(CBS New York)- The Atlantic 10 will be one of the last conferences to hand out its automatic bid when VCU meets St. Bonaventure in the tournament championship game on Sunday, March 14 on CBS. The top two seeds entering the tournament, the Rams and the Bonnies are both strong defensive teams, but they approach that side of the court in different ways.
For VCU, much of the DNA for the “Havoc” defense, instilled by Shaka Smart remains. The Rams rotation runs nine deep with players all averaging between 16 and 32 minutes per game. They use that rotation to allow fresh legs to constantly hound their opponents up and down the floor, forcing 17 turnovers per game (11th in DI) and allowing them to shoot just 30.1% from three (24th in DI) and 40.5% overall (35th in DI).
“VCU’s staple has always been pressure defense. The ethos of who they were still sticks from when Shaka Smart was there. They still look to get those type of athletic, defensive type style of players that can also create off the dribble,” said CBS Sports Network analyst Ryan Gomes. “They have two bigs there but most of their players are between the 6’2″ and 6’7″ range.”
On the other side, St. Bonaventure features a core of guards who funnel players attacking the rim towards junior forward Osun Osunniyi, who is ninth in the country in blocked shots per game at 2.84. The Bonnies perimeter players have the same kind of length as VCU but that commanding presence in the middle differentiates them in how they design their defense.
“When you look at St. Bonaventure on the other side, they have the one big, Osun Osunniyi, he’s a great shot blocker, great rim protector,” said Gomes. “They’re different. All of their forwards are almost identical to VCU’s.”
Both styles have worked well with VCU ranking ninth in Ken Pomeroy’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency ratings while the Bonnies check in at 19th. With two teams this dominant on the defensive side, Gomes’ eye is turned towards the three point line as a potential determining factor.
“It’s going to come down to of course the defensive side of the ball, which wins championships we know. I think offensively, with two teams that are like this, whichever team can get in a good rhythm scoring the ball. It’s going to come down to the three point shooting,” said Gomes. “Both teams shoot the ball pretty decent, nobody is extremely better than the other. We know they’re going to bring it on defense. I think it’s going to be an offensive side of the ball kind of game. I think whatever team wins the three point line battle will win the game.”
The Bonnies have been better from deep as a team (35% vs. 32.9%) and their most dangerous threats are Jaren Holmes (42%) and Dominick Welch (41.4%). For the Rams, Vince Williams has hit at a 41% clip but Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland has been the biggest perimeter threat averaging 37% shooting on over seven attempts per game from three. The 6’3″ sophomore guard leads the Rams in scoring (19.4 PPG) and can be a handful for opponents. Gomes points out that the Bonnies do have the capability to throw different people at him and they’re going to need to in order to slow him down.
“St. Bonaventure has a number of bodies they can throw at him. Lofton is a good defender can take him for 2-3 minutes. In order for St. Bonaventure to win the game, they want to have different looks to throw at Hyland because you don’t want him to get comfortable with the same guy guarding him because he’s the one that makes them go,” said Gomes.
Hyland erupted for 30 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Dayton in this conference tourney before a quieter 12 point outing against Davidson. The Bonnies will hoping for more of the latter than the former on Sunday.
Either way, it appears, at least at the moment, that both of these teams will make the NCAA Tournament field. CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm has both teams as 11-seeds in his latest bracket, and things could change even further depending on results elsewhere this weekend. Based on their respective performances to this point, Gomes believes both teams should make it.
“Going off of how we’re looking at the NCAA this year is the eye test, that’s what I keep hearing. I think when you look at it like that, they both are deserving. They both have been consistent throughout the year,” said Gomes.
Tune in Sunday, March 14 when the Atlantic 10 conference championship game tips off at 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS. The game will also stream live through Paramount+