Following last Friday night’s victory against Duquesne, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies play host to the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Rams tomorrow night at 6 pm on CBS Sports Network. The Bonnies will look to avenge last season’s blowout loss to VCU in Richmond.
In fact, since VCU joined the Atlantic 10 in 2013, the Bonnies have only defeated the Rams twice. Of course, one of those instances was because of Marcus Posley’s buzzer-beater in 2015.
VCU comes to Olean with a conference record of 3-1, while the Bonnies sit atop the league at 4-1.
Nonetheless, tomorrow night’s game between the Bonnies and the Rams is a battle for first place in the mighty Atlantic 10 Conference.
Scouting the VCU Rams
A Solid Start Through 13 Games
The VCU Rams come into tomorrow night’s game with a record of 10-3. They have some impressive victories thus far as Coach Mike Rhoades’ club defeated Utah State and Memphis back in November. The Rams also played tough against West Virginia, who is a top 15 team in the country. VCU has lost to the Mountaineers, to Penn State on a buzzer-beater to begin December, and to Rhode Island on January 9th.
“VCU is a good team. They’re talented, young, and well-coached,” Bonnies Head Coach Mark Schmidt remarked in his press conference Tuesday.
VCU has not played since picking up their tenth win of the season last Wednesday night at George Washington. Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland, the Sophomore Guard from Wilmington, DE, led the way for the Rams with 17 points.
The Rams come to the Reilly Center well-rested and ready for action.
When the Rams made it to the Final Four in 2011, you may recall hearing the term, “Havoc,” when describing how VCU plays. As evidenced by the advanced defensive metrics, “Havoc” still exists within the VCU program. For the last decade-plus, the Rams have prided themselves on applying full-court pressure, forcing turnovers, and capitalizing on their opponents’ mistakes.
VCU ranks 61st in KenPom’s rankings, only three spots behind St. Bonaventure. The Rams lead the nation in Steal Percentage Per Possession at 15.6%, which measures how often a defensive team forces a steal. They also rank 22nd in all of Division I in defensive efficiency.
Despite being picked ninth in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, VCU’s tenacious defense has reinvigorated the program as the Rams have an opportunity to go to the NCAA Tournament for the ninth time since 2010. Numerous bracketologists have VCU projected to go dancing again in 2021.
Last season as a Freshman, Hyland came off the bench for Mike Rhoades. He averaged 20 minutes per game and 9.0 PPG. In last year’s game against St. Bonaventure, Bones Hyland exploded for a season-high 21 points, shooting eight of 12 from the floor.
Schmidt gave Bones a lot of praise: “You watch him play, he’s under control… He is ultra-talented [and] is going to be a handful for the next three years.”
This past offseason, VCU lost some key contributors as Guard Marcus Evans graduated and Forward Marcus Santos-Silva went to Texas Tech, as he transferred to Lubbock as a Graduate Transfer.
With these two key departures, Bones has emerged as the team’s leading scorer in averaging 18.1 PPG. As Coach Schmidt pointed out, “He has taken 100 more shots than anyone else on their team.” Bones has started 10 of 13 games, eclipsed the 20 point mark five times, and has made 85.4% of his free throws thus far. He also shoots 35.5% from beyond the arc. Bones has the green light to shoot and he can light it up on any given night.
Needless to say, the St. Bonaventure backcourt must watch out for Bones Hyland, or else he will punish the Bonnies like he did last year.
Depth of VCU
Similar to Duquesne, Mike Rhoads will likely have nine or ten of his guys see solid minutes. In the backcourt alongside Bones, watch out for Adrian Baldwin Jr. and Vince Williams.
Nicknamed “Ace,” Baldwin Jr. leads the team in assists per game as a freshman. In fact, Baldwin Jr. was the first VCU true freshman to start a season-opener since the 2016-17 season. Watch out for this young floor general as he will look to feed both Hyland and Williams.
Speaking of Vince Williams, the 6’6″ Junior ranks second on the team in averaging 10.8 PPG. He is a physical, versatile wing who can shoot and pass. He could be a matchup nightmare for the Bonnies. Schmidt called Williams the “X-Factor” for VCU:
“When [Vince Williams] plays well, [VCU] usually wins… He’s shooting the ball much better as he’s shooting over 40% from three. He has a physical body as he plays both on the perimeter and on the inside… He has it all.”
Williams also leads the team in rebounds.
Schmidt also praised Levi Stockard III, calling him ” a power guy, [who] brings some physical toughness to them.” Although Stockard’s numbers do not jump off the page, he is an integral part of VCU’s Havoc defense.
First off the bench for VCU will likely be Keshawn Curry, the 6’4″ Junior from Jacksonville, FL.
Curry has averaged 8.4 PPG to this point, good for third on the team. He does not shoot that often from beyond the arc, so look for Curry to drive to the basket to score or to penetrate and kick.
Overall, 11 players average at least nine minutes per game for VCU. Although only two players average more than 10 PPG, the Rams still average 76.5 PPG as a team, which shows how deep and versatile this squad is for Mike Rhoades.
How Do The Bonnies Win?
Over the past two seasons, the Bonnies have struggled against VCU’s Havoc defense. Two years ago, on homecoming weekend, the Bonnies lost by 30 in front of a sell-out crowd. Last season, as I mentioned above, Bona lost 91-63 in Richmond.
In order to remain atop the Atlantic 10 standings, St. Bonaventure must do three things to come away victorious: (1) take care of the basketball, (2) outrebound the Rams, and (3) contain Bones.
Mark Schmidt could not emphasize this enough: “We gotta take care of the basketball. [The Rams] do a good job in running, trapping, and trying to speed you up. We gotta do a better job of handling their pressure. That’s the key. We can’t turn the ball over.”
According to KenPom, the Bonnies turn the ball over only 16.4% of the time, which is good for third in the conference. For a matter of perspective, the Division I average is 19.3%. Thus, the Bonnies are an above-average team in taking care of the rock.
But the Bonnies have yet to play a team like VCU. Guards Kyle Lofton, Dom Welch, and Jaren Holmes will all have to work in unison to break through the “Havoc” full-court press. They must not make dangerous passes or dribble excessively. As Coach pointed out on Tuesday, they also have to recognize when to and when not be aggressive: “We gotta attack their pressure to score. But if you don’t have it, we gotta pull it out and run some offense. [It’s] hard to coach that because it’s a feel thing: when to go, when there are numbers, and when not to.”
How the St. Bonaventure backcourt handles the ball against VCU is the key to the game. If the Bonnies have an abundance of turnovers tomorrow, they will likely lose as turnovers lead to easy VCU buckets.
Outrebound the Rams and “Limiting Opponent to One Shot”
St. Bonaventure has been tremendous on the glass as of late. This trend must continue against a physical VCU team.
Schmidt kept reiterating the notion of “limiting the opponent to one shot.” He added to this rhetoric by saying that “on second and third shots, 70% [of the time] you either get fouled or you score.”
Thus, St. Bonaventure needs to outrebound the Rams in order to win. When the Bonnies outrebound their opponent, they are undefeated. VCU, especially Williams and Stockard, are physical and look to crash the boards.
Similar to the turnover battle, the rebounding margin will be an important metric to watch tomorrow night as these two defensive juggernauts go at it.
Shutting Down Bones
Although Bona does not employ a Havoc-like defense, the Bonnies are a tremendous defensive team in their own right. Bona leads the conference in defensive efficiency and is one of the best teams in the country at defending the three.
Coach Schmidt reflected on the improvement of his defense from last season: “We are doing a better job with our three-point defense. We are doing a better job of getting out to the shooters and contesting a little bit better. We’re also not turning the ball over so they get easy baskets. Forcing more of a five-on-five half-court game [is the key] defensively, and it is always harder to score against a set defense..”
Thus, St. Bonaventure’s defense must show up tomorrow night against Bones Hyland. As I mentioned earlier, Bones leads the team in scoring and shots taken. If the Bonnies can force the ball from his hands and limit his scoring opportunities, then the Brown and White will be in good shape.
Bona cannot let Bones find some open spots or else he will light up the Reilly Center.
In order to do this, they have to limit turnovers and rebounds so that Bones does not get out in transition.
VCU has been St. Bonaventure’s kryptonite ever since the Rams joined the conference.
This season, the Rams have played 13 games compared to Bona’s seven. Typically, as the season wears on, younger players improve. VCU has nine freshmen and sophomores as they are one of the youngest teams in the conference. So watch out for the Rams down the stretch.
Furthermore, the Rams have had a week off. But Bona has not played since last Friday, so they too have had the opportunity to rest.
Ultimately, I think this game is a toss-up. I could see the Rams winning a close one, and if this game was in Richmond, I would pick VCU. But the Bonnies are playing at home, where they have yet to lose so far this season. Coach Schmidt always talks about how important it is to defend your home floor and I am picking the Bonnies to do just that tomorrow.
Give me the Bonnies by two in a low-scoring slugfest, 59-57.
Lead Image Credit:
JAN 15, 2021, St. Bonaventure, NY: St Bonaventure Men’s basketball vs Duquesne University at the Bob Lanier Court in the Reilly Center. Photo by Craig Melvin and courtesy of St. Bonaventure Athletics.