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The Big Preview: Virginia Hosts St Bonaventure in NIT Quarterfinals

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Virginia vs Louisville Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia Basketball continues its run in the NIT tonight against the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (yeah, the Bonnies) at JPJ. The Bonnies are 22-9 (12-5 Atlantic 10) and are coming off, arguably, their best win of the season over Oklahoma. They also knocked off Boise St early in the season and Richmond in their regular season finale, but those are the only two wins they have this season over NCAA tournament teams. They come into this game ranked 80th by KenPom, while Virginia (21-13, 12-8 ACC) ranks 72nd.

The Bonnies are led in scoring by Jalen Adaway, at 15 points per game. Adaway is a 40% shooter, but his game is more about using his length and strength to create space either inside or in the mid-range. Adaway also rarely comes off the floor, averaging 38 minutes per game. Actually, there are four Bonnies who average more than 37 minutes per game, and they are all guards. Adaway is, nominally, the teams power forward.

This is Adaway with the game winner to beat Buffalo earlier this season. Notice how many defenders go with the ball on the screen. That leaves Adaway wide open at the top of the key. Can’t leave him that open.

The ballhandler is Jaren Holmes (6’4” 210), who is the team’s second leading scorer and assist-man. Their leader in assists in Kyle Lofton (6’3” 185), also the third leading scorer. Rounding out the four guards is Dominick Welch (6’5” 205).

This is Holmes knocking down the three with Lofton providing the assist. Again, the shooter is pretty open. In this case, it’s a great pass from Lofton.

In the win over OU, all four guards played the full 40 minutes. Perhaps the quick turnaround (they played Sunday in Oklahoma) will provide Virginia with an advantage.

The fifth member of the starting five is big man Osun Osunniyi, the A-10 defensive player of the year and a second-team All Conference pick. He is 11th nationally in blocked shots and 15th in block rate (just ahead of Kadin Shedrick). He is fifth on the team in minutes, averaging just over 30 per game. Depth is not a strength of St Bonaventure and in fact they are dead last in the nation in bench minutes. (Virginia is not too far ahead, ranking 349th in bench minutes.)

Running a four guard/wing lineup at all times means the Bonnies are not great on the boards. They grab 27.1% of their own misses, and allow offensive rebounds 27.1% of their opponent’s misses. That is a statistical coincidence, but the point is that for this game at least, Virginia’s weakness on the defensive glass should not be a problem.

Although both of the clips above are three pointers, this team actually does not shoot that many treys.

This is much more their game. Among the five rotation players, only Welch really shoots a lot of threes (nearly three-quarters of his shots). The other three guards are shoot fewer than one-third of their shots from downtown. As a team, they attempt just under a third of their shots from downtown. Osun has attempted two (making one) all season and is not a threat from downtown.

Defensively, the Bonnies play a 1-3-1 zone most of the time. They give up a ton of three point looks (almost 45% of FGA), and they are solid at defending those shots. You get a glimpse of that below.

This is semi-transition, so the defense isn’t fully set up. But you can still sorta see the 1-3-1 formation, and you can also see the struggles on the defensive glass. Just two Bonnies are near the rim and only one is actively boxing anybody out. Virginia may try to bring in late offensive rebounders to get these sort of easy put-backs against unsuspecting Bonnie defenders.

Still, although Virginia is generally pretty good at zone offense, if they are going to win this game they’ll likely need to knock down some shots.

The biggest question in this game is, how does Tony match up against the four guards/wings? Jayden Gardner probably can’t guard the Bonnie wings on the perimeter. Does Tony play a traditional big to keep Osunniyi (leading rebounder for the Bonnies) off the glass? Or does he go smaller, with Kody Stattmann or Taine Murray on one of the bigger wings? He could also go with Malachi Poindexter on one of the smaller wings, with Reece Beekman asked to guard a bigger man.

We have to assume that Tony will keep his usual rotation. That means Gardner will probably be asked to guard Welch. Welch is mostly just a shooter, so Gardner’s (relative) lack of quickness wouldn’t as much of a problem. Also Gardner’s size may make it tough for Welch to get good looks. The other option for Gardner is Adaway, but it seems like Adaway is far too quick and aggressive for Gardner.

Tony has more depth and therefore more options than St Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt. Virginia is also playing at home and they have had a couple hours extra rest after playing earlier on Sunday. This feels like a game Virginia should win, but the Bonnies are playing well and Virginia has a tendency to play down (or up) to opponents this season.