Men’s basketball: Bona must fix struggles against top-tier defenses

(Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports)

By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio

The St. Bonaventure Bonnies’ offensive inconsistency this season has sparked a multitude of questions. How did they go from a 100-point outburst against Duquesne to not even breaking 50 against Rhode Island? How’d they score over 70 points in wins over George Mason and Saint Joe’s yet score just 41 against Richmond?

Among other factors (turnovers, failure to execute), the answers lie in the quality of the opposition’s defense.

All four of Bona’s Atlantic 10 wins thus far have come against teams outside the NCAA’s top 100 in terms of scoring defense. St. Joe’s is 123rd, George Mason is 240th, UMass is 275th and Duquesne is 315th. The porous, turnstile defensive efforts allowed the brown and white to put points on the scoreboard early and often.

The reason those four teams have allowed so many points is that they are allowing teams to shoot a combined 43.6 percent from the floor. All four teams are outside the top 170 when it comes to shooting defense, and UMass and Duquesne are in the 200s.

On the other hand, each of Bona’s three Atlantic 10 losses thus far has come against teams in the top 50 in scoring defense. Rhode Island is 13th (best in the A-10), Dayton is 24th and Richmond is 31st.

Those three teams allow teams to shoot a combined 40.5 percent, and they are each in the top 150 in shooting defense.

In games against the poor A-10 defenses, the Bonnies averaged 78.5 points and shot 46 percent. In the games against the dominant ones, they averaged 50 and shot 35.6 percent.

The four wins are against teams in the bottom seven of the conference. The three losses are to teams in the top seven.

Simply put, the Bonnies have to execute better against the top-tier Atlantic 10 teams if they are going to be a top-seven team when it’s time to head to Brooklyn. LaSalle, their next opponent, is 52nd in the NCAA in scoring defense. Davidson, the opponent after that, is 251st. VCU is 158th, and after that they play UMass and Dayton again.

If the trend of victory against mediocre defenses and losses against good defenses continues, the Bonnies will go 2-3 over the next five games, with wins against Davidson and UMass and losses to LaSalle, VCU and Dayton. That will not be good enough if they hope to stay in the top half of the A-10, so they will have to figure things out.

One correction that has to be made is turnovers. SBU turned the ball over 15 times during Sunday’s loss to Rhode Island, with nine of them coming in the 20-point first half. Throwing away fifteen possessions over the course of a game is going to come back to haunt you; so did turning it over 14 times against Richmond and 13 times against Dayton.

Bona commits 12 turnovers a game, but what would happen if they cut that down by even one or two a contest? That’s two extra possessions a game, two more chances to get in sync, create momentum and win the game. Wisconsin only turns the ball over about eight times a game, leading Division I, which has helped them get to fifth in the country. Being smart with the ball isn’t the only reason they have had so much success (a Final Four appearance last year), but it goes a long way.

Another key component of the offense is getting Youssou Ndoye involved. Ndoye seemed to be back to his usual self offensively after the George Mason and St. Joe’s wins, but it took him until the second half of the Duquesne game to get going and he never got going on Sunday afternoon. His struggles against zones have been well-documented since it’s harder to get him touches in the post, but figuring out how to make him a factor is important if the Bonnies are going to win.

Should the Bonnies try more threes? They only attempt about 17 a game, yet they are making a respectable 34.9 percent of them. With three capable perimeter shooters in Marcus Posley, Jay Adams and Andell Cumberbatch, Bonaventure can solve the troubles they often against the zone by being effective from deep and knocking down open looks. While you don’t want to live and die from the three, they could stand to take a few more triples.

Offensive efficiency is going to be key if the Bonnies are going to have a successful rest of the season. Producing against elite defenses is going to be vital to heading into the Barclays Center for the tournament with momentum.

You can’t win on defense alone.


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