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The Atlantic 10’s Most Dangerous Tournament Team: VCU, Saint Bonaventure, or Saint Louis?

As the Atlantic 10 conference schedule comes to a close three teams have emerged as leaders in the league. Saint Louis, Saint Bonaventure, and VCU have all proved to be formidable teams and now find themselves toward the top of the conference. With the season quickly wrapping up Jack Milko, Jack Godar, and Anthony Morelli decided it was time to answer this one question: which of these three teams will be the most dangerous in both the Atlantic 10 and NCAA tournament?

Saint Bonaventure – Jack Milko

Despite losing on the road to both St. Louis and to VCU, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies certainly have the pieces in place to make a run at a championship in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. With an overall record of 10-3, the Bonnies currently rank 48th on KenPom and 42nd in the NET. The Brown and White are a top 50 team in America across the board.

When diving deeper into advanced analytics, the Bonnies rank in the top five of the conference in both offensive and defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. Meanwhile, St.Louis, is the only other team that can say the same. VCU ranks 8th in offensive efficiency and their “Havoc” defense ranks second.

As of February 13, all five St. Bonaventure starters average ten or more points per game. The Bonnies have multiple “go-to” guys and if truth be told, each starter can take on that role.

The Bonnie’s Guard Play

Point guard Kyle Lofton, who ranks second in the country in percentage of minutes played, leads the team in assists, dishing out 5.1 per game. Lofton has also had seven games in which he has scored 15 points or more. He’s always on the floor and dictates the pace of the offense. Lofton is one of the best floor generals in the Atlantic 10.

Guards Jaren Holmes and Dominick Welch both have the potential to score 20 plus points on any night. Earlier this season, Holmes dropped 38 and 26 against St. Joe’s and Fordham, respectively. Holmes also shoots close to 40% from downtown. 

Although Dom Welch has struggled with his shot at times this season, he still averages a shade over 11 PPG. Welch has scored in double-digits in four of his last five games, and he is also one of the best rebounders in the conference. Welch has been a defensive stalwart this season too.

Standing at 6’5″, Jalen Adaway is undersized for a power-forward. But he plays much bigger than that. St. Bonaventure Head Coach Mark Schmidt even called him “the most athletic guy we’ve got on our team.” A transfer from Miami (OH), Adaway has emerged as an X-Factor for the Bonnies this season. He recently won Atlantic 10 Co-Player of the Week as he scored 20 and 23 in his last two games respectively. Adaway actually ranks second in the conference in field goal percentage behind Rhode Island’s Antoine Walker as he shoots close to 60% from the field. When he plays well, the Bonnies usually do too.

Bonnie’s Big Men

Then the most important Bonnie, Osun Osunniyi, holds court inside. The Junior center, who leads the conference in blocks, has emerged as one of the best passing big men in the conference. He has recorded an assist in every game thus far while averaging 10.8 PPG and 9.2 rebounds per contest. Personally, I feel that Osun should get the ball more inside. He’s too good not to get a touch on every possession. And if he does not have a shot down low on the block, then he can use his vision to kick it back out or he can find a cutting Jalen Adaway on the baseline.

Perhaps the biggest blemish to this Bonaventure team is that the Bonnies rank last in the country in bench minutes played. With that said, Coach Schmidt, similar to the late John Cheney, has always run his starters into the ground, rarely playing more than seven guys per game.

Keys to Success and Tournament Outlook

Thus, when looking back at the loss to VCU on Friday, February 12, two things stick out:

First, the Bonnies cannot get into foul trouble. Holmes, who averages 13.8 points per game (PPG), played only 26 minutes in each of the St. Louis and VCU losses due to foul trouble. Osunniyi also fouled out against VCU. If Schmidt wants to play just six or seven players, the Bonnies must limit their hacks.

Secondly, Bona has to do a better job on the glass. The Bonnies gave VCU way too many second-chance opportunities. In fact, according to KenPom, the only team that gives up more offensive rebounds in the Atlantic 10 is VCU. Coach Schmidt discussed this flaw in his post-game presser on Friday night: “we didn’t cover down and do a good job blocking them out, but even so it wasn’t our defense, it was more their 19 offensive rebounds and just getting extra shots. It was the second chance points that were the difference.”

Ultimately, the Bonnies have the most talented starting five in the conference. But their lack of depth may be a problem if the Bonnies find themselves in foul trouble. Furthermore, against bigger teams like St. Louis and VCU, Bona has to do a better job boxing out on the glass. If they can improve on these two things, then the sky’s the limit for this team in Richmond and beyond.

VCU – Anthony Morelli

After a relatively quiet non-conference schedule, VCU has burst onto the scene as the hottest team in the Atlantic 10. Over their last five games VCU has defeated the following teams: Saint Bonaventure, Dayton, Rhode Island, La Salle, and Dayton. VCU fields an extremely well rounded roster. Their defense is an unyielding force, generating turnovers at every possible opportunity. Currently, VCU ranks third in the nation in steals and ninth in blocks. The Rams also hold their opponents to 65 points a game. 

On the other side of the ball, VCU’s offense provides a well balanced attack. They are currently shooting 42% from the field and 34% from beyond three. However, it must be noted that these numbers do not rank in the top 5 of the Atlantic 10 conference. Yet, that doesn’t mean that the offense isn’t effective. The strength of VCU’s scoring rests in these three areas: free throws, fast break points off turnovers and Bones Hyland. 

What VCU Does Right

Currently, VCU is third in the conference in free throw attempts (19.5 a game), and second in free throw percentage (75%). What does this mean? VCU plays aggressive and is not afraid to get to the rim. Against Saint Bonaventure, a team with a shallow rotation, the Rams made sure to put their heads down and attack the lane. Their efforts resulted in increased scoring opportunities at the free throw line. Not to mention that their strategy put Saint Bonaventure in an uncomfortable position from a rotation standpoint. 

Yes, VCU’s ability to score from the field is concerning. However, come tournament time, we all know that good free throw shooting is crucial to securing wins. This goes for both the Atlantic 10 and the NCAA tournament. Good teams take advantage of free points at the free throw line, and VCU is one of them.

Another advantage VCU has is their star guard Bones Hyland. Hyland, a sophomore, leads the Atlantic 10 in field goals, 3-point field goals, and total points. Hyland is also second in the conference in steals, win share, and box plus/minus. He also  averages 19.3 points per game which is third best in the conference. 

To sum it up, he is the most dynamic player in the Atlantic 10. He is the type of guy who can take over games when VCU needs a basket; a player who can jump start an offense with a steal, or a drive to the lane. Hyland is the prototype of what it means to be “The Guy”. He can put a team on his back and break VCU out of an offensive slump. 

VCU’s Flaws

One flaw that VCU has is that it commits the highest amount of turnovers in the A10, turning the ball over an average of 15 times a game. In addition, Hyland is the largest contributor to this statistic. He leads all A10 players in turnovers. This is a major weakness for this roster. Being undisciplined does not help improve tournament outlook. VCU works so hard to force their opponents into making mistakes only for them to do the very same thing on the other side of the ball. 

Another crack in VCU’s armor is the fact that they commit the most fouls in the Atlantic 10. They currently average 18.9 personal fouls a game. Its understandable that a defense oriented team is prone to committing a lot of fouls. But, at some point the trade off between good defense and foul trouble begins to benefit your opponent more than your own team. It appears this is a situation where the team’s greatest strength could be its weakness. Especially when VCU faces off against a team who can shoot free throws effectively.

Leading the A10 in committed turnovers and personal fouls shows that VCU has discipline issues. Experienced and skilled rosters, like Saint Louis and Saint Bonaventure, could really exploit VCU and create their own havoc if this trend continues.

An Optimistic Outlook

VCU finds themselves in a very unique position. While everyone was fixated on Saint Louis and Saint Bonaventure, VCU went out under the radar and secured quality wins. Yes, VCU has its issues. From turnovers, to their lack of consistent scoring depth, VCU has flaws that can be exposed by teams who have the right skill set. 

However, I subscribe to the thought that defense does in fact win championships. In addition to good defense, I believe teams need to have “The Guy” who can hit the game winning shot, or stop a scoring run by manufacturing his own points. VCU is equipped with the tools that are critical to going deep in both the A10 and NCAA tournament.  VCU has proven they can beat anyone in the Atlantic 10, now it’s time to show that to the rest of College Basketball.

Saint Louis – Jack Godar

SLU’s potential dream season has been marred by a month-long COVID pause that saw the majority of the team test positive, and two straight losses to Dayton and La Salle upon returning to play. However, the Billikens re-established themselves with a 70-59 win over St. Bonaventure and since then have reeled off wins against Rhode Island and Fordham, bringing their record to 10-3 and 3-2 in conference play. Seemingly fully back, the Billikens are still one of the best teams in the A10, but now find themselves in the position of having to prove it to the Selection Committee. 

The Senior Trio

The senior trio of Jordan Goodwin, Javonte Perkins and Hasahn French lead the team. Goodwin has been a walking double-double all year, averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 48 percent from the field. He is also shooting 30 percent from deep, which isn’t great, but improved over years past and his mechanics have looked much better, opening his game up.

Goodwin has been playing point guard since Yuri Collins hurt his ankle in the first minute of the URI game and he’s been phenomenal, maintaining his scoring and rebounding, while averaging 5.5 assists in his last two games, and only turning the ball over once. This is especially key since prior to taking over at point guard, Goodwin was struggling with turnovers, averaging three a game. If he can keep up his improved decision making when Collins returns, SLU will be that much more dangerous. 

Perkins and French

Meanwhile, Perkins is averaging nearly 18 points a game on 47 percent shooting, while hitting 41 percent of his threes. While Perkins had been struggling a bit since the Minnesota game before the break, he seems to be finding his stride again, with a huge second half against Bona helping secure that victory. Perkins is probably the best natural scorer in the A10 and can fill it up at all three levels. SLU teams in years past have lacked a true go-to guy and Perkins has filled that role extremely well since conference play started last year. Should SLU make the NCAA tournament, having a tried-and-true bucket getting like Perkins could be vital to making a deep run.

Hasahn French’s numbers are down this year, and he’s had his struggles, but his passing and post defense have been key to the Billikens’ resurgence in conference play. While he’s not relied on as a scorer as much as years past, the Billikens have found a lot of success getting him easy post buckets early, and then letting him distribute out of the post as the game wears on. SLU can sometimes stagnate on offense, but French’s ability to key ball movement from the post is really important in keeping things moving and has really shown in recent games. French and Goodwin are the heart and soul of the team, and their senior leadership will be as crucial as ever as SLU fights for an NCAA bid. 

The X-Factor

However, the X-Factor for SLU is junior Demarius Jacobs. One of the most talented offensive players on the team, the 6’2 guard is shooting 57% from the field, including 73% on two point shots and 42 percent on threes. Despite his remarkable efficiency, Jacobs only shoots the ball 3.5 times per game. Jacobs simply needs more shots and this is a matter of Travis Ford giving Jacobs the opportunity for more touches and chances to score, and also Jacobs having the confidence to pull the trigger more often. If Jacobs can assert himself as a primary scoring threat, SLU is the most dangerous team in the A10.

SLU has all the ingredients for a deep NCAA tournament run. They have three big-time senior players, who can beat you with offense or defense, and guys like Goodwin, French and Fred Thatch Jr. are absolute dogs who can beat you with pure effort. Travis Ford has a deep bench of 11 players he can turn to and this is a team that earned a top 25 ranking in the polls before the COVID break for a reason. SLU might be the most talented team in the conference, and if they can pull out at least a pair of tough wins against VCU, Richmond, and the unscheduled rematch against St. Bonaventure, while taking care of business in the other games, SLU could find itself in prime position for a deep NCAA tournament run. 

 

Make sure to follow each of the writers on twitter!

Anthony Morelli: @Jelly_Morelli

Jack Milko: @Jackmilko10

Jack Godar: @JackGodar