PREVIEW: Bonnies head to Richmond as A-10’s top seed for first time

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

RICHMOND, VA — Each of the last three Atlantic 10 tournaments have presented adversity for the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team. This year’s tournament will be no different.

Three years ago, the Bonnies entered the tournament on a 13-game winning streak, only to be bounced in the semifinals and left at the mercy of a selection committee in hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Two years ago, the A-10’s top three seeds were defeated before the tournament’s final, leaving No. 4 SBU to play No. 6 Saint Louis in the championship game. As many Bona fans remember, it didn’t work out.

Then, last season, the Bonnies traveled to Barclays Center but didn’t get a chance to play before COVID-19 concerns canceled the tournament before its first Thursday game.

This year, St. Bonaventure will begin the A-10 tournament in a place it never has before: first.

After winning the A-10 regular-season championship for the first time in program history, SBU enters the 2021 tournament as its top seed. Despite the unprecedented circumstance head coach Mark Schmidt’s team faces, he said that SBU has prepared for the tournament no differently than in years past.

“Everybody is 0-0,” Schmidt said. “Everybody is trying to win a game and move on, and that’s our mentality. We don’t look at it as, ‘We’re the No. 1 seed, we’ve got all this pressure.’ We understand, and we’re proud to win the conference. It was a great accomplishment for our program. But we all start at 0-0.”

Three SBU starters will be playing in their second A-10 tournament, as juniors Kyle Lofton, Osun Osunniyi and Dominick Welch each started the A-10 championship game two years ago. That experience, Schmidt said, continues to serve his team well.

“We have experienced guys that understand what it takes to be successful,” Schmidt said. “We’re not always successful; we just lost our last game against Dayton. But it’s not because we weren’t prepared.”

Because they’re a top-four seed in the tournament, the Bonnies will receive a double-bye into its quarterfinals, as they have in two of the last three years. SBU awaits the winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup between No. 8 Richmond and No. 9 Duquesne.

“It doesn’t matter who you’re going to play,” Schmidt said. “They’re all going to be difficult. Every team is good, and if you don’t play your “A” game in this league, you’re going to lose. We have all the respect in the world for Richmond and Duquesne.”

Bona already owns wins over the Spiders and Dukes this season, the former of which came on a Lofton buzzer-beater at Richmond in early January that propelled SBU to a 69-66 win.

“(Richmond head coach Chris) Mooney has been in the league longer than I have,” Schmidt said. “They run the same stuff; they run it really well. (Grant) Golden is one of, if not the, best big man in the league. Everything goes through him. They’ve got great guards.”

Golden, a graduate forward, has averaged 12.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game this season. Blake Francis, a graduate guard, leads the Spiders in scoring with 16.1 points per game.

Duquesne has been one of Bona’s most familiar A-10 opponents as of late, as SBU is 7-1 against the Dukes since 2017. Two of those victories came eight days apart this season, as Bona beat Duquesne at home, 62-48, before besting the Dukes in Pittsburgh, 65-61.

“Duquesne is a power team,” Schmidt said. “Everything goes into the post. They’ve got guys that can shoot from the perimeter, and the better they shoot from the perimeter, the more effective they are.”

Senior forward Marcus Weathers averages a team-high 16 points for the Dukes, but has only scored 22 total points in DU’s two meetings with the Bonnies this season.

“We don’t know who we’re going to play, so we work on concepts,” Schmidt said. “For the most part, you need to take care of yourself. If you do that, you’re going to have a chance.”

As he has done before, Schmidt talked about his team splitting its season into three parts: non-conference play, conference play and the conference tournament.

Now, in the third trimester of the season, the Bonnies hope to turn their A-10 regular-season championship into an NCAA tournament berth.

Richmond and Duquesne’s quarterfinal contest will tip-off at 11 a.m. on Thursday. Bona awaits the winner at the same start time on Friday in a game that will be played at VCU’s Siegel Center and broadcasted on NBC Sports Network.

“Everybody has to win two games this weekend to move on to next weekend, and it’s coaches talk, but we just try to take it one game at a time,” Schmidt said. “We try to emphasize, we’ve got to rebound, defend and take care of the basketball. If we do those three things, we’ll be in good shape.”