Photo by Dan Nelligan
St. Bonaventure welcomes VCU to the Reilly Center tonight. This will be the second meeting between the teams this season as the Bonnies look for the sweep. Boans has been a different team at home than they have on the road this season. However, Bonaventure’s lone road win in conference play came at VCU earlier this month. The Rams have won 11 straight road contests and will provide St. Bonaventure with a massive test before heading to ranked Dayton this weekend. Here’s what you need to know ahead of tonight’s game.
St. Bonaventure enters tonight’s contest with a 12-7 overall and 3-4 conference record. The Bonnies currently hold ninth place in the conference standings but are level with four other teams that span from seventh to tenth place. Mark Schmidt’s team also boasts a 7-2 home record this season.
The Bonnies once again have four players averaging in double figures. That group is led by redshirt junior Chad Venning. The 6-foot-10, 245-pound center averages 14.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Venning has also recorded a team-high in free throws made (46), free throws attempted (65) and blocks (35). He was one of the Bonnies with more than 20 points in Friday’s win over St. Joseph’s.
Mika Adams-Woods and Charles Pride have both been important pieces for this team in their first year with the program. Adams-Woods averages 13.4 points per game while leading the team in assists with 63. Pride has scored 11.8 points per game so far this season. The Bryant transfer also finds himself with the team lead in rebounding as he averages 6.5 boards per game. Pride adds 21 steals to his stat line on the year which is third most on the team. Moses Flowers is the final Bonnie averaging double figures at 10.5 points per game. The redshirt senior leads the team in made three pointers (35) and has started each of the last four games.
Daryl Banks III finally had the breakout game so many people had been waiting for this season. His 29 points in Friday’s win were a season-high and has raised his scoring average to 8.6 points per game. Banks also leads the team in free throw percentage (90.2%) and is second on the Bonnies with 48 assists. Assa Essamvous continues to be a constant in Schmidt’s first five. The sophomore from Gabon has started all 19 games for Bonas this season. Assa carries a 6.7 point and 5.4 rebound per game average into tonight.
Barry Evans continues to grow in year two on this team. The sophomore has been noticeable on both ends of the floor in nearly every game this season. Do not let the 3.3 scoring average foll you. Evans leads the team in steals with 24, ranks fourth in assists with 27 and hauls in 5.5 rebounds per game. Noel Brown also continues to play a vital role as Venning’s backup. The George Washington transfer averages 5.8 points and 2.1 rebounds per game.
The Bonnies currently sit 72nd in the NET Rankings and 82nd in the KenPom Ratings. St. Bonaventure presents VCU with a chance to pickup a quadrant one road victory.
Projected Starting Five: Assa, Adams-Woods, Flowers, Pride, Venning
After losing to the Bonnies and George Washington to open conference play, the Rams have won five straight games. VCU’s 5-2 conference record (13-7 overall) puts them in a tie for third place in the Atlantic 10. The Rams have won 11 straight road games dating back to last season.
First year Ram head coach Ryan Odom continues to consistently play a 10-man rotation since getting his team fully healthy just before conference play began. Max Shulga leads VCU in scoring and headlines four players averaging double figures. The senior from Ukraine averages 14.7 points per game. Shulga also leads the team in assists (70), three-point makes (46), three-point attempts (119), free throw makes (80), free throw attempts (102) and free throw percentage (86.3%). He ranks third on the Rams in rebounding at 4.6 boards per game and steals with 20.
Joe Bamisile, Zeb Jackson and Sean Bairstow are the other players averaging double figures this season. Bamisile has appeared in 10 games since returning from injury. All 10 games for the senior transfer from Oklahoma have come off the bench and have led to a 13.5-point scoring average. Jakson has started 17 of 18 games in which he has been healthy this season. The 6-foot-5 senior averages 12.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game while also contributing 67 assists so far. Bairstow has started all nine games he has been healthy for this season. The Utah State transfer is scoring 10.8 points and grabbing 4.3 rebounds per game. Bairstow has already contributed 43 assists in just nine games.
Toibu Lawal has been an important piece for VCU off the bench. The 6-foot-8 sophomore has contributed 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest. Joason Nelson and Christian Fermin have also been key players for Odom in 2023-24. Nelson averages 6.7 points, primarily off the bench. Fermin stands at 6-foot-10, 225 pounds. The sophomore averages 6.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while also leading the Rams in blocks with 36.
Graduate transfer Kuany Kuany will also see significant minutes in this evening’s contest. The 6-foot-9 forward averages 6.3 points per game and shoots 83.3% from the free throw line. Both Alphonzo Billups III (5.5 PPG) and Michael Belle (4.0 PPG) play important roles on this team as well.
The Rams enter this game at 89th in the NET Rankings and 91st in the KenPom Ratings. VCU provides the Bonnies with an opportunity to capture a high quadrant three win which could potentially jump to quadrant two if the Rams continue to win following tonight.
Projected Starting Five: Nelson, Bairstow, Shulga, Kuany, Fermin
Players to Watch
Chad Venning – Venning had quite possibly the quietest 21 points of the year in Friday’s win. The redshirt junior also led Bonaventure in scoring in the previous meeting between these teams with 19 points. VCU did not have many answers for Venning as he also hauled in 11 rebounds. The Rams could not stop Venning on January 3, and I do not see them having much success against him tonight. Venning will be the key to Bonaventure grabbing a win in this game.
Max Shulga – It’s hard to pick against the player who leads a team in as many statistical categories as Shulga leads the Rams in. The Bonnies were able to contain Shulga in the first matchup between these teams this season, however, Shulga is too good of a player to continuously be contained. I expect the senior guard to become the focal point once again for the Bonnie defense.
The Bonnies defeated the Rams 89-78 just 27 days ago in Richmond. Five Bonaventure players finished the game in double figures (all five starters). Venning tallied a double-double in the game as well. Fermin led the Rams with 15 points as Kuany totaled 13. Jackson and Bairstow had 11 points each. The Bonnies made 12 triples and 21 free throws while VCU cashed in eight threes and 14 free throws. Bonas outrebounded the Rams 35-29 in the 11-point road win while leading most of the game.
Prediction and Keys to the Game
This game has all the makings of a back-and-forth, entertaining game. The Rams are 3-3 in the Reilly Center in the history of this series and have lost two straight overall. This series has historically been extremely even which favors VCU in tonight’s game. While the Bonnies have been much better offensively at home, the shooting inconsistencies remain a major concern. VCU has won 11 straight road games as well which complicates the prediction. This game will likely end in a 2–6-point victory. It’s hard to pick against a red-hot VCU team but give me the Bonnies and their near-perfect offensive performances inside the Reilly Center.