Bonnies With No Room For Error in December
Beginning on Wednesday night at the Reilly Center, Mark Schmidt and his Bonnies embark on an all-important month of non-conference games. A year ago, between November 28th and January 13th the Bonnies lost just twice. Once to Hofstra in the RC, and again on December 22nd at Siena. At the time, we considered it a win for the non-conference slate and felt the Bonnies were in position to start building their resume. In looking back, the reality is, one of those two losses could have kept SBU out of the NCAA field; like it or not.
This season, the non-conference schedule appears a bit tougher to navigate with decent mid-majors littered throughout the month of December but there’s no doubt the Bonnies goal should be to get to their first A10 game without another loss on their record. And to be honest, they probably have to in order to stay in any bubble conversation.
It won’t be easy, but it is entirely possible if they play the type of basketball we’ve seen in spurts through their fist five games. Let’s take a quick look at what lies ahead for this club before the new year.
Their first test back at home in the Reilly Center (having not played there since the 12th) will be a Siena team that has defeated them three years in a row, much to the displeasure of alums everywhere. Not since Jay Adams arrived on campus have the Bonnies won the Franciscan Cup; a trophy they should be winning far more often then not. Siena is already just 2-4 and you’d have to wonder if the Saints will be as good as most projected a month ago. They’ve fallen to UNC Asheville by a dozen and to Albany by nine, both on the road. Surely, now is the time for the Bonnies to beat the Saints and reclaim their spot as the best Franciscan team in the state. While the Saints are a decent team, the Bonnies are unquestionably better and are at home.
Following the rivalry game Wednesday, the Bonnies face a Buffalo team who will be in the middle of a brutally difficult road trip. UB is 4-2, but up next are trips to Creighton, SBU and Pittsburgh. The Bonnies should be jacked up for their second Saturday game of the year in the RC against a local rival who is without their best player from a year ago, Lemonte Bearden. Last year SBU escaped with a two point road win thanks to Dion Wright’s 26 points. With Wright gone, another Bonnie will need to step-up to beat the Bulls at home.
A tough road game at Hofstra follows the Buffalo game, as the Bonnies head to Long Island on Dec. 6th. While Hofstra is a solid club, they aren’t the powerful mid-major of the last two years. The Pride have lost to woeful Sacred Heart, pretty-bad Manhattan and halfway-decent Vermont already. Gone are Bonnie killers Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley, leaving Hofstra looking much younger and greener than year’s past. This is a tricky road game, but SBU should win it. There will also be a large alumni base in the stands which doesn’t hurt either.
Saturday, December 10th provides the Bonnies their toughest non-conference test this side of Florida; UNCW. The Seahawks are 5-1 and will be on a week’s rest after playing non D1 Pfeiffer on the third. While UNCW is a solid club coming off an NCAA berth, they haven’t experienced anything like a trip to the RC this season, and will likely find the confines less than friendly. Their five wins have come against poor teams, and some of the wins have been unimpressive (OT over Eastern Kentucky, 3 points over Evansville). If there’s a non-conference home game SBU drops it’s likely this one, but SBU should still be a few basket favorite over this mid-major at home. This is the game to circle on your calendars in terms of a potential early season make-or-break your resume type of game.
Finally, the Bonnies wrap the month with three of their easiest games of the season, on paper anyway. A date with constantly rebuilding, and currently awful Niagara in Buffalo on December 17th is first. The Purple Eagles are currently 1-5 with a lone victory against equally-awful Drexel. If they won eight games this season it would be a success. This should be an absolutely blow-out in front of some alums in Buffalo.
A trip from Army follows on the 19th, but the Black Knights shouldn’t pose much of a threat, especially in the RC, whether the students are there or not (they won’t be). They’re already 2-4 with losses to Central Arkansas and Fairfield. KenPom gives Army a 4% chance of earning a win in Olean; about as much of a lock as you’ll ever see on his site.
The final tune-up before A10 play is a visit from Canisius. The Golden Griffins are projected to be a tad worse than last year’s 14 win club. That type of team cannot earn a win in the Reilly Center against a Bonnies club that should be ridding a nice winning streak. SBU hasn’t lost to Canisius since 2013 during the Griff’s 20 win season.
SBU has faced easier foes in the past, but this current team has every chance to run the table in the month of December. It is right there in front of them for the taking.
The Bonnies will play just one true road game this month and given their dynamic back court, Denzel Gregg, Mark Schmidt, and a fantastic home court advantage, it would be a disappointment to see them lose anything more than one game.
And to be honest, even one loss will hurt.
A season ago SBU lost just one non-conference game at home (Hofstra) and just once more in A10 play (Dayton). So, if you want to chalk up every RC game as a win you’d be pretty safe to do so given recent trends.
While nothing is a given, and they’ll face some challenges, there’s no excuse for this club not to run off a long winning streak starting tomorrow evening against Siena.
For those who want this club to start building an NCAA resume in order to avoid another heart breaking snub, it begins right now. The Bonnies have already used up their “one bad loss” card in Texas when they fell to Arkansas Little Rock. The Florida game would have been a great road win, but as it stands, its nothing more than a decent showing away from home and a loss. Close doesn’t matter to the committee.
Now, the team must avoid any slip ups vs. lesser foes. If last year showed us anything, it’s that nothing can be left to chance, and that any loss could, and will be used against their case.
If the Bonnies fancy themselves an NCAA team again they must win every single game between now and December 30th when they tip vs. UMass.
Unfortunately, the Bonnies are a club that is playing each game, and this entire season with zero room for error. If you think that’s not the truth, then you didn’t pay attention to what happened last year on Selection Sunday. It’s a daunting task but taken one game at a time, it can, and should be accomplished by this group.