RICHMOND, Va. – Back on Jan. 14, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (19-7, 11-4 Conference) thumped the VCU Rams (20-7, 13-3 Conference) by 20 points in Western New York. On Tuesday, these two teams square off again in Richmond with a lot more at stake.
The game tips off at 8:30 p.m. and will be nationally televised on CBS Sports Network.
Both the Bonnies and the Rams have two games remaining in the regular season before the conference tournament kicks off in Washington, DC.
Following Tuesday’s rematch, Bona will host the Richmond Spiders on Friday night. VCU heads to St. Louis on Saturday.
The Bonnies need to win one of their two remaining games to secure a double-bye in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, which is imperative to Bona’s postseason hopes. If Bona were to clinch a double-bye, they would only have to play three games in three days to repeat as Atlantic 10 Champions as opposed to playing four games in four days. Considering the Bonnies rank dead last in bench minutes played this season, they need to finish in the Top 4 of the conference.
Meanwhile, VCU has already clinched a Top 4 seed. But they have their sights set on a possible NCAA Tournament berth.
Winners of seven in a row, like the Bonnies, the Rams are surging at the right time. VCU ranks 53rd in NET and 65th on KenPom.
“The top reason [for VCU’s current winning streak] is the emergence of KeShawn Curry,” said Jason Boleman, who covers VCU for A10 Talk. “He has two 20-point games in his career, both of which came in February. He averaged 14.3 points per game (PPG) in February, which far exceeds both his season average and career average.”
When these teams met in January, Curry scored just nine points in 23 minutes of action. Only one VCU starter scored in double-figures in that game and that was Vince Williams Jr., who suffered an ankle injury at UMass on Saturday.
“He’s got a little sprain,” VCU Coach Mike Rhoades said in his Monday press conference. “We were able to get him out of the game and take care of it from there. He’s been [getting] treatment and all of that. He’ll practice today and we’ll see how he is. He’s a warrior, man. This time of the year, even if I tried to sit him down, he’s not sitting down.”
Williams currently averages 12.8 PPG, which leads the team, and grabs 5.6 rebounds per game. His game status is unknown.
If Williams does not suit up, there are plenty of other Rams ready to fill that void.
One of those players is Mikeal Brown-Jones, a 6-foot-8 sophomore from Philadelphia.
“Mikeal Brown-Jones has emerged as a guy that could be a star for VCU in the future,” Boleman added. “He plays with high energy and has impacted the game on both ends of the floor. With Williams missing some time earlier this season, Brown-Jones has stepped up and emerged as a valuable asset. With question marks surrounding Williams’ health, Brown-Jones could get some increased playtime and has elevated his game late in the season.”
Brown-Jones comes off the bench, and averages just 4.3 PPG, but has scored 7, 15, and 11 in each of his last three games.
The Rams now have more experience and are a better team than the one that played in Olean in mid-January.
“I think our younger guys improved defensively, and then I think the whole team improved on the offensive end,” Rhoades said when asked about the current state of his team. “Just taking care of the ball better for the most part, [and] rebounding better has helped. But I just think offensive execution, executing the offensive game plan, and running some of our stuff just better with emphasis. I think that’s been huge since the last time we played [the Bonnies].”
VCU’s offensive metrics have improved.
In January, they were one of the worst offensive teams in the conference.
Now, according to KenPom, the Rams rank 8th in the conference in offensive efficiency and are 2nd in the conference in three-point shooting percentage.
A big reason for this offensive improvement is due to Ace Baldwin, who is VCU’s floor general.
Baldwin averages 11.1 PPG and leads the team in assists. He also shoots 45.6% from three-point range, which also leads the team. The lefty has scored 15 or more points in three of his last five games.
But Baldwin struggled against the Bonnies the first time around, as St. Bonaventure’s Kyle Lofton shut him down defensively.
Lofton will need to replicate that defensive performance on Tuesday if the Bonnies want to emerge victorious. After all, Lofton averages 2.1 steals per game, which is second in the Atlantic 10 behind Richmond’s Jacob Gilyard.
Of course, the big question of the night is if Osun Osunniyi will suit up for the Bonnies.
Osunniyi, perhaps the most important player on this Bonaventure team, suffered a nasty ankle injury on Saturday in the second half against St. Joseph’s. He did not return.
St. Bonaventure Coach Mark Schmidt told J.P. Butler of the Olean Times Herald that Osunniyi will be a “game-time decision” on Tuesday. He also noted that the injury Osunniyi suffered was different than the ankle injury that forced Kyle Lofton out for three weeks in December. The severity of Osunniyi’s injury remains unclear.
Osunniyi averages 7.6 rebounds per game, which is fourth in the conference, and he leads the conference in blocks. He is on track to win the Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year award once again.
Hopefully the Pleasantville, New Jersey native will be able to suit up against VCU because this is a huge game for the Bonnies.
Not only is this a big game in the conference standings, but the Bonnies still have a small chance at an NCAA Tournament At-Large berth.
With VCU ranked in the Top 75 of the NET, this game serves as St. Bonaventure’s last Quad 1 opportunity. If they were to win this game, Bonaventure’s record against Quad 1 and Quad 2 opponents would improve to 7-6. Having an above .500 record against Quad 1 and Quad 2 opponents could carry a lot of weight on Selection Sunday. Plus, Bona does not have a bad loss. (Do not tell me the loss to Northern Iowa on Nov. 27 was a bad loss. The Panthers just won the Missouri Valley regular-season title.)
Hence why if the Bonnies win this game, they could find themselves on the right side of the bubble.
But if they lose, they will have to repeat as Atlantic 10 Champions in D.C. to go dancing for a second consecutive year.
The Bonnies have been playing their best basketball of the season throughout February. They have not lost since Feb. 4 and have vaulted themselves right back into contention.
Jalen Adaway, who scored the go-ahead basket in Saturday’s win at St. Joseph’s, now averages close to 16 PPG. He has been a force to be reckoned with and should be considered a prime candidate for the Atlantic 10 First Team All-Conference.
Despite Adaway’s recent heroics, the Bonnies still need a healthy Osunniyi to win at VCU. If he were to play, this game likely comes down to the last possession. But if he does not suit up, the Rams will exploit Bonaventure’s lack of size inside.
Considering I was on hand in Philadelphia on Saturday, I would be shocked if Osunniyi plays. As such, I think Bona’s current winning streak ends and they fall to 0-3 in games played in the state of Virginia this season.
VCU 67, St. Bonaventure 57
Jack Milko received his B.A. in Political Science from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He is now working to get his M.A. in Sports Journalism from St. Bonaventure University. A lifelong fan of the Bonnies, Jack covers the team for @A10Talk. Follow him on Twitter for more Bonnies coverage at @Jack_Milko.
Featured image courtesy of Dan Nelligan, St. Bonaventure Class of 2020, who serves as a photographer for @A10Talk.