Basketball: Bonnies fans should be optimistic as week begins

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By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio

St. Bonaventure basketball fans should be feeling good right now.

Both teams have their flaws, certainly. The men have allowed the second-most points and second-worst three-point percentage in the A-10 through 18 overall games. The women have had the opposite issue: they’ve scored the fewest points in the A-10 through 20 contests. The men have lost two double-digit games in conference play, while the women had a recent five-game losing streak with three such defeats.

The squads have had stumbles this season (hey, the Gonzaga men and Mississippi State and UConn women are the only Division I teams that haven’t had any), but as the last full week of January commences, Bona Nation should be feeling very optimistic.

A win on Tuesday against St. Joe’s would put the men (12-6, 4-2) in a four-way tie for second place in the Atlantic 10 standings. It would also put them a game ahead of last year’s A-10 record through seven league games. The 2015-16 team won its first four in conference play before a three-game losing skid at Duquesne, against Dayton and at VCU. If the women (8-12, 3-5), who are currently in a three-way tie for 10th, could keep momentum and go 2-0 this week against Davidson and at St. Joe’s, they would be .500 in conference with six regular season games to play.

Both teams still have plenty of opportunities for good wins ahead of them.

The men have three games against teams in the top 50 of Ken Pomeroy’s KenPom ratings: at Rhode Island (46) on Saturday, against VCU (49) a week from Saturday and at Dayton (39) on Feb. 18. The Bonnies are fourth in the A-10 in Pomeroy’s metrics (88) despite ranking 214th in adjusted defensive efficiency.

After Davidson and St. Joe’s, the women have a four-game stretch at Fordham, against La Salle, against Saint Louis and at George Washington- four of the top five teams in the league right now. A 5-4 record at the Reilly Center this year gives them a shot of a split in the La Salle and Saint Louis games, while they will hope to right the ship away from Olean (1-8 road record).

First-year coach Jesse Fleming arguably has the women’s rebuild ahead of schedule. Some observers thought they might win just three A-10 games the entire year, but they’ve already reached the mark and are just a game under the .500 benchmark. For comparison’s sake, former coach Jim Crowley’s Providence team is in the Big East basement after a 1-8 start to the conference slate and current seven-game losing streak.

If the Bona women could finish in the top eight, they would have a home game at the Reilly Center in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. If that happens, junior guard Mariah Ruff should be a candidate for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. Not many players are more valuable to her team than Ruff, who has averaged 16 points in conference wins and is sixth in the A-10 in assists (4.2 per game).

Do the men have two player of the year candidates? Jaylen Adams is obviously one of the leaders, tied with Davidson’s Jack Gibbs for 15th in the nation in scoring at 21.8 points per game. But not far behind Adams is backcourt mate Matt Mobley, who is averaging less than two points fewer (19.9 points) and is tied for the country’s minutes per game lead (38.3). The Worchester, Mass. native has scored 20 or more points in four of the six league games.

While Gibbs will probably get a spot, Adams and Mobley could both realistically make the All-Atlantic 10 First Team at season’s end. The guard play alone has college basketball analysts like Seth Davis and Jeff Goodman interested in this team, which has arguably become the most exciting team to watch in the conference.

SBU students will be fired up for Tuesday’s game, which is not only the first time the student section has been at the Reilly Center since Dec. 10 against UNC-Wilmington, but is against St. Joe’s, one of Bona’s biggest rivals. Social media over winter break was full of adamant students who claimed a few games (Canisius, Dayton) would’ve had different outcomes with the Wolfpack in the house. Now it’s time for them to prove their value once again.

With conference play only half over for the women and 12 more regular season matchups left for the men, there are plenty of reasons to look forward to the rest of the college basketball season.


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