Following their quarterfinal victory over Duquesne on Friday, the (#1) St. Bonaventure Bonnies (14-4, 11-4 Conf.) will take on the (#4) St. Louis Billikens (14-5, 6-4, Conf.) at 6 pm on Saturday on CBS Sports Network.
This Atlantic 10 Tournament semi-final matchup will be contested at the Siegel Center in Richmond, VA.
The Billikens have had St. Bonaventure’s number over the last couple of years. In the 2019 Atlantic 10 Championship game, the Bonnies blew a nine-point halftime lead and lost to the Billikens 55-53. Last year, in what ended up as the season finale, St. Louis steamrolled St. Bonaventure 72-49. Then back in February, the Bonnies could not get past the hot-shooting Billikens, as St. Louis prevailed once again 70-59.
Can the Bonnies snap a three-game losing streak to the Billikens and make it to their second straight Atlantic 10 championship game? We shall see tonight. But, first, let’s scout the Bills.
Scouting the St. Louis Billikens
The Billikens are probably the deepest team in the mighty Atlantic 10 conference. St. Louis Head Coach Travis Ford will likely play eight or nine guys against the Bonnies. Eight Billikens average at least fifteen minutes per game. Across the board, the Billikens are just solid.
Two Double-Digit Scorers
Javontae Perkins and Jordan Goodwin are the only two Billikens that average more than ten points per game (PPG).
Perkins, who stands at 6’6″, averages 17.3 PPG, which leads the team. He scored 21 against the Bonnies back on February 6 and had 25 in the quarterfinal victory over UMASS on Friday. Perkins, who is an Atlantic 10 Player of the Year candidate, could be the best scorer that the conference has to offer. He can utilize his bigger frame to drive to the rim and he has a terrific stroke too. Perkins actually shoots 40% from downtown as he’s truly a handful.
Alongside Perkins in the backcourt is Jordan Goodwin, who leads the conference in rebounding as a 6’3″ guard. Goodwin can leap through the roof. He has a nose for the basketball too. Goodwin averages 14.7 PPG and shoots 31% from beyond the arc. He scored 18 in the victory over UMASS.
These two terrific guards combined to score 43 points against the Minutemen in the Quarterfinals on Friday. If Perkins and Goodwin catch fire once again against the Bonnies, it could spell trouble for the Brown and White.
The physicality of St. Louis starts with Hasahn French, the 6’7″ forward from Middletown, NY. French weighs in at 240 pounds, and he is not afraid to toss his weight around. He currently averages 9.0 PPG and 7.4 rebounds per contest. On February 6, French played just 17 minutes against the Bonnies as he found himself in foul trouble. It was his only game this season in which he failed to score. Rest assured that French will be looking to bounce back against the Bonnies this time around. He had 8 points and 11 rebounds against UMASS on Friday.
Coach Ford has another great defensive team on his hands as the Bills rank 55th in the country in terms of defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. Additionally, St. Louis forces a turnover on 17.4% of their possessions, good for 3rd in the conference.
Furthermore, the Billikens are tremendous on the boards. St. Louis ranks eighth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, which measures a team’s ability to get offensive rebounds. Perhaps even more impressive, the Billikens rarely give up offensive boards, doing so just 21.4% of the time, which ranks seventh in the country.
St. Louis is the best rebounding team in the Atlantic 10 as they rank first in averaging 39.6 rebounds per game.
Other Solid Contributors
Sophomore Yuri Collins leads the league in assists, averaging 6.0 per game. Collins erupted for 17 against UMASS on Friday, which matched his season-high. He also drained two threes. Collins usually looks to pass first, but he has demonstrated that he can score a bit too. He averages 5.5 PPG and will start at point guard for the Bills.
Sophomore Fred Thatch also can score in bunches. He averages 5.6 PPG and will likely be the first man off the bench for Coach Ford. Thatch does not particularly shoot it well from the outside so look for him to create offense off the dribble or from mid-range.
Another solid asset for the Billikens is Martin Linssen, the Junior forward from Germany. Standing at 6’8″ and weighing 255, Linsen uses his frame to create offense in the post. He too averages 5.6 PPG and scored 9 against UMASS.
How Do the Bonnies Advance to the Championship?
On paper, the Bonnies are the best team in the conference. Bona ranks first in the Atlantic 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. And they of course finished the regular season alone at the top of the standings.
Yet, the Bonnies come into this Semifinal matchup against St. Louis as an underdog. To prove the doubters wrong and advance to their second straight Atlantic 10 Final, the Bonnies will need to (1) lock down the perimeter, (2) go through Osun on offense, and (3) drive at the St. Louis big men.
Locking Down the Perimeter
Against the Bonnies this season, opposing teams have shot just 30.5% from beyond the arc, which ranks 32nd nationally, according to KenPom. Bona also gives up just 60.6 PPG, which ranks first in the country. The numbers clearly show that the Brown and White have done a tremendous job this year defensively.
However, the one game where the Bonnies struggled with their perimeter defense was against St. Louis on February 6. The Billikens shot 40.7% from downtown as they drained 11 threes. Perkins made four while Collins and Gibson Jimmerson each made two.
The Billikens shoot the ball well, as they have made 35.5% of their three-point attempts this season.
To beat the Billikens on Saturday, the Bonnies must keep the St. Louis shooters in check.
St. Bonaventure Junior forward Osun Osunniyi had arguably the best game of his career in the quarterfinal victory over Duquesne. He finished with 18 points, shooting nine of 13 from the field. He also snagged 14 rebounds, dished out six assists, and recorded three blocks. Better yet, he picked up just two fouls and played 38 minutes!
Against Duquesne, the offense went through Osunniyi in the post. When the ball goes through him in the paint, the offense shines. Osunniyi has the offensive repertoire to make a move towards the basket. He can also dish it out to a shooter or he can find a cutting Jalen Adaway. As I have said before, ‘Shoon is the best passing big man in the conference. He certainly supported my argument in Friday’s win.
Following the victory over Duquesne, St. Bonaventure Head Coach Mark Schmidt said, “we passed the ball from side-to-side better than we did [in the loss to Dayton] on Monday. When it gets stuck, everything slows down and the defense sets itself. We have to get the ball moving and when we do, we’re a pretty good offensive team.”
The Bonnies looked terrific on offense on Friday because Osunniyi was such a focal point in the offense. I would love for St. Bonaventure to continue to do the same against St. Louis and go through ‘Shoon.
Attack the Rim
In Friday’s win over Duquesne, the Bonnies failed to get to the free-throw line. Bona attempted just eight from the charity stripe while the Dukes shot 16 free-throws.
Dom Welch, Jalen Adaway, and Jaren Holmes should all look to attack the rim and draw contact against the St. Louis big men. Even Osunniyi should lean into some contact to try and draw a whistle.
Bona can shoot two birds with one stone in attacking the rim: scoring from the line and keeping notable Billikens sidelined.
Plus, when driving to the rim, the defense will collapse which then opens up shooters on the outside.
If the Bonnies can get Hasahn French in foul trouble once again, I like the Brown and White’s chances.
The St. Bonaventure Bonnies are due to beat the Billikens at some point.
I think today is the day as I envision a low-scoring, defensive slugfest that comes down to the final possession. I also think Osun Osunniyi plays another huge game and leads the Bonnies to the Championship game next Sunday in Dayton.
St. Bonaventure 61, St. Louis 60