Backer Bits: Putting Syracuse Win In Context
By Walter Stubbs
With the St. Bonaventure Bonnies out of conference schedule coming to a close with its over time win over the Orange of Syracuse on December 22 and Atlantic 10 play about to commence; here’s a few tidbits to ponder as you plan your New Year’s festivities as well as looking forward to watching the Bonnies A10 opener against UMass on Saturday on NBCSN at 2:30 pm.
Syracuse suffered its first loss to the Bonnies since 1981. After the 1981 loss, Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim proclaimed that the Orange would never play in Olean again. And, after their last encounter in December of 1984, with Pearl Washington, Andre Hawkins and Boeheim avoiding rolls of tissue paper and oranges, the Orange haven’t returned to the enchanted mountains since. The question now is if Boeheim will ever play Bonaventure after losing in the Dome? Calls to the Orange offices haven’t been returned (joking), but I wouldn’t put it past Boeheim to pull another rug out from under the Bonnies.
Speaking of Syracuse, is it me or do Syracuse fans have an arrogance when it comes to their program? Hear me out on this one. I’m friends with a few Cuse fans, some who are Bona alums. After the loss on Friday, many, instead of giving out accolades to the Bonnies, used the excuse that Syracuse wasn’t as good as in years past, “so congrats but…… “ Here’s the thing, though. The Orange were 10-1 going into the Bonas game, their only loss being to Kansas, which is nothing to be ashamed of. And among the Cuse wins were Maryland, UConn and Georgetown, programs rich in basketball history. In years past, you were lucky if Syracuse ever left the state of New York and their schedule was of the cream puff variety. I heard the same “blah blah blah” two years ago, the last time Bonnies played Syracause and that Syracuse team wound up going to the Final Four in Houston. The talent, length and the zone that Boeheim has mastered are still in place at Syracuse, so please don’t hand me the “feel sorry for me” garbage. And if you’re a Bonas fan, you now root for Syracuse to win and win a lot. Nothing like improving the old RPI for your resume.
And speaking of RPI, and with it, strength of schedule, could this be the year that the Atlantic 10 Conference actually hurts the Bonnies’ RPI? While Syracuse is still Syracuse, the A10 looks like it is down this year, compared to years past. Much of that has to do with the coaching changes with two of its premier programs, Dayton and VCU (Anthony Grant and Mike Rhoades replacing Archie Miller and Will Wade, now at Indiana and LSU respectively). The rest of the league also looks down, with the exception of Rhode Island. Bonas, with an RPI currently of 31 and Rhody (17) are the only A10 schools in the top 50 in RPI, with Dayton at 71. No other A10 schools are within the top 100. Looks like a 13-5 in conference record would be enough for an NCAA berth but you never know….we’ve been there before so why leave anything to chance?
That’s because of the loss to Niagara.
While the Purple Eagles loss is still in the memory bank and hurting the brain while thinking about it, I don’t think it will hurt any post season chances the Bonnies are hoping to attain.
It was the first game of the season and it was played without Jay Adams, the Bonnies best player at the most important position in the game, point guard. You would think the committee, with all its analytics and information at their disposal, will realize this when the Bonnies resume is looked at. Plus, the committee has looked at injuries in the past, ala Kenyon Martin for Cincinnati when he got injured right before the tournament and they lost a #1 seed. Point being: Here’s to hoping the Bonnies finish strong and show that their opening night loss to the Purple Eagles was just a blip on the radar.
Personally, I think the loss of Adams earlier in the season will actually help the team in the long run, though it would have been nice to see what the team would have done with Adams against TCU. With Adams out, the team was forced to play without its best player and the team performed well, with the exception of the Niagara game. More importantly they won, which gave them confidence. It also forced Head Coach Mark Schmidt to use his bench, namely freshman Izaiah Brockington. Lets be honest; anybody who knows Schmidt knows he is reluctant to play freshman. With the exception of Andrew Nicholson and Adams, most see little or no time as they learn the system and plethora of plays that Schmidt has. Just ask Deon Wright or LaDarien Griffin and many others. It’s no easy task, but with his hands somewhat tied, Schmidt has turned to the Philadelphia native earlier than he might have wanted to. And Brockington, to his credit, has delivered and is a key reserve.
Many are calling the Bonnies win against Syracuse as the biggest in the last 30 years. I think a lot of that has to do with the personal feelings getting in the way. Many Bona fans are still bitter at Syracuse no longer playing a home and home series based on the close proximity of the schools. Whatever the reason, beating Cuse was personal to many. So call it the most personal if you will. For yours truly, however, it wasn’t the most satisfying win. I kind of expected Bonas to beat Cuse this year. (If you don’t believe me, ask my wife and any of my hoop buddies) To me, the Bonnies beating Xavier and Dayton in the A10 Tournament in 2000 were the two biggest back to back wins in the Bonas recent history as it enabled them to get an NCAA at large berth to the tourney, its first appearance since 1978. Without those two wins, Bonaventure does not go dancing, which is where every Division 1 program strives to be.
The most satisfying individual win for me has to be Bonas beating UConn on December 28, 2001 at the Hartford Civic Center. It wasn’t just a win, it was a beat down to a team that would make the Elite Eight thee months later, losing to eventual champion Maryland. The final score of 88-70 was a shellacking in every sense of the word. Jim Calhoun called it his most disappointing loss in his career on College Game Day a few years back. Whether it was JR Bremer from the outside or Vidal Messiah in the paint, the Huskies had no answer for SBU. The one moment, however, that I will never forget did not occur on the court. It occurred at the post game Bona party after the win, when first year Head Coach Jan van Breda Kolff walked in to a standing ovation with the “Let’s Go Bona” chant with his mouth wide open, speechless. (That probably was the zenith of his time with Bonas, but that’s for another day.)
That leads us to the biggest singular most important win in recent Bona lore, which was the Atlantic 10 Championship win over Xavier in 2012. Coming off the scandal of van Breda Kolff’s tenure, then the losing under Anthony Solomon. All those emotions were rolled into one on that Sunday afternoon on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. What that win did for the program and the Bona faithful cannot be overstated. I still remember the morning of the game, meeting with friend Mike Vaccaro down at the Jersey Shore, and still debating whether I should go or not, for fear of jinxing the team in the Brown uniforms. I went, and I still remember shedding a few tears, everything hitting me at once, and what the program had to overcome. I was at the Dome this past Friday night. The trip was well worth it but we won’t know if the Syracuse win will surpass these others until the end of the season when we look back. That will be determined on how the rest of the Bonas year plays out.
Now it’s time to sit back and watch the Bonnies play eleven times on television, the most time they have been on in a single season. Whether its ESPN2, ESPNU, CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network or Fox Sport Midwest.
Enjoy the ride, though I’m sure some will lose some fingernails while a few others might see a reduction of there liver drinking a few cocktails along the way to calm the nerves. Or both if your me. And if you happen to be one of fortunate ones to take in a game at the Reilly Center, make your presence known. Be loud and proud. This team needs and deserves the support.
(Photo Credit to Rich Barnes of USA Today Sports)