Atlantic 10 Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament: VCU, St. Bonaventure battle for title

3/13/2021

They’ve played EPIC regular season battles. They’ve won … and lost Atlantic 10 title games. They’ve been two of the winningest programs in the A-10 for most of the last decade. But St. Bonaventure and VCU have never met with a title and NCAA automatic bid on the line. In fact, they’ve never even met in any round of the A-10 Championship.

That changes Sunday at 1:00 pm on CBS.

The top-seeded Bonnies and second-seeded Rams will play in the title game at University of Dayton Arena. It’s the culmination of a strange year for all of college basketball that ended with St. Bona and VCU being separated by half a game in the A-10 standings.

The Bonnies are looking for their first A-10 title since 2012, when Andrew Nicholson led the Brown and White to a win in the championship final in Atlantic City. SBU had a chance at another title in 2019, the last Atlantic 10 championship final (since 2020 was cancelled). A last-second corner three by Nelson Kaputo hit the back iron gave Saint Louis the title. That team featured a pair of freshman, Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi who are now the heart and soul of the Bonnies, as well as an All-Conference First Team selection and the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year respectively.

For VCU, this will be the sixth appearance in the title game, a remarkable statistic when you consider this is the Rams’ eighth appearance in the A-10 postseason since joining the league in 2013. But in those five previous appearances, only one resulted in a title – the 2015 championship (VCU beat Dayton) Picked ninth in the preseason, the Rams surged to the top of the standings behinds A-10 Player of the Year Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland, All-Conference selection Vince Williams and freshman point guard Adrian “Ace” Baldwin, Jr.

Expect a defensive battle Sunday – as both teams are driven by elite defenses.

Led by A-10 Coach of the Year Mark Schmidt, the Bonnies play a stifling defense that ranks fourth in the nation in points allowed per game (60.1). Teams shot just 38.8 percent against the Bonnies.

Coach Mike Rhoades, one of the architects of VCU’s run to the Final Four in 2011, has brought the HAVOC defense back to the Rams. VCU’s defense is also elite nationally, but from a different perspective. While the Bonnies force teams into bad shots, VCU doesn’t even let those shots happen. The Rams rank top 10 in the nation in steals per game, blocks per game, total blocks, total steals and are just outside the top 10 in turnovers forced.

The teams split the regular season matchup. The first game, which took place at the Reilly Center, was a strange tale of two halves.  VCU couldn’t miss in the first half, and built a 15-point halftime lead. But the Bonnies outscored VCU 45-14 in the second half, in what Schmidt called the best half of basketball in his 14 years at SBU.

The second game, played at the Siegel Center, also had VCU build a double-digit lead and the Bonnies rally, but the Rams held on for a 67-64 win.

So the stage is set for an epic battle for the A-10 crown. Given the the two previous games and both programs championship final history, expect an exclamation point, rather than a period on the end of a tumultuous season.

COURTESY ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE MEDIA RELATIONS

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