(Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
As Count von Count would say on the Emmy Award-winning television program Sesame Street, this week in Atlantic 10 basketball has been brought to you by the number 0.4.
The endings of the VCU/St. Bonaventure and VCU/George Washington games made national headlines, as VCU was able to steal two road wins after surrendering the go-ahead basket with just 0.4 seconds on the game clock. The controversial referee decisions (an administrative technical against Bona and a foul on the inbound against GW) appeared on nearly every ESPN show, with personalities from across the country debating the merits of the Rams’ victories.
On Saturday afternoon, the two “jilted” schools will face off as Bonaventure (15-8, 7-4 in the A-10) visits Foggy Bottom to face GW (12-12, 4-7 A-10) for the first and only regular season meeting between the teams.
“Yeah, I saw a little bit of it,” Amadi Ikpeze said of GW’s loss on Wednesday. “It’s just crazy because we kind of lost in the same way. It’s crazy how the game of basketball just works out.”
The Colonials aren’t the NIT Champion team they were a year ago, due in large part to the firing of allegedly abusive coach Mike Lonergan about a month before practice began and the graduation of talented forward Patricio Garino.
This GW squad will need a miracle run to make the postseason, but it does have a nice win over Davidson, and five of its seven A-10 losses came by 10 points or fewer. The majority of its losses have come to upper-half teams that Bonaventure lost to as well: Richmond twice, VCU twice and at Rhode Island.
The Bonnies cannot expect to win going away at the Smith Center, on Homecoming no less.
Graduate student forward Tyler Cavanaugh is the star for coach Maurice Joseph’s team. The 6-foot-9, 243-pound Syracuse, N.Y. native leads the team in scoring (16.5 points per game) and rebounding (7.8 rebounds per game), while also ranking second in assists (2.2 a game).
A 2016 All-Atlantic 10 Second Team selection, Cavanaugh is likely looking for some redemption after a tough game in the Reilly Center last February. While he scored 17 points, he made just three of his 13 attempts from the field and turned the ball over six times, relying heavily on a 10-of-11 performance from the free throw line to get points.
Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt rejected the notion of that meeting having any carryover into Saturday, saying, “That was 365 days ago- he’s much better.”
Schmidt was one day off, as that game was on Feb. 13, 2016, 364 days ago, but his point was still made.
“(Cavanaugh)’s their best player. He gives them confidence,” Schmidt noted. “He can play both inside and outside; he’s the ultimate competitor. He’s a tough cover; we’ve gotta do everything we can to try to keep the ball out of his hands, which is hard.
“He’s, right now, one of the top five players in the league.”
SBU will likely throw multiple looks at a player who has seen it all in his 126 games and two college stops (Wake Forest for two years, GW for the last two). Ikpeze will probably go head-to-head with him on at least a few possessions, along with Josh Ayeni, Denzel Gregg and LaDarien Griffin.
“Yesterday, walking through a couple of their plays, coach told us that they’re a physical team,” Ikpeze said. “They’re just gonna try to pound us inside, beat us in the paint, so you’ve gotta be ready to defend the paint and keep the ball above the foul line.”
The post play will be a focus, but the Colonials have strong perimeter shooters, as well. Sophomore guard Jordan Roland (42.1 percent) and redshirt junior guard Jaren Sina (40.7 percent) rank 10th and 11th, respectively, in three-point percentage in conference games. Cavanaugh is actually second on the team in attempts from behind the arc, with 114 total. He has made 40 of them, good for a 35 percent clip. Junior Yuta Watanabe hasn’t been a big option for three, but has a good jumper and made the go-ahead shot in the VCU game.
“They can make shots,” Schmidt said. “You get caught up in how big they are inside and they’re a power team inside… but you’re gonna have to double team the big guys and Sina, Roland, they can shoot the ball from the perimeter. So yeah, it’s a big concern.
“You get caught up in playing defense in the post and try to get the ball out of the post and now, they can really shoot the ball well.”
These are the road games Bona needs to win to keep pace for a double-bye and Friday start in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. A victory would, at the very least, put it in a tie with Rhode Island for fourth place in the league standings. Third-place Richmond plays at La Salle, which is tied with SBU for fifth, at 2 p.m., so that game is one of interest, as well.