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The Regular Season Champs Wrap Up with Dayton on Monday

With Davidson’s victory over VCU on Saturday afternoon, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (13-3, 11-3 Conf.) clinched the 2020-21 Atlantic 10 Regular Season Title outright for the first time in school history.

The Bonnies will head to the Atlantic 10 Tournament as the number one overall seed for the first time as well.

“I’m just really happy for our players, they worked extremely hard and for them to be the first team to win an outright Atlantic 10 title speaks volumes about the type of players and the type of team that we have,” remarked St. Bonaventure Head Coach Mark Schmidt.

But the Bonnies still have one more game to play before they head to Richmond for the conference tournament.

On Monday at 5 pm on ESPNU, St. Bonaventure will host the Dayton Flyers (12-8, 8-7 Conf.) to close out this crazy regular season.

Scouting the Dayton Flyers

Dayton has had a weird season. With a record of 12-8, four of their eight losses have come by two points or less.

They have been labeled as the “mystery box” of the Atlantic 10 because no one ever knows what Dayton team will show up: the one that beat St. Louis at Chaifetz Arena or the one that lost to LaSalle, Fordham, and St. Joseph’s.

Nonetheless, Dayton has the ammo to give the Bonnies a run for their money in the Reilly Center.

Tremendous Guard Play

Dayton’s Jalen Crutcher, Ibi Watson, and Rodney Chatman make up one of the best backcourts in the country.

Back in November, ESPN ranked Jalen Crutcher as the sixth-best player in all of college basketball. The Senior from Memphis has lived up to that bill. Not only was he a vital piece to last year’s top-ranked Flyer team, but he also averages close to 19 points per game (PPG) this season. Crutcher is also the first Flyer to have amassed 1,200 career points, 500 assists, and 200 three-pointers made in his career.

Richmond, VA – Jalen Crutcher, wearing number ten for Dayton, looks to work the offense in a January 23, 2021 game at VCU. The Flyers lost that game 66-43. Photo courtesy of @A10Talk.

Crutcher ranks fifth in the country in percentage of minutes played, according to KenPom. As the floor general for the Flyers, Crutcher shoots 36.5% from downtown, which ranks second on the team behind Ibi Watson.

Speaking of Watson, Ibi has had a terrific senior season too. Watson actually played his first two seasons at the University of Michigan. He transferred to Dayton before the 2018-19 season. Last year, Watson averaged 10.1 PPG. This season, his scoring has jumped up to 15.7 PPG. He shoots 41% from deep and has scored more than 20 points in six games so far this season.

The other Senior in the backcourt, Rodney Chatman, he has not had the success that Crutcher and Watson have had this season. The Senior from Georgia tore a ligament in his right hand against LaSalle back on December 30. He went on to miss six weeks.

Chatman returned to action against Rhode Island on February 16, only for the Flyers to lose to the Rams in double overtime. In that game, Chatman scored just seven points. He has yet to score more than nine since returning to the lineup. Chatman, who transferred to Dayton from Chattanooga after his sophomore season, averages 9.5 PPG this year. He has the potential to score in bunches as he poured in 21 against Ole Miss back in December. He’s not a great three-point shooter, but he could provide the Flyers with a dozen points or so if Bona gives him space to operate.

Living and Dying By The Three

The Flyers are the most inconsistent team in the Atlantic 10. Their three-point shooting highlights these inconsistencies:

In the loss to LaSalle, Dayton shot a poor four of 17 from beyond the arc.

At Fordham, the Flyers shot a putrid four of 23 from downtown.

At VCU, where Dayton scored a season-low 43 points, the Flyers made just three of their 20 attempts from deep.

Then, in the victory over #22 St. Louis, the Flyers drained 12 threes and shot 44% from beyond the arc. The Flyers also shot 44% from deep in their overtime victory over Davidson.

As the old saying goes, “teams live and die by three.” Dayton has literally lived and died by the long ball this season, hence why they play up or down to their competition. The last time the Flyers played at the Reilly Center, in 2019, Dayton drained ten threes in route to an 89-86 overtime win.

We will have to see which Dayton team shows up at the RC on Monday: the one that stoops low or the one that flies high.

Other Oddities

Zimi Nwokeji, the Freshman forward from Florida, has seen about 19 minutes per game in his first season with the Flyers.  Over his last six games, he has finished with the following point totals: 13, 7, 29, 0, 0, 2, which is quite a strange sequence of numbers. Nwokeji scored a team-high 29 in the overtime loss to Rhode Island and has scored more than ten points just one other time this season: last Wednesday in the loss at Hawk Hill. Who knows how the 6’7″ Freshman will fair at the Reilly Center on Monday.

A native of Montreal, Jordy Tshimanga, the 6’11 Dayton Center, could not travel back to his native Quebec last year due to travel restrictions from the Canadian government. So the Senior improvised and finished up his undergraduate work this past summer. He is now pursuing his Master’s Degree in School Counseling. Last Wednesday, he missed the game against St. Joseph’s but he is expected to play on Monday night. Tshimanga shoots 58.8% from the field, which leads the conference, and he averages 6.8 PPG and 8.0 rebounds per contest.

Finally, how can I discuss the Flyers without bringing up the high-flying Finnish Freshman, Mustapha “Moose” Amzil? Standing at 6’10”, Amzil averages 10.1 PPG and shoots 39.7% from deep. Moose will likely be the first Flyer off the bench. He also is in the running for the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year award. Later this week, A10 Talk will publish a piece that outlines each candidate for Rookie of the Year. Keep an eye out for it!

How Do the Bonnies Win?

No matter what happens in this game, the Bonnies will head to Richmond as the number one seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

Take a quick look at @SBUnfurled’s chart that outlines the Atlantic 10 standings:

With that said, this game could impact the NCAA Tournament picture if it goes Dayton’s way. Dayton now ranks 90th in the NET as last Wednesday’s loss to St. Joe’s dropped the Flyers 11 spots. A Flyer win would mark Bona’s only loss in Quads 3 and 4. If this happens, the Brown and White will likely be on the NCAA Tournament Bubble for the foreseeable future.

Nonetheless, the Bonnies will beat the Flyers if they (1) outshoot Dayton, (2), continue to play great defense, and (3) stay out of foul trouble.

Outshooting the Flyers

After struggling earlier in the year from beyond the arc, the Bonnies have found their touch from deep. Bona now ranks first in the Atlantic 10 in three-point field goal percentage at 38.3%, according to KenPom. Dayton, meanwhile, ranks third.

Bona Guard Jaren Holmes leads the league in three-point field goal percentage as he has made 44.9% of his attempts. He averages 14.6 PPG and had 18 the other night over George Washington.

Dom Welch has caught fire as of late. The Cheektowaga, NY native has made 12 threes over the last three games. Since failing to score against Duquesne on January 15, Welch has scored in double-digits in every game except for two.

Jalen Adaway has also gained some confidence from deep. In the victory at Davidson, his three-pointer with under two minutes to go proved to be the difference. He has only attempted 12 threes this season, but he is two of five from deep over the last two games.

Atlantic 10 Player of the Year candidate Kyle Lofton has drained nine threes since February 9. Before that point, Lofton made only three of his attempts from downtown. Lofton’s shot looks better as the season wears on.

The Bonnies have clearly found their stroke from distance. Over the last three games, Bona has made 11, 11, and 15 threes. If this trend keeps going, Bona will win.

Continue to Play Solid Defense

Over their last three games, the Bonnies have given up just 58, 53, and 41 points. For the season, Bona allows 60.9 PPG, which ranks first in the conference.

The Bonnies rank second in the conference in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They also defend the perimeter well, ranking third in the conference in allowing teams to shoot just 31.3% from deep, according to KenPom. If Bona can lock down the arc once again, then they will shoot two birds with one stone: as Bona will force the Flyers to hoist poor shots and outshoot Dayton at the other end.

One reason why Bona has been so good at defending the three is because of Kyle Lofton. Especially over the past few games, Lofton has played terrific defensively.

Coach Schmidt said that “its an emphasis to stop the knowns. And [Jalen Crutcher] is one of those knowns.” This past week, Lofton shut down Davidson’s Kellan Grady and George Washington’s James Bishop, two of the top scorers in the league. Now he will have to try and stop Dayton’s Jalen Crutcher on Monday. If he keeps playing the way he has, he can do it.

Inside, Osun Osunniyi, with a 7’6″ wingspan, anchors the Bonaventure defense. Pay attention to Osunniyi’s footwork and his positioning defensively. Both have been fantastic lately. Osunniyi ranks tenth among all active players with 188 career blocks. He also leads the conference in averaging 2.3 blocks per game this season.

Osun has been terrific on the glass too. The South Jersey native currently ranks fourth in the Atlantic 10 in grabbing 8.9 rebounds per contest.

If Bona can keep playing defense at an elite level, then the Flyers will struggle to generate offense.

Staying Out of Foul Trouble

Dayton’s Jordy Tshimanga poses as a tough matchup to Osunniyi. Weighing in at 278 pounds, the 6’11” Tshimanga has almost 60 pounds on the 220 pound Osunniyi, who stands at 6’10”.

Regarding the battle of the bigs, Coach said: “[Tshimanaga] is certainly a big guy, really physical. He’s massive inside. ‘Shoon is not going to get in a wrestling match with him, he’s got to move his feet, use his athleticism, and use his quickness. [He can’t] get tangled up with him.”

Osunniyi has been terrific defensively and he needs to keep it going against Dayton. Against Tshimanga, Osunniyi will need to play defense with his feet and go straight up with his arms. If he fails to do that, then he could end up hacking the bigger Tshimanga, which could relegate him to the bench.

Coach emphasized that “staying out of foul trouble is the key, not just for [Osunniyi], but for us.”

I have said before, and will say it again: the Bonnies must stay out of foul trouble to have success. Osunniyi fouled out at Rhode Island when the Bonnies picked up 24 fouls in that game and lost. Jaren Holmes got into foul trouble at St. Louis, and Bona lost. In their most recent loss at VCU, on February 12, Bona racked up 17 fouls. Fouls have played a vital role in each of Bonaventure’s three losses this season.

If fouls add up for the Brown and White tomorrow, then Dayton could escape victorious.

Prediction

The last time St. Bonaventure beat the Dayton Flyers: February 20, 2016, when Jaylen Adams and the Bonnies took down the 15th ranked Flyers 79-72.

Since that game, Dayton has won five in a row against the Bonnies.

I think this winning streak ends and the Bonnies prevail by six.

Watch out for Kyle Lofton to have a big game defensively against Jalen Crutcher. I also have a feeling that Jaren Holmes explodes for 20 or more against a weaker Flyer defense.

St. Bonaventure 72, Dayton 66