-8, 5-6 Conf.) on Thursday at 2 pm on ESPN+.
Originally, the Atlantic 10 Conference scheduled the Bonnies to host Fordham on Wednesday night.
This plan was scrapped after Fordham University announced that its campus would shut down for two weeks because of rising Covid-19 cases in the Bronx.
Thus, the commissioner’s office in Newport News, Virginia improvised and scheduled a Thursday matinee between the Bonnies and the Patriots.
Furthermore, the Atlantic 10 announced on Tuesday that St. Bonaventure will host Davidson on Sunday. That game will tip at 3:30 pm and can be seen on NBC Sports Network. The conference scheduled this with the NCAA Tournament in mind, as both teams currently find themselves in the Top 100 of the NET rankings.
Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, however.
For now, let’s focus on the George Mason Patriots.
Scouting the George Mason Patriots
Back on January 30, the Bonnies throttled the Patriots by a score of 84 to 67 at the Reilly Center. The Bonnies shot over 60% from the field as Bona dominated that game wire-to-wire.
Since that point, Bona has dropped two of three while George Mason lost to Dayton and beat up on Fordham.
In previewing the first matchup between these two teams, I wrote that St. Bonaventure should not overlook George Mason’s starting five. This sentiment remains true for the rematch.
Guards Jordan Miller, Javon Greene, and Tyler Kolek all average in double figures; the only Patriots that currently do so.
Miller, who scores 15.9 points per game (PPG), had 16 against Dayton and 16 more against Fordham.
Back in January, during the press conference leading up to the first Bona-Mason game, I asked St. Bonaventure Head Coach Mark Schmidt about Jordan Miller. He had tremendous praise for Mason’s leading scorer:
“[Miller] plays a three-four [combo guard]. He can play with his back to the basket. [Mason does] a lot of stuff where they get their guys eight-to-ten feet off the block and they face up and play one-on-one, and he’s really a good one-on-one player. He can shoot the ball from the perimeter, he has good size and has a good nose for the ball. He’s a good rebounder. He’s leading their team because he is a really good player. He can score in a lot of different ways.”
Fairfax, VA – Junior guard Jordan Miller, wearing #11 for George Mason, tries to lock down on defense in a game against Fordham on February 11, 2021. Photo courtesy of A10Talk.com.
In conference play, Miller has taken 25% of George Mason’s shots, according to KenPom. Clearly, the Middleburg, VA native is a cornerstone of the Mason offense. He shoots 40% from downtown and can score inside as well.
Playing alongside Miller in the backcourt is Javon Greene, who averages 11.3 PPG. Back in January, Greene struggled against the Bonnies as he scored just six points in the RC. He has bounced back nicely since then: scoring 14 points against Dayton and another 14 against Fordham. Greene also shoots well from three, as he drains 35.8% of his attempts from beyond the arc. In fact, in conference play, Greene ranks first in the Atlantic 10 in shooting 45.3% from deep, according to KenPom. He clearly has the potential to light it up on any night.
The Freshman southpaw from Cumberland, RI, Tyler Kolek, rounds out the George Mason backcourt. Unlike the rest of his team, Kolek had a solid game at the Reilly Center last month. He scored 17 points and drained four threes in that game. Kolek currently averages 11.1 PPG.
Ultimately, George Mason has three solid guards. Although they do not have the talent nor experience that St. Bonaventure’s backcourt does, the Patriots still pose as a threat as they shoot the ball very well. At this moment, George Mason ranks third in the conference in three-point shooting as the Patriots make 35.4% of their attempts from downtown.
Horrendous Free Throw Shooting
Josh Oduro and AJ Wilson are reliable forwards inside. Oduro, a Sophomore from Gainesville, VA, averages 9.9 PPG and 6.1 rebounds per game. Wilson, a Redshirt Senior from Laurel, MD, averages 8.6 PPG and snags 5.5 rebounds per contest.
Both players have solid numbers across the board except for their free-throw shooting. Oduro shoots 54% from the line while Wilson hits just a putrid 47% of his free throws.
For what it’s worth, Miller, Greene, and Kolek all shoot roughly 77% from the line, a solid percentage. Good teams shoot their free throws at a 75% clip or higher.
Aside from those three, however, oof.
As a team, George Mason ranks 344th in the country, almost dead last, in free throw shooting. The Patriots have made only 60% of their free throws so far this season.
The charity stripe has haunted George Mason so far this season, which could help the Bonnies if this game comes down to the final minutes.
How Do the Bonnies Win?
Simply put, the Bonnies cannot afford to lose this game. George Mason currently ranks 141st on KenPom and 159th in the NET. A St. Bonaventure loss would count as a Quad 3 loss, which would all but end Bona’s hopes for an NCAA Tournament At-Large Bid.
Nonetheless, the Bonnies will win if (1) they stay out of foul trouble, (2) outrebound the Patriots, and (3) score 70 points.
Staying Out of Foul Trouble
Boy, oh boy has this plagued the Bonnies as of late.
In the game at Chaifetz Arena, the Bonnies racked up 18 fouls compared to St. Louis’ 13. Bona guard Dom Welch fouled out with two minutes to play and guard Kyle Lofton had four fouls of his own. On top of this, Jaren Holmes picked up three fouls in the first half. The Bona backcourt shot themselves in the foot by hacking up the Billikens.
Then at VCU, the Bonnies found themselves in foul trouble yet again. Bona committed 24 fouls compared to VCU’s 17. Holmes again committed three first-half fouls, and like the St. Louis game, he saw only 26 minutes of action in Richmond. Welch committed four fouls, while Lofton had three of his own. And forward Osun Osunnyi fouled out with three minutes to go as the Bonnies ended up losing by three.
Not only do fouls take players out of the game, but they also impact a player’s psyche. When players rack up fouls, they cannot play as aggressively as they should on both offense and defense. Fouls also diminish a player’s confidence. Look no further than Holmes and Lofton from last Friday at VCU, as the two stars combined to score just 12 points. Both players average more than 12 PPG.
Therefore, the Bonnies cannot rack up fouls against George Mason. Bona does not have a deep bench as Schmidt rides his starters into the ground. This philosophy only emphasizes the importance of not fouling.
Outrebound the Patriots
As I noted on Tuesday, in Atlantic 10 play, the only team that gives up more offensive rebounds than St. Bonaventure is VCU, according to KenPom.
Coach Schmidt discussed this flaw in his post-game presser on Friday night: “we didn’t cover down and do a good job blocking them out, but even so it wasn’t our defense, it was more their 19 offensive rebounds and just getting extra shots. It was the second chance points that were the difference.” VCU’s had 16-second chance points to Bonaventure’s 10.
The last time the Bonnies and the Patriots squared off, Bona won the rebounding battle 38 to 27, despite giving up 12 offensive rebounds. This is ironic given that Mason has rebounded the ball well this season. In fact, the Patriots rank in the top 50 in offensive rebounding percentage, according to KenPom.
Although Jalen Adaway is extremely athletic, he is undersized at the four-position as he stands at 6’5″. Nonetheless, the Bonnies need to do a better job of clearing the glass. They have the athleticism to do so: Schmidt has called Adaway the most athletic Bonnie. Osunniyi is a monster on the boards and Welch can leap up and take any missed shot out of the air. The Bonnies may not have the size to rebound, but they certainly have the athleticism to jump for loose balls.
Simply, the Bonnies need to do a better job boxing out, and not allow second-chance opportunities, or else the Patriots could upset the Bonnies.
If you have followed my game previews throughout this unprecedented St. Bonaventure season, then you will notice that I set the 70-point mark as the magic number the last time these two teams played.
The Bonnies have scored 70 or more points in six games thus far. The Brown and White hold a record of 6-0 in those games.
To get to 70, Bona has to get the ball to Osunniyi inside more. For him to get the ball more, he needs to get lower in the post and do a better job vying for a position on the block. The South Jersey native currently averages 10.8 PPG, but that figure will only increase if those two things happen. He has the potential to score 20 plus when given the opportunity. Osunniyi even scored 25 in the season opener against Akron, but he has yet to score 20 or more since.
Furthermore, Osunniyi is the best passing big man in the Atlantic 10. If defenders collapse on him inside, then he will find an open Dom Welch on the wing. Or he will find Jalen Adaway cutting in along the baseline. And of course, to get Osun the ball, some off-ball screens may need to be called against his defenders. Last time against Mason, Osunniyi torched the Patriots as he did not face a double-team. This time around will likely be different, which only emphasizes the need for off-ball screens and off-ball movement so that Osun can get the rock more.
If the Bonnies prioritize Osunniyi in the offense more, then reaching the 70-point plateau should not be difficult.
Does anyone else secretly enjoy the unprecedented schedule changes this season?
I personally love it as it allows our imaginations to run wild.
For instance, the University of North Carolina Tar Heels posted a tweet looking for a non-conference opponent this week. Bona fans scrambled, trying to envision a date with one of the most storied programs in college basketball.
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be:
So much for that pipe dream. I guess UNC just wanted a little easy mid-week tune-up. https://t.co/rEwStVcopJ
— SBUnfurled (@SBUnfurled) February 16, 2021
So instead of the Tar Heels, the Bonnies get the George Mason Patriots. The Bonnies cannot afford to lose this game as a loss would greatly hinder their chances of an NCAA Tournament At-Large bid.
Following the loss in Richmond last Friday, I think the Bonnies leave Virginia this time with a win. Coach Schmidt has emphasized the importance of focusing on one game at a time, and the craziness of scheduling this year has allowed teams to do just that. All of the focus is on George Mason and I think the Bonnies take care of business in Fairfax.
Prediction: St. Bonaventure 74, George Mason 64