(Jaylen Adams Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
After winter storm Jonas brought a prolific blizzard to many regions of the United States, including the state of Virginia, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies and Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) Rams rescheduled their Saturday matchup to Sunday. The first-place Rams and 12-5 Bonnies will tip off at 3 p.m. in the Siegel Center.
VCU’s nine game win streak is a realization of Atlantic 10 competitors’ biggest fear: even without coach Shaka Smart, who left for Texas after last season, the Rams are still one of the league’s most formidable teams.
New coach Will Wade’s group has had the best offense in the conference since A-10 play began, scoring 83.8 points a contest, just above Bonaventure’s mark of 83. VCU also has the third-best scoring defense, allowing just 66.5 points a game over the first six games of league play. The plus-17.3 scoring margin is eight points better than St. Joe’s, the next best team in that category.
Bonaventure and VCU are both strong three-point shooting (both shoot 40 percent from long range) and three-point defending (VCU holds A-10 opponents to 29 percent shooting from deep, Bonaventure allows just 32 percent) teams, so something will have to give on Sunday. The Rams have momentum, while the Bonnies will be looking to snap a two-game losing streak.
Here’s the full breakdown of Sunday afternoon’s matchup:
St. Bonaventure- Mark Schmidt. 136-128 as Bonnies coach, 1-2 against VCU.
VCU- Will Wade. 14-5 as Rams head coach.
Key players for VCU:
Melvin Johnson- 6-foot-4 senior guard. After Treveon Graham’s graduation, Johnson assumed and has embraced the lead scoring role. The Bronx, N.Y. native has averaged 18.2 points a game this season, a six-point increase from his production last year. He is the team’s leading three-point threat, attempting eight long-range shots a game and making 43.6 percent of them. He is also second in the conference in free throw shooting, making 89.1 percent from the stripe.
JeQuan Lewis- 6-foot-1 junior guard. Lewis had his first big test as starting point guard at the Reilly Center last season after Briante Weber’s career ended due to a torn ACL. In that game, he scored 14 points, dished out six assists and didn’t commit a turnover in 23 minutes of play. This season, the Dickson, Tn. native is averaging 10 points, 4.8 assists and 3.1 turnovers a game while showing a great deal of confidence. A 29-point performance at Richmond on Jan. 16 in which he went 9-of-14 from the field and 8-of-8 from the free throw line was his career best to date.
Mo Alie-Cox- 6-foot-7 junior forward. At 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, Alie-Cox is being touted as a potential pro- on the football field. He only plays hoops at VCU but has a body built for the gridiron, and Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is among the believers that Alie-Cox could get an invite to an NFL training camp after college.
As the dominant post presence of this Rams team, with averages of 9.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks a game this season, he has some serious skill on the hardwood as well. He was held in check by Bona last season, going just 2-of-6 from the field, but every possession was a battle down low with Dion Wright and Youssou Ndoye; many borderline fouls weren’t called. That physicality is the paramount of his game and will force Wright, Denzel Gregg, Derrick Woods and Jordan Tyson to match the intensity.
Keys to victory for Bonaventure: The Bonnies outrebounded the Rams by three in last year’s classic, which was a major key to victory. Ndoye may be gone, but Bona and VCU are very similar teams on the glass; the Rams average one more board a game. If SBU can win the rebounding battle again on Sunday, that will improve its chances of winning its third A-10 road game of the season.
Keys to victory for VCU: Guard play will be key for the Rams on Sunday. Jaylen Adams and Marcus Posley make up one of the best backcourts in the conference (and nation), so Lewis and Johnson will need to play excellent defense to win the ballgame. Johnson’s height and length may prove to be extremely valuable against the two 6-foot-1 guards.