The first week of February signifies the mid-way point of Atlantic 10 play. Let us quickly look at the Standings as of February 7, 2020; these standings include Conference Record, Overall Record, and Current Streak:
- #6 Dayton 9-0 (20-2 Overall) Won 11 Straight
- RV* Rhode Island 9-1 (17-5 Overall) Won 9 Straight
- Duquesne 7-3 (17-5 Overall) Won 2 Straight
- St. Bonaventure 7-3 (15-8 Overall) Won 3 Straight
- VCU 6-3 (16-6 Overall) Lost 1 Straight
- Richmond 6-3 (16-6 Overall) Won 1 Straight
- Saint Louis 6-4 (17-6 Overall) Lost 1 Straight
- Davidson 5-4 (11-10 Overall) Won 1 Straight
- George Washington 4-6 (10-13 Overall) Lost 2 Straight
- UMASS 3-7 (9-14 Overall) Lost 2 Straight
- George Mason 2-7 (13-9 Overall) Lost 3 Straight
- LaSalle 1-8 (10-11 Overall) Lost 7 Straight
- Fordham 1-8 (7-14 Overall) Lost 3 Straight
- St. Joseph’s 0-9 (4-18 Overall) Lost 4 Straight
Note: RV = Receiving Votes in the AP Poll; Rhode Island received 18 votes this week, which would place them at #30.
As of right now, Mark Schmidt’s team has secured a Double-Bye in Brooklyn. However, as you can see in the standings, both VCU and Richmond have played one less game than the Bonnies. If VCU were to tie the Bonnies in the final standings, the Rams would hold the tie breaker because of the drubbing that VCU gave St. Bonaventure back on January 18. St. Bonaventure has yet to play both Duquesne and Richmond. Bona travels to Pittsburgh to take on the Dukes on the campus of Robert Morris University this Saturday. The Brown and White host Richmond in for 80’s weekend in two weeks on February 22. When the Bonnies do host Richmond, I am not only confident that the Reilly Center will be sold out, but also that The Burton, in little Allegany, NY, home of Upstate New York’s best cheeseburger, will be jam packed with Bona fans hours before tip off.
Three Keys to the Barclays:
For the Bonnies to get to Brooklyn, they will have to do three key things:
- Stay Healthy: Both Osun Osunniyi and Jaren English have missed games due to injuries this year. For Osun, he suffered a leg injury opening night against Ohio. He went on the miss the next five games before returning in the victory against Mercer. In that stretch to begin the season, Bona started 1-4; somehow, that includes a victory over Rutgers, a fringe-Top 25 team that will surely make the NCAA Tournament. Osun then suffered a concussion in Rochester in the game against UMASS on January 15. The head injury sidelined the Bona big man for three games. In that three game stretch, Bona lost to VCU 91-63, to Dayton 86-60, and to Rhode Island 81-75. Thus, without Osun in the lineup, the Bonnies are 1-7. With him, the Bonnies have only suffered one loss: at Buffalo on December 30. Osun was in foul trouble that game and only saw 16 minutes of action while scoring only 6 and snagging 4 boards. When he plays more than 18 minutes in a game, the Bonnies are an astounding 14-0. Osun is a dominant presence on the glass and down low both defensively and offensively. Jaren English has also struggled with injuries too. In my opinion, he is the “X-Factor” for the Bonnies. In fact, English is averaging 13.9 PPG in 8 Atlantic-10 games played. That ranks first on the team, just ahead of Kyle Lofton who currently is averaging 12.9 PPG in 10 conference games. English, like Osun, actually missed the first five games of the season because of a hand injury that he suffered in the preseason. He then missed the first two games of conference play because of a concussion. Thus, when both Osun and English play, the Bonnies are a different team. If they want to make a run for a double-bye in Brooklyn, these two players, and the entire team for that matter, has to stay healthy.
- Share the Wealth: When the Bonnies have a multitude of scorers in double-digits, good things happen. This is generally the case for any basketball team, but it especially applies to the Brown and White. Let us look at the game that place in the Rose Hill Gym back on January 29, a game in which the Bonnies won by the skin of their teeth over Fordham. In that game, Dom Welch exploded for a career-high 22 points. The only other Bonnie to score in double-figures was Osun Osunniyi, with just 10. The other three starters, Kyle Lofton, English, and Alejandro Vasquez, combined for only 16 points. Bona actually had 17 assists on 20 made field goals in this game. The problem was they only had 5 in the first half, which was perhaps the most disgusting half of basketball I have watched in a long time. The Bonnies shot just 35% from the field and and a putrid 5 of 22 from beyond the arc. Bona fired up a lot of contested and silly shots that night. Thankfully, Welch saved the day and the B0nnies played much better down the stretch and in overtime in the second half. But, the Bonnies cannot afford to have these kinds of nights against inferior opponents going forward. The game against St. Joseph’s next week is certainly a trap game, as Ryan Daly can light up a box score on any night. So if nothing goes right for Bona next Tuesday, like the game at Fordham, who is going to step up? Dom Welch certainly did in the Bronx, but can he do that on a consistent basis? This is why St. Bonaventure needs to move the ball around, generate assist opportunities, which provides for easy buckets. The Bonnies currently average 13.2 assists per game. In the loss to Dayton, Bona only had 7 total assists. The same trend occurred against Rhody when Bona recorded 10 assists as a team. Kyle Lofton actually ranks among the best in the nation in terms of assists and assists-to-turnover ratio. If he can continue this trend, then Bona will succeed. If Bona cannot move the ball around or force themselves into bad shots, well, things will not look pretty. Lofton also needs others to follow his lead in spreading the ball around. Moreover, when Bona has three players score in double figures, the Brown and White hold a record of 11-4. Pass the ball around, share the wealth, and create open shots. If Schmidt’s squad can do those three things on offense the rest of the way, they will be in good shape.
- Continue to Play Stout Defense: Bona’s defense this season has yet again been one of the best in the Atlantic 10. Currently, the Bonnies rank fourth in PPG allowed. In fact, this is the one metric where Fordham finds itself atop of the Atlantic 10. In each of their seven Atlantic-10 victories, Bona’s opponent has failed to eclipse 70 points. On three of those occasions, the opposition failed to break 50. Of course, all seven of these instances have taken place with Osun Osunniyi in the lineup. He is a wrecking ball down low. If he were eligible for season leaders among the Atlantic 10, Osun’s 9.1 rebounds per game would rank fourth in the conference only behind Hasahn French, Jordan Goodwin (Wow! Two Bilikens right at the top), and Cyril Langevine. Additionally, his 2.9 blocks per game would rank second in the conference only behind AJ Wilson of George Mason. Osun Osunniyi was actually named preseason All-Defensive Team in the conference. The first time a Bona player has been nominated to this since Youssou Ndoye before the 2014-15 season. When discussing defense and rebounding, we also have to bring up Dom Welch. The Cheektowaga native, who also happens to be WNY’s all-time leading scorer in High School, has recorded nine double-doubles this season and currently averages 6.5 rebounds per contest. The Bonnies have done a terrific job in snatching rebounds at well. Of course, rebounds are caused by missed shots. Missed shots are the result of good defense. Thus, when Bona out rebounds an opponent, which has occurred 14 instances this season, the Brown and White are 12-2. The Brown and White also ranks third in the conference in terms of rebounding margin. Simply, Bona’s defense comes down to the presence of Osun. This stems back to the first point I made – by far the most important one – about Bona staying healthy. When he is in the lineup, Bona can hang around with anyone – maybe not Dayton, but who knows, anything can happen in Brooklyn!
Perhaps the best thing about the month ahead is that Bonaventure has a favorable schedule ahead of them. Aside from LaSalle, who is 1-8 in conference play, Bona is the only team that does not have to face Dayton, Rhode Island, or VCU during the remainder of the regular season. This gives Bonaventure a great opportunity to rack up some wins and secure the double-bye. @SBUnfurled (a must follow for Bona fans) sent out a great tweet this week that displayed Bona’s schedule per KenPom:
Current Winn probabilities of our eight remaining games, per KenPom. pic.twitter.com/sKwZimB3tF
— SBUnfurled (@SBUnfurled) February 6, 2020
If Bona were to have its season play out like this, then the Brown and White would finish 13-5. Last season, Bona finished with a conference record of 12-6, good enough for fourth. Dayton actually finished with a 13-5 record, slotting them as the third seed in Brooklyn. I highlighted earlier that the games against Duquesne and Richmond are vital; especially the ones at the Reilly Center. Those two games will most likely determine the fate on whether or not Mark Schmidt will find his club among the Top 4 at the Barclays Center.
Ultimately, if the Bonnies can stay healthy, share the wealth, and continue to excel defensively, they should be in good shape for a double-bye in Brooklyn. There are most likely going to be road bumps over the final month, as any Atlantic 10 road game is tough. Remember when Bonaventure suffered a dumbfounded loss to LaSalle at Tom Gola Arena back in February 2016? That defeat certainly did not help Bona’s At-Large chances that season… we all know what happened on that shameful Selection Sunday. Nonetheless, if Osun and English are healthy, the Bonnies should be playing their first game in Brooklyn on Friday afternoon.