One of the more intriguing matchups in contrasting styles gets underway Saturday as SEC runner-up LSU takes on the Atlantic 10 champion St. Bonaventure. The ultimate irony to a game like this is if VCU beat the Bonnies last week, would they in this matchup taking on their former coach Will Wade?
LSU went 18-9 and is coming off a tough one-point loss to Alabama in the SEC title game. The Tigers have a potent offense and want to pick up the pace. St. Bonaventure went 16-4, beating VCU last week to take the championship. The Bonnies are one of the slowest teams in the country and only played two non-conference games, so we didn't see them much outside of A-10 play.
East Region: No. 9 St. Bonaventure Bonnies (16-4) vs. No. 8 LSU Tigers (18-9)
Time: Saturday, March 20 at 1:45 p.m. ET
Where: Assembly Hall (Bloomington, Ind.)
Spread: LSU -1.5
Keys for St. Bonaventure
Since opening up the season with three 70-plus-possession games, the Bonnies have slowed things up immensely and gone over that number just once. Defensively, they are stout, ranking 25th in 2-point defense and 32nd in 3-point defense. They've held seven straight opponents to 65 points or less, so keeping the score down here is imperative if they want to win.
Staying out of foul trouble may be the most important thing considering this squad plays only seven players, and Osun Osunniyi is their only effective big man other than Jalen Shaw, who doesn't play a ton. Osunniyi has had three fouls or more in just nine games, but the A-10 doesn't have a ton of big guys as good as what LSU will throw at them. While they aren't deep, the guys who do play are really effective.
Keys for LSU
Three of LSU's losses have come in slower-paced games, so clearly the key is for this to become a track meet. The Tigers are really efficient on offense checking in 54th in 2-point percentage, 107th in 3-point percentage, and 60th in free throw percentage. There aren't too many backcourts like Cameron Thomas and Javonte Smart in the A-10 either, so they need to press that advantage. Forwards Trendon Watford is so versatile on offense, which presents Osunniyi problems as he wants to plant himself in the lane and block shots. Watford is a 32.1 percent 3-point shooter, so if he manages to hit one early, it'll open things up even more.
LSU's defense is a bit of a mixed bag, as they are ranked 240th in 2-point defense, but 20th in 3-point defense. In each of their last three losses they allowed 80 points or more to Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia. The Bonnies have five double-digit scorers in their rotation, so they are certainly capable of putting up some points.
This is another tight game, according to Vegas, with LSU a slight favorite. I really do like the potential of the Bonnies in winning this matchup, but I'm concerned at their lack of depth, and I'm concerned that they may not instill the pace they need to win. The Tigers are going to run as much as possible and try to be physical inside. I don't have a ton of respect for the SEC, so give me the champion out of the A-10 to provide the mild upset.
Prediction: St. Bonaventure 72, LSU 70
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.