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St. Bonaventure could make the NCAA Tournament, but there’s little room for error

Well, the Bonnies did it. They closed out the non-conference slate of their season with 7 straight wins and got the icing on the cake: a win over the Syracuse Orange in the Carrier Dome. I’m still not sure which was more surprising: the fact that St. Bonaventure scored 1 field goal in more than 11 minutes or the fact that they went that cold and still found a way to win. Either way, this was a big W for the Bona faithful.

St. Bonaventure handling Syracuse’s zone defense

A lot “worked,” in the first half, as the Bonnies were penetrating Boeheim’s prized zone with ease. Particularly, playing through Courtney Stockard in the middle of the zone worked when the Bonnies then looked towards a cutting LaDarien Griffin or Amadi Ikpeze near the basket. Here’s a play that worked to perfection.

Now, something that changed in the 2nd half was that St. Bonaventure only started looking to Stockard in the middle late in the shot clock. This led to the junior having to make panicked decisions in a hurry — either he’d take a contested jump shot from the free throw line or force a pass to one of his bigs on the interior.

Jaylen Adams was absolutely lethal from three point range in the first half, and I think Syracuse fell asleep on the scouting report a bit (how that happens, I have no clue). The top of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone is slow to close out on Adams, and he’s able to pump fake and reset his feet for a wide open three.

The second half was a different story; as soon as Jaylen Adams smoked the Orange from range in the first half, Boeheim made sure to keep him at least 4 feet away from the three point line at all times. St. Bonaventure didn’t spread out along the perimeter well in the 2nd half; the ball got sticky, and Adams was forced to create too much offense by himself despite essentially being double-teamed by the top of the 2-3 zone. It also didn’t help that Matt Mobley (2/10 3PFG) couldn’t get much going from long range.

On the contrary, good spacing from the Bonnies, combined with extra attention on Jaylen Adams at the top of the key, led to this nasty alley-oop by LaDarien Griffin. It was at this point that Syracuse had no answer to St. Bonaventure’s offense.

How did the Bonnies win despite making 1 field goal in the final 11 minutes?

Honestly, I don’t have a clear answer to this question. I’ll credit St. Bonaventure’s defense, especially in the first half, allowing the Bonnies to build a comfortable lead, but Syracuse just didn’t make shots. You’d expect a veteran team on its own floor in a rivalry game to knock down open looks, but it just didn’t happen.

St. Bonaventure’s inability to buy a bucket down the stretch was pitiful, and a lot of it had to do with poor decision-making once the press had been broken. While I’d normally have no issue with a 3-2 break at the hoop, St. Bonaventure was remiss to take it right to Syracuse’s big men. Not only did the Bonnies have short possessions, giving Syracuse many chances, but LaDarien Griffin was having a tough night at the hoop, and asking him to make a contested lay-up over guys 6 to 7 inches taller than him isn’t logical.

In short, I was shocked that St. Bonaventure found a way to pull this out literally without making a field goal in more than 15 minutes of play. I don’t know if that kind of a win has ever happened before. I will say that St. Bonaventure made smart plays on the defensive end of the floor, and a few calls may have gone their way. This charge was a huge momentum swing in overtime that basically sealed the win for the Bonnies.

There’s not a lot of room for error in conference play

This is where it hurts to have a down year in the Atlantic 10. We’re hoping to do what seemed impossible in the middle of November: sneak at least 2 A-10 teams into the NCAA Tournament. At this point, St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island are the only 2 teams that have resumes that could warrant a bid. Had the Bonnies not lost at home to Niagara at the beginning of the season, I’d go as far to say their wins and losses look better than URI’s.

But the bottom line is that St. Bonaventure cannot afford to slip up in conference play if it wants a chance at an at-large. What does this mean? Games that usually seem like losses have to be wins. I’m talking about road games against UD and Saint Joseph’s; it just so happens that those are 2 of the Bonnies’ first 3 conference matchups. If Bona loses a couple of those, it all of a sudden starts slipping out of the tourney picture.

Not to mention, there is zero room for losing to teams like Fordham, Richmond, and George Mason this year. VCU was lucky enough last season to get into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large even though it suffered a loss to Fordham. That’s because last year’s A-10 was strong enough to get the Rams a few quality wins in league play; there aren’t that many opportunities to make up ground in this year’s conference slate.

Bottom line

I’m optimistic. I really am. I did not think St. Bonaventure would go into the Carrier Dome and beat a talented Syracuse team. Further, I did not think the Bonnies would win their final 7 to close non-conference play. We know that the A-10 has a tendency to eat itself up and keep everyone in the middle-of-the-pack. That can’t happen this year. St. Bonaventure has to immediately establish itself as one of the frontrunners, because I believe this is a team that could very well go dancing once Selection Sunday rolls around.

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Grant Labedz is a college basketball superfan who loves the entire sport but definitely has favorites in the A-10 and the Big Ten. He has written for ...