Preview: St. Bonaventure (3-1) vs. Mississippi State (4-0)
The Game: The Bonnies look to improve on their best start since 2001 when they take on one of the best teams in the South East Conference, Mississippi State. Mark Schmidt has sent out two emails urging the students to stick around an extra day before Thanksgiving break, and if they do, the Bulldogs could be in for a much more difficult game then they probably anticipated.
After notching the program’s biggest win in at least the last four years, the Bonnies will look to turn the trick twice in three days, as they get a chance to trip up another BCS school. For that to happen however, the Bonnies will need to pick up the pace on the offensive end of the floor, where they connected on just 2 of 19 three pointers on Sunday. Chris Matthews will have to find his shooting stroke again, because the Bonnies will be hard-pressed to survive another 3-14 performance from their sharpshooter. Their 37% shooting from the floor as a team will need to increase as well.
Defensively, the Bonnies will need to do more of the same. Holding Rutgers to just 40% shooting was good, but they really made their mark by forcing 15 turnovers and crashing the glass for 51 rebounds. The defensive play of the guards was much better then on Friday; Eleby and Blackburn kept their men in front of them and did not allow penetration and kick out to the corner shooters. This will be a key again. The Bonnies will also need to keep pushing the ball up court, as they outscored Rutgers 14-2 in fastbreak points, the last of which was a game winning lay up by Matthews.
How to Catch It: No television for this huge non-conference tilt, but as always you can listen to Gary Nease call the action on WPIG/WHDL 95.7 FM, and streaming live on gobonnies.com. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM. Those who have paid for All-Access through SBU, will get the TV feed over the internet.
Marquee Matchup: Without a doubt the battle down low between Bonnies freshman Andrew Nicholson and Mississippi State junior Jarvis Varnado. Varnado, a 6’9″ forward (And current SEC Player of the Weed), lead the country in blocks last season and has already rejected 31 shots this season, good for 7.8 blocks per game. Nicholson fared well vs. a good Rutgers front line this Sunday with 15, 11 and 5; but going up against Varnado will be a whole new monster. Anyone thinking we might see a combined 12 blocks in this game between the two may not be far off. This should be a tremendous test for the young freshman.
Inside the Numbers: Aside from Varnado having more blocks then most college teams through 4 games, the Bulldogs are also doing a number of other things well during their 4-0 start:
- Averaging over 85 points per game offensively.
- Have collected 55 team blocks.
- Averaging 48 rebounds per game/ 11 more per game then opponents
- Shooting 51% from the floor, and 41% from three point range.
- Guard Dee Bost has already tallied 27 assists on the year.
Trying to Stay Hot: Jonathan Hall. Hall did a little bit of everything Sunday vs. the Scarlet Knights, scoring 18 points on 9 of 18 shooting. Hall hit some tough shots during the contest, and really did a good job getting his teammates open lay-ups via penetration. Hall has lead the team in scoring in 3 of 4 games, and will look to carry the load again offensively for the Bonnies. Already, Hall appears to be the leader of this group. We hope the ankle is ok, as he probably is feeling the effects of a sprain.
Trying to Heat Up: Bonnies point guards. Blackburn and Eleby are just 2 of 12 from three, and will need to do a better job of knocking down the occasional jump shoot to keep the defenses honest. In Eleby’s defense, he did hit some very long 2 pointers over the weekend, but Blackburn took, and missed some big threes down the stretch of the Rutgers game that could have come back to hurt the Bonnies. Eleby has undoubtedly made strides from last year, but he and Ray will need to keep growing offensively to give the Bonnies more weapons.
Outlook: Well, the only way this game could have set up better for Schmidt’s bunch is if they had knocked down some free throws Friday night vs. Delaware. The Bonnies couldn’t be more confident coming off the win over Rutgers. When I asked point guard Ray Blackburn if he thought the game was a great upset win for the program he stated, ” We knew we had it (the game). I don’t think its an upset. I think we’re the better team.” That quote says a whole lot about the direction of this program my friends. This team has gotten some confidence, and is quite simply too young and inexperienced to know that they shouldn’t win these games, and that the Bonnies have struggled mightily against better teams.
This game will be fun to watch, and hopefully fun for the players. They have earned a game like this. A game where people actually think they can pull off an upset at the RC. A game where there is a real buzz around town and campus. The buzz was not created because Mississippi State is here; the buzz was created Sunday afternoon in Jersey.
Do I think the Bonnies will win Tuesday night? I really don’t know, and if you made me put money on the line, I’m sure I’d have to take Mississippi State. But do I really think they can steal one here? You bet I do…and it’s been a long time since I have said that.
As always, Go Bonnies!