St. Bonaventure found out last year that the regular season didn’t matter all that much in certain situations. They grabbed a share of the Atlantic 10 title and were in the nation’s Top 30 in ratings percentage index, but it meant little after their early exit from the conference tournament.
The Bonnies became the first team to finish first in the A-10 and have a Top 30 RPI and not receive an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. They fully expected to receive an at-large bid despite losing to Davidson in their first game in the conference tournament, and they felt snubbed when they were overlooked.
“It’s something you try to forget,” junior guard Jay Adams said. “For everybody who was here last year, it’s going to be in the back of their heads. We use it as motivation. It’s a good chip. Last year, we had a really good season and put it up in somebody else’s hands. This year, we can take matters into our own hands.”
Bona’s success in the A-10 tourney will largely be determined by what happens when the offense is in the capable hands of Adams. The all-conference point guard, who led the Bonnies with 20.8 points and 6.6 assists per game, will steer the Bonnies into their first game Thursday afternoon in PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
The fifth-seeded Bonnies, 11-7 in A-10 play and 19-11 overall, will play No. 12-seed Massachusetts. Bona has no chance of getting into the Big Dance without winning the conference tourney.
In this league, anything can happen. In 2012, Bona was a No. 4 seed and ran the table with three victories in the conference tourney to reach the NCAAs.
“No matter who you play, it doesn’t matter,” coach Mark Schmidt said. “You have to play well. They’re all tough. It’s the Atlantic 10. If you’re not ready to play, you’re going to lose. It’s been proven throughout the year. It’s why the Atlantic 10 is such a great conference. There’s a lot of parity. We have to be ready to play.”
Bona will need to play considerably better Thursday, and beyond, than it did in the regular-season finale against UMass. St. Joe’s and UMass finished 4-14 in conference play this season. If the Bonnies beat the winner of their first-round matchup Wednesday, they will play Rhode Island (13-5, 21-9) on Friday.
The winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAAs. At least two other teams are expected to receive at-large invitations. Dayton (15-3, 24-6) won the conference title during the regular season, and Virginia Commonwealth (14-4, 24-7) was second. Both are probably headed for the Big Dance. Bona doesn’t have the same luxury.
UMass took the Bonnies out of their rhythm with man-zone hybrid defenses in an effort to take away Adams and shooting guard Matt Mobley. The two had combined for more than 40 points per game but struggled mightily Saturday.
Mobley had his worst game all season while trying to fight through the triangle-and-two defense. He finished with five points. Adams had a game-high 17, but he made only two field goals. Both can expect the same attention paid to them no matter who they play Thursday and, if they win, again Friday.
“I take it as a compliment when teams throw junk defenses at us,” Adams said. “It’s a compliment to the work me and Matt put in. But right now, we’re clicking. You can’t really play us two. We’re going to need more of that in Pittsburgh.”
If they get shut down again, it will be incumbent on Denzel Gregg, David Andoh and Idris Taqqee to play well. If they fail to get support from their complementary starters and their bench, they will be watching the NCAAs on television again. This time, they would only have themselves to blame.
“It’s any given night, especially in the A-10,” Adams said. “Hopefully, we can go out and play well and get the W’s necessary to win it. As guards, we have to keep pushing and keep making plays. We can’t let anybody hold is in check. We have to come out and be ready to go.”