(Jaylen Adams Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the most important part of college basketball’s season- conference play.
For the 8-3 St. Bonaventure Bonnies and 8-3 Davidson Wildcats, who will face off at Bonaventure’s Reilly Center tonight at 8, Atlantic 10 play is the time to rev up the engines. Neither team is in CBSSports.com’s projected NCAA Tournament field after non-conference action (Bonaventure would be on the outside looking in for the NIT as well), so the 18 league games will be crucial to the possibility of postseason play.
“8-3 is good, but right now we’re not concerned about 8-3; it’s 0-0,” said Bonnies head coach Mark Schmidt. “We have 18 games and this is the first of 18.”
Davidson, like Bonaventure, lacks a resume-boosting win thus far. The Wildcats played three teams that CBS Sports projects to make the tournament (North Carolina, Pittsburgh, California) but lost those games by an average of 28 points. One of their eight wins was against Division III Denison University, and their most impressive win so far is Mercer.
The Wildcats were hoping for a better start than 8-3, but they are still at or near the top of the Atlantic 10 in many offensive categories. They are first in scoring at 81.7 points per game, tied with Richmond for the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the conference at 1.5 and second to Duquesne in three-pointers made per game with 9.7.
Individually, 6-foot junior guard Jack Gibbs is first in the A-10 fifth in the nation in scoring, averaging 24.6 points a game with two 41-point games. Three of Gibbs’s teammates are also among the conference’s top 25 individual scorers: 5-foot-11 senior guard Brian Sullivan (14.8 points per game), 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Peyton Aldridge (14.7 ppg) and 6-foot-4 senior guard Jordan Barham (12.5 ppg).
Davidson has traditionally been a small team under coach Bob McKillop, so three-point prowess has long been a part of its repertoire. This season, four players (Gibbs, Sullivan, Aldridge and sophomore forward Oskar Michelsen) are averaging at least four three-point attempts a contest. Sullivan leads in three-point percentage at 41.5 percent, while the team is shooting about 34 percent from outside, as is Bonaventure.
The Bonnies are holding opponents to a 31 percent success rate from long-range, much better than the 38.5 percent mark they were allowing after non-conference play last year. In last year’s buzzer-beating SBU win, the Wildcats made nine three-pointers, including two each from Sullivan and Michelsen.
“We haven’t played anybody as good a shooting team as this, so it’ll be a great challenge for us,” Schmidt said. “We’ve done a decent job getting to three-point shooters so far, but Davidson is a little bit different than what we’ve played. They don’t have one or two three-point shooters, they’ve got four or five.
“They’re a terrific offensive team with great skill players, so somehow you have to defend the three-point line… you’ve got to sustain your effort for the entire possession.”
Defensively, Davidson is near the bottom of the conference. The Wildcats allow 79.6 points a game, last in the A-10, and teams are shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 38.4 percent from three, 11th and 13th respectively. They are also last in the league in rebounding margin, losing the battle on the boards by an average of eight rebounds a game.
As Schmidt pointed out, however, the defensive numbers are somewhat misleading due to the 76.5 possessions a game the Wildcats average, 29th-most in the NCAA.
“They give up a lot of points, but there’s more possessions because they also score a lot of points, so they’re defense is better than it appears,” Schmidt said.
“You can’t outscore them, you’ve got to out-defend them, but at the same time you’ve got to put points up on the board.”
Gibbs and Sullivan are a formidable duo in Davidson’s backcourt, but Bona gives them a tough matchup with Jaylen Adams and Marcus Posley. Posley is 10th in the conference in scoring with 17 a game, while Adams is two slots behind at 16.2. Adams is also tied for first in assists per game with 5.2 and fourth in three-point percentage at 45.2 percent.
The guard showdown is the one to watch, and Adams is ready for the challenge of conference play.
“I think we played against some pretty tough opponents, good guards and bigs, so everybody’s had a test at a position at least once in the non-conference. I feel good going in.”
Bonaventure has won eight of its last ten games in the Reilly Center going back to last season, while Davidson has won six of its last ten road games. It’ll be strength against strength to start the A-10 slate on Saturday night.