ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – In January, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (15-7, 7-4 Conference) played in just six games due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Some of those games that were originally scheduled were canceled while others were postponed to February. Look no further than Bona’s most recent victory, a Valentine’s Day win over the St. Louis Billikens, as an example of this. That game was originally scheduled for Jan. 8. So on Wednesday, Feb. 16, Bona will host the Massachusetts Minutemen (11-12, 4-7 Conference) in what will be St. Bonaventure’s sixth game this month already.
“It’s like the NBA,” said St. Bonaventure Coach Mark Schmidt when asked about the schedule. “All of our kids want to play in the NBA so they are seeing what that schedule looks like.”
“These kids would rather play games than practice,” Schmidt added.
Wednesday’s game will be Bona’s fourth game in eight days.
The condensed schedule seems to be paying off for the Bonnies as the Brown and White have won three in a row.
Tip-off against the Minutemen is slated for 7 p.m. and the game will air on ESPN+.
Scouting the UMASS Minutemen
The Minutemen are the epitome of an average team on paper. Currently, UMASS is one game below .500 and is three games below .500 in conference play. In our most recent power rankings, the A10 Talk staff picked UMASS as the 9th best team in the Atlantic 10.
To put this in better perspective, there are 357 teams in Division I basketball. UMASS ranks 174th in the NET and 182nd on KenPom. They are right in the middle of the pack.
To some, average may mean boring. But UMASS is a unique and fun team.
They thrive on offense and can shoot the ball well.
But the Minutemen struggle defensively.
Just look at the below scouting report, courtesy of KenPom:
UMASS is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country, as they have drained close to 39% of their attempts from deep so far this season.
All five starters for the Minutemen shoot at least 34% from beyond the arc.
Noah Fernandes, a 5-foot-11 guard from Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, leads the team in scoring. He averages 14.8 points per game (PPG). Fernandes, who started his collegiate career at Wichita State, averages 5.4 assists per game, which leads the team. He is the floor general for the Minutemen and will likely match up against St. Bonaventure’s Kyle Lofton. Fernandes also shoots 39% from downtown, although he has struggled with his stroke as of late. Over his last four games, Fernandes has made just 3-of-14 from three-point range while averaging just 7.0 PPG. He will have a tough time scoring against Lofton, who just shut down St. Louis’ Yuri Collins over the past two games.
With that said, Fernandes is still a threat to score. Plus, he is not the only scoring option that UMASS has to offer.
Alongside Fernandes in the backcourt is Rich Kelly, a 6-foot-1 graduate student who hails from Shelton, Connecticut.
Kelly leads the conference in three-point field goal percentage, as he has connected on 48.6% of his attempts from deep. He has attempted 108 three-pointers this season, thus proving that he is an elite shooter. But in his last game against St. Joseph’s, Kelly could not hit the broad side of a barn: he went 1-for-8 from the field and 0-for-4 from deep. He finished with just three points as UMASS snuck past the Hawks by two, winning 69-to-67.
A couple of other players to keep an eye out for are Trent Buttrick and T.J. Weeks Jr.
Buttrick, a 6-foot-8 senior from Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, currently averages 11.7 PPG and corrals 6.0 rebounds per game. He has scored 11 and 17 in his past two games while bringing down a combined 20 rebounds. He will likely match up against Osun Osunniyi inside.
Weeks Jr., a 6-foot-4 guard from Warwick, Rhode Island, has started in every conference game aside from the opener versus Duquesne. He did not see a ton of minutes early on, but he has emerged as an important piece for UMASS Coach Matt McCall. Weeks Jr. now averages 9.6 PPG and shoots 37.2% from downtown. He exploded for 30 points at Rhode Island on Feb. 5, which was a homecoming of sorts for the redshirt sophomore. Bona will have to make sure that Weeks Jr. does not erupt again.
Lately, the Bonnies have done a good job at stopping the “knowns,” as Schmidt would say. The “knowns” for UMASS are clearly Fernandes and Kelly. As such, the Bona defense will need to step up once again against the UMASS shooting prowess.
“When we are playing well, we are defending,” Schmidt told the media. “Against St. Louis, we did a good job of creating offense off of our defense with steals. We were better on the ball than we were earlier in the season [and that] is the key. That’s what wins.”
Final Analysis and Prediction
The Bonnies are at their best when they get downhill offensively and force turnovers defensively. That’s exactly what they have done over the past three games, which is why the Bonnies have re-gained some of that swagger that they had earlier this season.
UMASS struggles defensively inside. If Lofton, Jaren Holmes, and Jalen Adaway can get to the paint with authority, the Bonnies should win with ease. In Monday’s win over St. Louis, Holmes and Adaway combined to score 35 points while combining to make just one three-pointer. That, coupled with Osunniyi’s dominance inside, was one of the key reasons as to why the Bonnies beat the Billikens for the second time in a row.
I have said it all year and will say it again, the Bonnies will win if the guards can get downhill. Against the soft Minutemen defense, I expect the Bonnies to do so once again. After all, UMASS allows its opponents to shoot 55.2% from inside the arc. Thus, I like Osunniyi to have a big game and I think Lofton bounces back in a big way after scoring just four points against St. Louis on Monday.
Give me the Bonnies by a dozen.
St. Bonaventure 78, Massachusetts 66
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.