he University of Massachusetts (15-13, 9-6) concludes its regular season on the road against St. Bonaventure. The winner of the game will secure second place in the Atlantic 10 East and thus secure a first-round bye for the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament (Mar. 8-11). In his weekly column, UMass coach Bruiser Flint provides keys to defeating St. Bonaventure on the road.
There is no doubt that the one-point loss to George Washington was a big disappointment. The encouraging part of the game is that for the most part, we played well. We lost our mental edge down the stretch and it cost us the game. However, we can't dwell on the past. We have an all-important game against St. Bonaventure on Saturday that will determine which team earns a first-round bye in the Atlantic 10 Tournament that begins next Wednesday in Philadelphia.
As I have said many times during the season, no team has ever won four straight games in the A-10 Tournament. That's why the first-round bye is so important. The Bonnies enter Saturday's game with the same 6-3 record that we have against East Division teams. It is going to be an exciting game and we know the environment will not be easy. In my opinion, the Reilly Center in Olean, N.Y. is the toughest arena in the entire Atlantic 10. Why? The Bonnies have the greatest fan support in the league. The students are virtually waiting for the opposition when the bus arrives. The fans are always geared up.
After the GW game, I told the team that St. Bonaventure might be the toughest game we play all year. Two of our seniors -- Chris Kirkland and Mike Babul -- know how difficult the situation could be, but they told everyone in the locker room that UMass has won at the Reilly Center before and can win again. That's the attitude we have to bring on Saturday. In my first season as head coach, which was Kirkland and Babul's freshman year, we won a huge game at St. Bonaventure. It propelled us to a big winning streak and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. We won't go into the game lacking the confidence that we can win on the road. We have been doing it all season.
At this time of year it's all about execution and making the fewest mistakes possible. There aren't any surprises. It's time to play sharp and play within the system. That means if an opponent stops a particular part of our offensive set, we don't stop running the play entirely and do something different. It means we run the play all the way through. In running terms, we have to cross the finish line AND break the tape.
Okay, so what can we expect from St. Bonaventure? (18-8, 10-5 Atlantic 10). First, the Bonnies had a great win in defeating Xavier 65-64 on Wednesday night. That is a confidence builder for them. The Bonnies are playing for a secure spot in the NIT and perhaps an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament, barring a win in the A-10 Tournament.
The Bonnies have experience. Guard Tim Winn (13.6 ppg, 4.2 apg), center Caswell Cyrus (12.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and guard David Messiah Capers (10.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg) are veterans and provide great senior leadership. It's no secret they are the top three scorers on the team. With Winn, a candidate for the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award as the best senior player in the nation under 6-feet, SBU likes to push the ball up the floor. They are very strong in transition basketball. We'll have to keep their transition game in check.
Both Winn and Ernest Bremmer are not afraid to shoot 3-pointers. On the season, Winn is 46 of 141 and Bremmer is 25 of 63. They will shoot the 3-pointer in any situation. Bremmer canned a huge 3-pointer earlier in the season that helped SBU defeat Temple.
Peter Van Paaseen, at 6-foot-11, and Cyrus at 6-foot-9, give the Bonnies good size and excellent rebounding at both ends.
Off the bench, Patricio Prato, a 6-foot-4 guard (8.4 ppg, 1.9 apg), has become one of the better freshman in the league. He has played the fourth most minutes on the team. He will most likely be matched up with Monty Mack when he is in the game.
If there is a weakness in the St. Bonaventure attack it is they often run too much and that can result in turnovers. They're often not as patient as they could be, but that could play into our hands. We would like to control the tempo and make SBU play our brand of basketball.
Over the years, Tim Winn has been a thorn in our side. He's the SBU engine. We have to control him and be up to the task physically with our big players. If we can do both those things, we will leave for the Atlantic 10 Tournament knowing we don't have to play on Wednesday.
In my next column, I'll preview our A-10 Tournament opening round opponent.