After coming up agonizingly short in the SEC Championship game against Alabama the LSU men’s basketball team (18-9, 11-7) sets its eyes on the big prize, the national championship.
LSU and 67 other teams made the trip to Indianapolis, which will host the entire 2021 NCAA Tournament, and come nightfall the Round of 32 will be set. As Lao Tzu said, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and LSU’s first step is a matchup against St. Bonaventure.
How to Watch
TIME: 12:45 P.M., CDT
LOCATION: Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana
The Bonnies (16-4) are the Atlantic 10’s conference champions and ran through the A10 tournament in convincing fashion, winning its three games by an average of 14 points. This included an 18-point drubbing of Saint Louis who beat LSU back in November.
It’s the first ever matchup between the Tigers and the Bonnies though Will Wade is 2-0 against St. Bonaventure dating back to his days coaching VCU. As Poseur talked about yesterday, St. Bonaventure’s style of play could be kryptonite for LSU.
If you think LSU is under-seeded, the Bonnies have just as compelling a case and are actually ahead of the Tigers in both Ken Pom and the NET. The Bonnies, like LSU, aren’t exactly a deep team but they are a veteran group who have been through plenty of battles together.
St. Bonaventure’s entire starting five are juniors and they all averaged double-digit points per game. If you extend that to the eight players who have logged the most minutes for the Bonnies, you’ll find seven are juniors and the other is a sophomore.
Kyle Lofton runs point for the Bonnies and doubles as their leading scorer with a 14.3 point per game average. He also has better than a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio and was a first-team all-conference selection. While Lofton leads the Bonnies in points, he does it with an older approach to basketball. Lofton doesn’t take many threes or free throws, he instead finds success in the midrange.
Lofton has a pair of really good running mates playing along side him in the backcourt in All-A10 second-teamer Jaren Holmes and Dominick Welch, the leading three-point shooter for the Bonnies. Hold that last thought about St. Bonaventure’s three-point shooting, we’ll revisit that in a bit.
In the frontcourt is the arguably the biggest challenge LSU has faced all season: Osun Osunniyi, the Atlantic 10’s defensive player of the year. We’ve bemoaned all year LSU’s lack of a true center and Saturday could be when it proves to be most costly. Osunniyi is 6’10” and averages nearly three blocks a game.
The Bonnies are one of the best teams in all of basketball at grabbing offensive rebounds—33.6%, 30th per KenPom—and Osunniyi is maybe the single biggest reason for that. As a team the Bonnies grab about 12 offensive rebounds a game, and Osunniyi is responsible for nearly a quarter of all offensive boards. Entering Saturday, Osunniyi is on the cusp of averaging a double-double with 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds.
But Osunniyi could be susceptible to foul trouble. He’s fouled out of two games, had two more games where he finished with four fouls and an additional five games with three. If LSU wants to advance to Monday, they’ll need to use Osunniyi’s aggressive shot blocking mindset against him.
But when you play a team that’s comprised almost entirely of juniors, a lack of discipline isn’t something to bank on. The Bonnies are top-25 in assist to turnover ratio and they do a good job of defending without fouling. Cameron Thomas may be one of the best free throw shooters out there, but he’ll have his work cut out for him trying to draw egregious contact.
St. Bonaventure’s offense is on the complete other end of the spectrum compared to LSU. The Bonnies are 319th in tempo per KenPom, averaging only about 65 possessions a game. But it’s not only the pace at which they play, it’s how much the ball moves when the Bonnies are on offense. The Bonnies assist on about 57 percent of their baskets, good for 57th in Division 1. LSU, on the other hand, assists on 42 percent placing them 338th nationally.
The ball moves and moves and moves when St. Bonaventure is on offense and while they’re deliberate they’re also efficient. St. Bonaventure won’t shoot many threes, but they shoot 35 percent as a team and have three guys Holmes, Welch, and sixth man Alejandro Vasquez shooting 36 percent or better from distance.
We’re nearly 800 words in and we haven’t even talked about the strength of St. Bonaventure: the defense. The Bonnies are 17th in KenPom’s adjusted defense and allow about 60.4 points per game, good for fifth in Division 1. LSU has been held in the 60s twice this year and lost both games. The way the Bonnies play will closely resemble Saint Louis, Texas Tech, and Kentucky; LSU, of course, lost all three of those games.
It’s a classic strength vs. strength matchup and whoever can impose their will on the other will advance to the tournament’s second round. And unfortunately for LSU I fear the Bonnies will be the ones moving on.
Prediction: St. Bonaventure 79, LSU 71
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