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2017-2018 Season Preview

Returning Starters: Idris Taqqee (G), Jaylen Adams (PG), Matt Mobley (G), Josh Ayeni (F)

Returners: LaDarien Griffin (F), Nelson Kaputo (PG), Amadi Ikpeze (F/C), Courtney Stockard (G/F)

Newcomers: Ndene Gueye (F/C), Tshiefu Ngalakulondi (G/F), Izaiah Brockington (G)

The Reader’s Digest Version: Mark Schmidt’s club boosts one of the best back court duos in the country with Adams and Mobley and expectations have never been higher for the Bonnies under their current head coach. Adams is considered one of the best point guards in the country, and with an all senior back court, the Bonnies have the talent and experience to make those expectations come to fruition. If SBU can take advantage of marque non conference games and earn key victories in those spots, the Bonnies will enter A10 as a favorite to finish atop the league and likely be on the right side of the bubble. The front court is certainly an issue, as is the perimeter defense and defensive rebounding. The ability to receive contributions from the supporting cast and player development, mostly on the blocks, will likely determine if this club can reach their ceiling; an NCAA team that wins more than just a single game in the Dance. 

 Knowing that the margin for error is razor thin this season, each Bonnies non conference game will feel like a “must win.” Why? Because between chances to earn major resume building wins (Maryland, TCU possibly, Yale, Vermont, Syracuse, Buffalo the Bonnies also have landmine games that could blow up that resume (MD Eastern Shore, Jackson State, Siena, Canisius). If the Bonnies can will all the games they’re favored to (All but MD and Syracuse) and win one of those two they’d have an excellent non conference resume. According to KenPom, the Bonnies toughest foes are as follows: Maryland 41, Syracuse 68, Vermont 76, Yale 84, TCU (Possibly, 14). That would give Schmidt’s group five top 100 games before A10 play; a very impressive number if they could go 3-2 or 4-1 vs. that group. We all know how much the Committee values (Or we think they know anyway) wins vs. Power 5 Schools and the MD/TCU/Cuse’ trio serves up those chances this Fall.  This is the best non conference schedule the team has played since 2012 when the team faced Virginia Tech, Cleveland State, Buffalo, Illinois, and NC State who were all in the top 100. 

Team Strengths: The Bonnies’ back court is clearly the strength of the club. Armed with Adams and Mobley, SBU goes into every game with the type of scoring duo that keeps opposing coaches’ up at night. Both players were preseason A10 First Team and Mobley’s 18.5 points and 5.8 rebounds almost seem to fly under Adams’ shadow. Bonas excelled at getting to the foul line last year (24th) and making those shots (17th), grabbing offensive rebounds (57th) and stealing the basketball (35th). SBU scored just under 25% of their points from the line last year, 9th best in all of college hoops. So getting to that line is a major part of the recipe for success. As dangerous as Adams and Mobley are, their 174th ranked 3PT shooting could likely improve as well. The Bona guards showed an ability to jump passing lanes and create turnovers last year despite the fact that they weren’t the best on-ball defenders. Bonas ability to shoot the ball will extend defenses all year long, and if players like Brockington (apparently had a monster scrimmage), Taqqee (25%) and Ayeni start making shots it will allow Ikpeze, Gueye additional space to operate on the blocks. This is critical given the question marks surrounding the front court. Bonas ability to say “they’ve been here before” with their core is not something to dismiss either. SBU had a disappointing season a year ago coming off “The Snub” and there’s no doubt the seniors want to cement their legacy in the Enchanted Mountains with an NCAA bid. With three experienced guards Bonas has the leadership and talent to finish atop the league.  

SBU will miss Gregg’s ability to defend and rebound on the interior this season.

Team Weaknesses: After losing Denzel Gregg the Bonnies’  front court cupboard is quite bare. Gregg was a terrific rebounder, grabbing 11% of offensive and 17% of all rebounds respectively when on the floor. He was also the team’s best shot blocker by a mile a year ago. SBU’s front line was thin last year, and now it is equally inexperienced, relying on sophomore’s Ayeni, Ikpeze and Juco transfer Gueye to produce. Ikpeze and Ayeni were incredibly prone to fouling (averaging nine fouls every 40 minutes) and Gueye has yet to play D1 hoops. Ayeni averaged just 2.6 rebounds and Ikpeze just 1.9; so there’s plenty of need for improvement on that front. Offense from this bunch would be a plus, but what Schmidt really needs from them to defend and rebound the ball. What Gueye brings is an unknown, but he’s apparently still healing up from shoulder surgery and making good progress (Though we believe he will be ready for the season). Either way, rebounding and protecting the paint has to be Bonas’ top concern. LaDarrien Griffin will be a key in this space as the team’s top returning rebounder and most active defender. If rebounding is the team’s number one priority, perimeter defense is likely number two. Defensively, Mark Schmidt has employed far more zone a year ago (27% vs. 10% to 15% in most years) likely in order to cover up for his lack of quality on-ball defenders. This throws off his true pack line defense a bit, but he’s got to make due with what he has on the floor. Bonas allowed foes to shoot 35.3% (184th) from deep a year ago, which isn’t horrible, and they did show improvements in this space as the year went on. With longer guards like Brockington (6-4), Stockard (6-5) and Chef (6-6) in the fold I expect the perimeter defense to improve this season. As the defense tightens up on the wings it will really help out Bonas’ inexperienced forwards. Finally, SBU’s ability to keep Adams and Mobley healthy is an obvious key to this season. SBU saw how injuries can ravage a team within their own league last year (St. Joseph’s) and want not part of that. Given Bonas’ absolute reliance on their star back court to win games, their health is a non-negotiable. 

X Factor Player: There’s so many ways you could go with this spot but we’re going with Amadi Ikpeze. Yes, Ikpeze is a projected starter, but what the Bonnies get out of him this season is a complete unknown. With the front court being the single biggest question mark, Ikpeze has a chance to provide a post presence that is desperately needed. He’s the Bonnies best returning traditional post player, and will likely be given every chance to become the team’s five man. He apparently really trimmed down over the off-season and is in fantastic shape. Ikpeze shot 45% from the field last year and was 10-11 from the line showing a nice touch around the rim. As we’ve mentioned he needs to stay out of foul trouble and focus on rebounding the basketball to be most impactful this year. If he can morph a 25 minute a game, seven point/seven rebound type of player the Bonnies will that much closer to solving potential issues under the basket.  

Biggest Trap Games (In order of schedule)

  1. @ Siena, November 29th- The Saints lost four key players off a 17 win team including Bonnie killer Brett Bisping, but Siena always give Schmidt’s group a hell of a game. This one will likely be much closer than Vegas’ line….it always is.  
  2. Vs. George Washington, January 28th- Maurice Joseph’s team won 20 games a year ago and smacked the Bonnies at home (Yes, the final was 76-70 but GW led big the entire game). This could be a sneaky-tough game for SBU if Yuta Watanabe shows out despite GW’s overall lack of talent on the roster. In a league where few games feel like sure wins, this may feel like that to some fans. 
  3. @ Duquesne, February 3rd- The Dukes are always a tough out for the Bonnies and with new head coach Keith Dembrot (Akron) they’ll be better coached than anytime in recent past and thus dangerous. SBU will surely have the talent advantage but expect a dog fight in Pittsburgh vs. a well coached team with new life.  
  4. Vs. Saint Louis, February 7th- Armed with a new head coach (Travis Ford), a ton of talented transfers and a top 50 freshman in Jordan Goodwin, SLU should be widely improved. This may not even be a “trap game” come February as the Billikens could have racked up an impressive record by then if they play to capabilities and their current sexual assault investigation is cleared up. 
  5. @ Saint Louis, March 3rd- Ditto but even tougher on the road to close out the A10 season. When Bonnies captured a share of the league title two years ago they did it at Saint Louis…maybe they can turn that trick again. 

Top Five Games to Watch:

  1. Vs. Rhode Island, February 16th- The biggest game in the RC in probably a decade (As long as the season goes according to plan) this one plays out on ESPN2. Both teams could be fighting for the league title at this point and the the Reilly Center will be absolutely bananas if the Bonnies are atop the table. Adams and Mobley vs. the URI back court should draw eyeballs of many NBA scouts. 
  2. Vs. Maryland, November 24th- SBU’s first chance to earn a signature win vs. a P5 school, they get the Terps the day after Thanksgiving down in Florida. Maryland won 24 games a year ago and sported a top 50 offense and a top 70 defense. Melo Trimble is gone, but Justin Jackson (Soph.) and MD’s front line will give the Bonnies issues down low. Expect Jay Adams to want to make a statement in this one vs. his home state club. 
  3. @ Syracuse, December 22nd- The much hated Cuse went 19-15 last year and failed to make the NCAA field and lost three starters off that club. SBU will have a golden opportunity to earn a win in the Carrier Dome in this contest that will have no shortage of Bonas fans in attendance hoping for a key road win before Christmas. 
  4. @ Saint Joseph’s, January 6th- The Bonnies have absolutely dominated the Hawks over the past few years but this year they will find the wins tougher to come by. SJU was picked to finish third in the league and has a nice young core with Charlie Brown, Shavar Newkirk, Lamarr Kimball to pair with senior James Demery. Both of SBU’s match-ups with Phil Martelli’s team will be ones to watch for auto bid and A10 standing purposes.
  5. @ VCU, February 24th- Mark Schmidt’s club has never won at VCU but maybe this is the year. VCU lost coach Will Wade to LSU and replaced him with former Shaka Smart assistant Mike Rhoades who takes over a young, but talented Rams club. Winning in VA right before March would be a fantastic momentum builder for the Bonnies…avenging last year’s crushing home loss wouldn’t be bad either. If VCU’s back court comes along quickly they’ll be a potential NCAA club. 

Bona Blog A10 Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Rhode Island
  2. St. Bonaventure
  3. Saint Joseph’s
  4. Saint Louis
  5. VCU
  6. George Mason
  7. Dayton
  8. La Salle
  9. Davidson
  10. Richmond
  11. UMass
  12. Duquesne 
  13. GW
  14. Fordham

Final Take: SBU enters the season with high expectations, two star guards and a major target on their backs for the first time in years. As we stated earlier, Bonas’ ability to keep their back court healthy is an obvious key for this season as everything would change should either Adams or Mobley miss significant time. The Bonnies ability to defend and rebound the basketball though likely are the key to this season. No one worries about the Bonnies’ offense, but getting stops and limiting opponents to one and done possessions is going to be huge. Bonas can beat anyone when a game is played in the 80’s, but can they win a game vs. Rhode Island in the 60’s? That’s the question.  Should the forwards progress quickly on both ends of the floor the Bonnies will have a well-balanced team that will finish in the league’s top 3 and find themselves right in the NCAA conversation. However, if Adams and Mobley need to combine to score 50 points a game each time out and Bonas is constantly being beaten on the glass and in the paint the season outlook is more unclear. If key “secondary players” such as Ikpeze, Ayeni, Stockard and Griffin produce close to their full abilities this team goes from very good to excellent. If not, the club will ride with their duo all year long and hope they are enough to carry them to an NCAA bid. 

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A member of the class of 2008, Nolan spent four years as a student assistant with the program. He has written professionally for such outlets as espn.com/insider, Athlon Sports Magazines, Cox Sports Online and Blue Ribbon Previews. Ian was named one of the “140 Personalities to Follow in College Basketball” on twitter by The Sporting News.