When the St. Bonaventure Bonnies were eliminated in hreatbreaking fashion in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, as Kyle Lofton missed two free throws against Saint Louis, Mark Schmidt was hoping that his team might get a break from the NCAA Selection Committee for an at-large bid to the Big Dance. But that didn't happen. And so one might have sufficient reason for believing that this team might fold the tent and go quietly in the NIT, which is more or less known as a "consolation" tournament.
But as BetOnline customers may have noticed, that hasn't happened.In fact, it's been just the opposite. This team appears to be surging into the semifinals on the heels of three consecutive road victories, and they will square off against the Xavier Musketeers in Madison Square Garden at 7 PM ET.
It's televised by ESPN, as is the nightcap between Washington State and Texas A&M, with the winner of that contest making up the other half of Thursday's championship game.
St.Bonaventure has played AT Colorado, AT Oklahoma and AT Virginia. And they have, of course, been an underdog in all three games. So those straight-up victories really mean a little more than usual. They have put together a formula of ball control, timely shooting and the ability to play at the pace of the opponent. These guys are very experienced; there are five senior starters, and they make up 91% of the minutes in the rotation.
Xavier lost eight of its previous ten games going into the NIT. After dropping a decision to Butler in the Big East Tournament, coach Travis Steele got the ax, so assistant Jonas Hayes took over on an interim basis, keeping the seat warm until the sullied Sean Miller makes his return. But this team, which has victories over the likes of Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Creighton and UConn, has resgistered consecutive wins over Cleveland State, Florida and Vanderbilt, so they aren't here by accident.
In the college basketball betting odds that have been established on this game by the folks at BetOnline, St. Bonaventure is the favorite:
St. Bonaventure Bonnies -1.5 (-115)
Xavier Musketeers +1.5 (-105)
Over 138.5 Points -110
Under 138.5 Points -110
Xavier is a team that likes to use "length" to its advantage, and they start a team that is bigger across than the Bonnies have with their four-guard lineup. One key member of the crew - fifth-year senior Paul Scruggs - is not available as he tore his ACL against Florida. St. Bonaventure might get bullied a little if not for the absence of Scruggs, and the presence of their own Osun Osunniyi, who has averaged 2.9 blocks per game. What we imagine is that Xavier's seven-footer Jake Nunge, who has been almost automatic from two-point range (62.5%) won't have such free reign against Osunniyi.
One dymanic to take note of is that St. Bonaventure is not an outside-shooting team, taking only 31% of their shots from long range, but they are able to force their opponents into shooting from the arc (44.4% of all attempts). That means Xavier may have to turn to what they don't do best (they are only 32% on triples).
No, Xavier isn't here by accident, but they have been greatly helped by the fact that they have been able to host all three of their NIT games at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati. They won't have the comforts of home at the Garden, where the Bonnies might have a healthy contingent of their own making the trek from Buffalo. This is the right time for them, so we're laying the points.
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