By CHUCKIE MAGGIO
Defense is a theme of this year’s NCAA men’s basketball Final Four, and for good reason.
Two of the top three defensive teams in the nation are playing in Minneapolis tonight. Virginia leads the country in scoring defense, allowing just over 55 points a game. Texas Tech is third, holding teams to just 59 points per contest.
Save for Purdue guard Carsen Edwards’s performance for the ages in the Elite Eight, Tony Bennett’s vaunted “Pack Line” defense has spearheaded the Cavaliers’ run at redemption for last year’s historic loss to UMBC. Chris Beard and his Red Raiders have burst onto the scene thanks in large part to allowing just 57 points a game this tournament.
If the ‘Hoos can stifle Auburn and the Red Raiders have another locker room dance-off to Old Town Road after their battle with Michigan State, the Tigers and Spartans will almost certainly be held under their season averages of 79.6 and 78.3, respectively.
This defensive-minded championship weekend (Michigan State is 34th in scoring defense) is another positive sign for St. Bonaventure’s future. While the Bonnies aren’t expected to make a leap to next year’s Final Four in Atlanta, they will finish 18th in the country in scoring defense after allowing just 63.1 points per outing in the 2018-19 season.
The No. 18 ranking represents Bona’s best scoring defense in the 21st century. The last time an SBU team allowed fewer than 64 points was the 1984-85 season (62.9 points against per game).
Bonaventure opponents made just 22 field goals a game this year and shot 40.2 percent, good for the No. 22 shooting defense in the nation. Led by Osun Osunniyi, Bona tied for 17th in blocks (4.8 per game).
Like Virginia, Mark Schmidt’s teams employ a variation of the Pack Line Defense. While Courtney Stockard and LaDarien Griffin will be notable defensive departures, Osunniyi will anchor the paint for the next three years, classmate Kyle Lofton figures to lead the team in steals again and long guards like Dominick Welch will continue to disrupt opposing jump shooters.
Defense wins championships, and Bonaventure was a bucket away from one this season.