They did it. With their backs against the wall and their at-large hopes all but dead, the Bonnies managed to win their final 12 games and storm into the conference tournament as the number two seed. Now that it’s finally upon us, let’s take a deeper look at their A10 Tournament prospects.
Friday: Richmond or Duquesne
The Bonnies should win on Friday. This isn’t to say they can’t lose, but they are objectively better than either of the teams they could face. Without knowing the opponent, Kenpom gives the Bonnies an 81.4% chance of advancing into the semifinals. Duquesne has been pesky for the Bonnies this season, taking both games (both wins for the Bonnies) down to the wire. The Richmond game was one of the Bonnies best offensive performances of the season, where they scored 97 points and had five players in double figures. This matchup would figure to be even more difficult though, as Richmond would have De’Monte Buckingham back in the lineup. Even with Buckingham playing, it would be better for the Bonnies to play Richmond to hedge against a loss. Duquesne’s RPI is over 50 spots below Richmond’s, so a loss to them would be much worse in the eyes of the selection committee.
Saturday: Davidson, Saint Louis, George Washington, or Fordham
If the Bonnies avoid a trap on Friday, they will more than likely face Davidson. On a neutral court, this game is a toss up. Davidson is playing its best basketball of the season, winning five out of their last six, and only losing to the Bonnies in an absurd triple-overtime game for the ages in Olean. Peyton Aldridge and Kellan Grady were matchup nightmares for the Bonnies (scoring 45 and 39 respectively), but it’s unlikely that Aldridge will be able to shoot 8-11 from three in a rematch. McKillop is a fantastic coach, and always has his players ready to play, but if these to do meet up, the Bonnies will be seeking revenge from 2016, when the Cats spoiled their magical season.
Sunday: The Rest of the Field
If they do make it to Sunday, even the most pessimistic fan would agree that the Bonnies would be safely in the NCAA tournament bracket. However, this doesn’t mean that the Bonnies won’t want to improve their seeding, and add on to an already historic season with an A10 tournament championship. The most likely candidates are Rhody and St. Joseph’s, who the Bonnies are a combined 2-2 against this season. Those two teams couldn’t be more different though, as St. Joseph’s has rattled off wins in six of their last seven, while Rhody has only won two of their last five after having the longest winning streak in the NCAA. Kenpom gives the Bonnies a 23.1% chance of winning it all, almost 20 percentage points higher than when Andrew Nicholson brought home the trophy in 2012. With a deeper than usual bench, and a hungry team, the Bonnies are in maybe their best starting position ever to capture the A10 crown.
3 Circumstances That Could Knock Them Out
1.) Too Much Josh Ayeni
Much to the surprise of Bonnies fans, Ayeni has returned to the lineup at the end of the season after being suspended for multiple games. This season was a huge step backwards for a player who showed so much promise in the early stages of his freshman season. Ayeni’s biggest contribution should be the added depth in an already thin frontcourt. If either Ikpeze or Griffin pick up a few fouls, Ayeni should see a few minutes, and could potentially add a scoring boost with his mid-range jumper. Any more than that though, and they’re really tempting fate.
2.) Poor Outside Shooting
Even though they’re 11th in 3 pointers attempted, the Bonnies are the A10’s number one team in 3pt percentage at 39.7%. A big part of this is Jaylen Adams, who’s shooting 47.7% from deep on 6.4 attempts per game. While the Bonnies are clearly one of the best teams in the conference, they aren’t dominant enough that they could guarantee a win without at least adequate outside shooting. Without a serious post presence, the Bonnies can’t afford to have a cold night from behind the arc.
3.) Missed Layups
No Bonnies fan needs to be reminded how maddeningly frustrating the Bonnies have been at the rim this season. Luckily, their inability to finish bunnies hasn’t cost them any of the past 12 games. But, this is something that could catch up with them. If it doesn’t cost them in the conference tourney, it almost certainly will in the big dance (knock on wood) when they face even stiffer competition.
3 Things That Will Help Them Win
1.) Unlimited 3pt Range
You simply cannot teach the range that Adams and Mobley have. I think it goes underappreciated how valuable it is to have a player that can stand at the top of the key, dribble out 25 seconds off of the shot clock, and then pull up 30 feet from the basket and drain a three. Because of their range, no defense can ever rest, and the other three Bonnies on the floor get more open looks because of how spaced the defense becomes. There’s almost no such thing as a bad shot for either Jay or Matt.
2.) Free Throws
Free throws will win and lose games. Luckily for Bona, they’re second in free throws attempted and third in free throw percentage. The easiest way to close out games is to make your free throws, especially the front end of a one-and-one. Just ask Rhody what happens when you miss those. Similar to the 2016 team, this Bonnies team is exceptional in close games. A big part of that is being able to make high pressure free throws. Maybe no two points all season were more important than when LaDarien Griffin (a 53% free throw shooter in his sophomore season) nailed both free throws on a one-and-one to take the lead against Rhode Island. More of these situations will undoubtedly come the Bonnies way this weekend.
3.) Us Against the World
It’s no secret that the team (and the fans) feel this way this season. After being snubbed in 2016, and being left out of the AP top 25 polls on Monday, the Bonnies should enter the arena on Friday with a serious chip on their shoulder. I expect them to play fearlessly, and to show the rest of the basketball world just how good they know they are.