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2017 A10 Tournament Primer

The Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament moves from Brooklyn to Pittsburgh this year, and the new host city and venue appear ready for a wide open weekend of hoops. While it would appear Dayton and VCU, the top two seeds, are a near lock for the NCAA Tournament, no other A10 team will be comfortable heading into Selection Sunday. The forth seeded Rhode Island Rams likely have the best shot to be the third at-large team “in” from the A10 but will surely need a win or two, or maybe even three to ensure they are not left out in the cold like the Bonnies were a year ago. 

From a Bonnies perspective, SBU enters the field as the fifth seed and will play the winner of Saint Joseph’s and UMass, who battle Wednesday night. The Bonnies have beaten both of those clubs twice this year, but just yesterday had major issues in downing UMass’ at home.

SBU, who usually enters the conference tournament playing a great brand of basketball does not seem to be going that way this season. Yes, Schmidt team has won four of their last six games but they’ve been hardly impressive in a number of those contests (UMass, Saint Joes, Duquese). To be fair, the Bonnies have not really clicked since their big home win against La Salle back on February 15th. Shooting woes have plagued the back court of late, as the Bonnies have made just four three-pointers in their last 80 minutes of basketball. The triangle and two defense has been used against them and it has worked; making life difficult on Jay Adams.

So what are the Bonnies chances this weekend to make a run to Sunday and cut down the nets? Let’s take a quick look at each potential game.

Thursday– Saint Joseph’s/UMass winner: There’s no other way to put this: SBU has to win this game (It would also give them 20 wins). The Bonnies are already 4-0 against these two clubs and both of them are among the worst teams in the league. Saint Joseph’s has been ravaged by injury and have won just once since January 28th; to be honest they are the worst team in the league and SBU fans should hope they beat UMass on Wednesday night. UMass put quite the scare into the Bonnies this weekend in the Reilly Center thanks to some great defense on Adams and Mobley, as Kellogg used a triangle and two to confuse, and frustrate the junior guards. UMass’ has talent and extreme length, if nothing else and they are a far more dangerous club than the Hawks in a one game setting. Sure, someone will say it is tempting fate asking the Bonnies to beat the Hawks for a ninth time in a row but like I said, SJU is the worst team in the conference today and if SBU can’t get by them they have no one to blame but themselves. I’ll hope to see the Hawks Thursday, but either way the Bonnies will be strong favorites and failing to get to Friday would be a tremendous disappointment.

Friday- Rhode Island: All of you Dan Hurley haters out there will be jacked up for a match-up with the Rams on Friday afternoon. After a very disappointing non-conference schedule and start to league play, URI has closed strong winning five games in a row. They are now firmly back on the bubble and will be as motivated as any team in Pittsburgh to win. URI has won nine of their last 11 games, sports a top 40 defense in the country and already handled the Bonnies with ease on their home floor. URI has the 18th best effective FG% defense in America and will likely make life miserable for our back court. E.C. Matthews, Hassan Martin and company have the talent to win it all this weekend and may be putting it together at just the right time. Further, they are a deep club who should be prepared wear teams down in a tournament setting. Personally, I’d much rather face Richmond (had we been the 6th seed) than Rhode Island, but so it goes. If the Bonnies are going to beat the Rams they’ll need production inside on both ends, as Martin can wreck a game in the paint, offensively and defensively. This is an incredibly tough match-up for the Bonnies, but they’ll take their chances if they are playing Friday and hope to win a likely low-scoring and ugly game.

Saturday- Likely #1 Seed Dayton: Aside from SBU’s stunning road victory at UD Arena last year the Dayton Flyers have simply dominated the Bonnies. Not only that, but the best, most consistent and most senior-laden team in the league seems to rise to the occasion in March (though usually more so in the NCAA field than the A10 field). Scoochie Smith has the biggest stones in the league, Charles Cooke is a first-team all league player, Kendall Pollard has an old mans’ game that drives you insane, Kyle Davis plays incredible on-ball defense and their supporting cast makes plays every single night. Further, coming into the Tournament off a road loss at GW, the Flyers will likely be that much more focused under Archie Miller, the league’s best coach. Prior to their final weekend slip up, UD had won nine in a row including games over VCU, URI and Davidson. If beating URI on Friday is tough match-up beating the Flyers, armed with the winning-est senior class in school history, is a mountain of a challenge. Dayton put 90 on SBU without Charles Cooke and then downed the Bonnies by four at UD Arena back on February 18th.    

Sunday- Likely #2 Seed VCU or #3 Seed Richmond: To be honest I believe that winning Friday against URI and Saturday against Dayton would be harder to do than beating VCU or Richmond in a potential finals match-up. That’s not to say SBU would be favored in the game, far from it, but I believe Dayton and URI are worse match-ups for Mark Schmidt’s club than the Rams or Spiders. Despite SBU getting blown out in the second half down in the Robbins Center Chris Mooney’s club does not scare me. Yes, T.J. Cline is an all-league player, but Schmidt has done well enough against Richmond in the past and SBU played that game minus Jay Adams. We all know about the Bonnies tilt with VCU in the Reilly Center. Should the Bonnies get to the final they’d be playing with house money in terms of expectations, but would certainly be hoping to earn their first league title since 2012. 

So there’s the potential path to the automatic bid. Now, what will be needed from each Bonnie to get there? Let’s take a look into each player using about the length or a Tweet to do so…or a bit more…

Jay Adams– Has simply got to find his three point shot, and find it now. Adams is just 13-41 (31%) since the GW game and has been scoring a vast majority of his points at the foul line. The Bonnies cannot, and will not beat URI on Friday if Adams does not reverse this trend.

Matt Mobley- Mobley’s jumper as been more consistent than Adams’ but I’d love to see him be more aggressive going to the rim. Mobley is an 85% foul shooter but has taken 73 less foul shots than Adams. Getting Mobley going to the rim earlier in games would be a great start.

Idris Taqqee- The junior’s shot has regressed (23% from three) but he needs to continue to do what he does best: Hit the offensive glass and defend. Taqqee thrives on giving the Bonnies second chance points and scoring only when he’s got a direct line at the rim.

Denzell Gregg- Needs to play like a senior whose playing in his last game. Gregg has been a hot and cold player his whole career but this is the end of the line. SBU will not go into the weekend without him playing like one of their best two or three best players. Gregg needs to play within himself (play a bit slower offensively) and stay out of first half foul trouble if nothing else.

David Andoh- Simply needs to hit his mid-range shots. We’d call for Andoh to be a bit more of a willing passer but we know that’s not his game. Let’s just hope when Adams is doubled or when SBU runs pick and pops that Andoh’s jumper is on. When it is, he adds a terrific scoring element to the team…but when he’s off….

Josh Ayeni- Stay out of foul trouble, hit the defense glass. No one questions Joshs’ potential as a stretch four man but he’s been incredibly foul prone against better bigs and his rebounding is not what you’d expect from someone with his size. He needs to defend with his head, stay on the floor and knock down his jumpers when they come to him.

LaDarrien Griffin- Much like Idris, Griffin needs to hit the offensive glass, continue to be a disruptive defender with his length and take shots only when they’re too good to pass it. To his credit, Griffin has done just that this season…he leads the team in FG% at 54% on two pointers and has only taken four threes. 

Amedi Ikpeze-The big man needs to use his size to defend and clean the defensive glass if called on. He’s played just four minutes in SBU’s last three games but must be ready in Pittsburgh and will be used if Schmidt thinks the match-up fits the freshman forward.

Nelson Kaputo- Kaputo has had a really frustrating season but could still give SBU a lift off the bench this week. His three point shooting (9-21) makes him a threat offensively but Schmidt isn’t willing to play him more than about five minutes a game. He needs to be mentally strong/basketball IQ smart: knowing that he may only play a few minutes but not try to do too much when given those minutes.

Finally, let’s make a case for and against the Bonnies making a deep run this weekend.

The Case For: The Bonnies have the best back court in the A10, and no one doubts that. Adams and Mobley can take over a game and when Gregg is right the Bonnies have three of the better players in the entire conference. SBU plays well in the A10 Tournament and they’ll have a great deal of support in the stands. Their ability to get to the foul line, and ice close games there (22nd in America) gives them a huge advantage inside the final media timeout vs. anyone. Adams should be extra motivated after a rough shooting finish to the season and a one-and-done effort last year in Brooklyn where he made just one shot (1-10). 

The Case Against: The Bonnies would need to run off three top 100 wins in 72 hours to cut down the nets and the odds of that, based off evidence this year, are extremely low. Further, the Bonnies lack any kind of depth and so winning four games in four days is hard to imagine using seven players. SBU has not had a single top 100 win yet, and in fact their best win is against George Mason (115). Beating URI (51), Dayton (34), and one of VCU (49) or Richmond (90) isn’t impossible but it’s incredibly difficult. The Bonnies have been inconsistent all year long and have not exactly finished the season with a flourish. Ultimately, this year’s team may be remembered as one who beat everyone they should but no one “above” them. We will find out this weekend if that is the final chapter or if they can flip that script with just days to go in the season.

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A member of the class of 2008, Nolan spent four years as a student assistant with the program. He has written professionally for such outlets as espn.com/insider, Athlon Sports Magazines, Cox Sports Online and Blue Ribbon Previews. Ian was named one of the “140 Personalities to Follow in College Basketball” on twitter by The Sporting News.