Pregame: #7 Bonnies v. #10 St. Joe’s, THR @ 6:30

Bonnies v. SJU: Round 3.

Bonnies v. SJU: Round 3. A  chance to play Dayton is on the line.

The Opponent:  The 13-7, 7-11 St. Joe’s Hawks are the 10th seed in the tournament. The Bonnies have beaten the Hawks twice this season by nine and ten points respectively. SJU went 2-2 over their final four games beating UMass and La Salle while dropping games to Richmond and Rhode Island. SJU knocked the Bonnies out of the tournament last season in the semifinal as the Bonnies went ice cold in the final twenty minutes. The Hawks are the reigning league champions after downing VCU last season.

The Rundown on St. Joe’s: Let me start this section off buy saying I am not one of those people who says “it’s really tough to beat someone a third time.” I don’t know how that started, but I don’t believe in it. To me, that statement applies much more in the NFL than anything else but as it pertains to this game tomorrow I’m not buying it. Why? Because the Bonnies are a better team and if they play to their abilities they will win. Yes, St. Joe’s will have the best player on the floor in Bembry, but after him the Bonnies will have the next best four players; that’s a fact (to me). SBU will need to do a great job defending the first team all league wing and last time out Cumberbatch did a fantastic job on him. The Hawks are playing to defend their title, but this team has little resemblance to last year’s squad. SBU will need more hot shooting from their guards and for Ndoye to play a man possessed. If they do that and defend and rebound like they generally do they’ll be fine. Sure, the Bonnies could lose this game. No doubt about it. But I’m more comfortable playing the Hawks than I would be compared to other clubs.

Foes’ Starting Five:

Javon Baumann (C), DeAndre’ Bembry (W/F), Chris Wilson (PG), Isaiah Miles (F), James Demery (W/F).

Their Strength: SJU’s biggest strength is not one area but rather one player in Bembry. The sophomore wing can take over games at a given moment, is tough to guard, can really pass the ball, plays great defense and is just an all-around terrific player. Bembry went nuts vs. the Bonnies in the first meeting at the RC knocking down 6-9 three pointers while scoring 27 points. In our last meeting he was largely held in check: 15 points, 6 turnovers and a few huge missed FT’s. Keeping Bembry under control will be THE key in this game for the Bonnies on the defensive side of the ball. When he is held to/under his average the Hawks are a different team. Forcing the supporting cast to become leading men to so speak is something you really want to do vs. the Hawks.

Their glaring weaknesses: Like the Bonnies SJU really struggles to shoot the ball from 3PT land (316th nationally) and are just about the worst FT shooting team you’ll ever see (348th nationally). If this game is nip and tuck late the advantage goes right to the Bonnies given their FT woes. Aside from their shooting woes the Hawks are really just a blah team. Chris Wilson is a league average point guard (maybe), Aaron Brown is a bench piece (solid though), Demery a promising freshman, Bauman is a scrub and Miles is a solid player. This just isn’t a really good team, there’s no other way to say it. Without Bembry this Hawks team is playing last night in the play in games and it’s not even close.

Their best player(s): Bembry by a mile. We’ve written enough about him here this season. You know all about him and his fro.

Reason to be Pessimistic:  Because it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season. Because the Hawks will have the best player on the floor and that does matter. Because winning four games in a row seems really tough to do for this club (and any club in the A10 for that matter). Because the Hawk will Never Die. 

Reason to be Optimistic: Because the Bonnies are the better team and you should expect them to win. Schmidt has proven he can win games in this tournament. Posley/Cumberbatch have been playing/shooting well of late and that could prove vital. Ndoye played great in this building a year ago and won’t want to go out with an opening round loss. The Bonnies should have a very good crowd there at the Barclay’s and they’d like nothing more than to beat the Hawks three times in one year and give them a bit of payback for sending us packing last March.


Ian: SBU 67, SJU 59

Shane: SBU 71, SJU 65

Vinny: SBU 67, SJU 63

What’s up Next: The winner of this game takes on #2 Seed Dayton on Friday night at 6:30. SBU is 0-2 vs. the Flyers this year so they’re due.  The loser goes home for the year and the coach breaks out their golf clubs. I doubt the Bonnies take a CBI bid but I guess you never know.

Ndoye trying to bring Bonnies a happy ending to a long journey

Youssou Ndoye has come a long way since playing a bit role for the Bonnies during their run to the NCAA tournament in 2012.

Youssou Ndoye has come a long way since playing a bit role for the Bonnies during their run to the NCAA tournament in 2012.

On Sept. 8, Youssou Ndoye tweeted this:

One might guess that singular goal to be to lead St. Bonaventure to an Atlantic 10 championship.

The final steps of fulfilling those aspirations begin Thursday against Saint Joseph’s at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It’s time again for the Atlantic 10 tournament. If the Bonnies have any chance of winning the title, claiming four victories in four days, their senior big man will have to lead them.

Ndoye hasn’t tweeted since Sept. 8. He’s been too busy with basketball, after all. That’s the focus, now more than ever.

The tweeting can wait till later.

“This is what you practice for. Since during the summer, you just want to get yourself as ready as possible for the tournament,” Ndoye said after he propelled the Bonnies to victory over Fordham on Saturday in the regular season finale.

“This is it, man,” he added. “We’ve got to go for it.”

The seventh seed, the Bonnies aren’t expected to advance deep in Brooklyn. They will have to beat St. Joe’s for the third time this season and then a Dayton team that has already trampled them twice just to reach the semifinal round.

The Atlantic 10 is a conference full of talented upperclassmen that have endured and often conquered the challenges of March. They are guards who can adeptly shoot and pass, wings who can slash to the basket in bursts and versatile forwards who can do damage inside and out.

But none of them is quite like Ndoye, a 7-footer who can run the floor like a gazelle, control the defensive paint with his length and quickness, sweep the glass clean and score effectively enough to demand double teams.

Ndoye gives the Bonnies a chance.

Few would have uttered such a line five years ago when Ndoye was finishing up his second year of organized basketball at prep school in Maine. Ndoye was big and fast, but he was clumsy and raw. Mark Schmidt and the Bonnies took a chance on him when few others were willing to take the risk.

“I tell people all the time, when Youssou decided to come to Bonaventure, some people laughed. It was like, ‘What? You’re taking that guy?’” Schmidt remembered recently. “We just saw something, and he made what we thought a reality with his work ethic. If anybody thought that he would be the player that he is today five years ago when he was up at Lee Academy, no one would have believed it. He was riding snowmobiles.”

Try to imagine a 7-foot African teenager basking in the snow and cold of Maine.

“It’s a long story,” Ndoye said with a smile, recalling his journey. “It’s crazy man.”

The United States was a foreign terrain to Ndoye when he arrived here from a Dakar, Senegal as a 17-year old. Basketball was essentially new to him, too. He was a soccer player growing up. The sport he plays now was an afterthought.

“When I came here four years ago,” Ndoye said of St. Bonaventure, “I didn’t know anything about this. I was coming here just to get an education. I was just a kid from Africa who happened to play basketball.”

Ndoye has made great strides away from basketball, too.

Ndoye has made great strides away from basketball, too.

Ndoye’s game has slowly developed – from a bit reserve on the 2012 Atlantic 10 championship team to a leader the last couple years. With more fine-tuning, he might find a spot on an NBA roster soon.

“Mark and I are good friends. We talked about it. The development of Ndoye has been incredible,” Fordham coach Tom Pecora said. “It’s really, really impressive. I remember seeing him in prep school. That takes a lot of hard work with big guys, but he’s really become an exceptional player.”

“Everyone will look at his offensive development,” Pecora added, “but what I see is his ability to move his feet and defend.”

Case in point: Ndoye, matched up with a quick Fordham guard at the top of the key, quickly moved laterally and back to swat a driving attempt at the rim.

Ndoye has made similar strides away from basketball. He has nearly mastered the English language, and he is confident and articulate in speaking it.

“You listen to him speak … I know I couldn’t speak whatever language he speaks at home,” Schmidt said. “To able to come to the United States with nothing and to become not only the player but the person that he is, it speaks a lot about him, but also speaks about the community we live in and the school. He has come a long in all facets.”

Ndoye has played some of his better games in the Atlantic 10 tournament. He averaged 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots in three games last year. As a freshman, he grabbed a then-career-high nine rebounds and blocked two shots in a quarterfinal win over St. Joe’s.

Thursday could be Ndoye’s last game in a St. Bonaventure uniform. Saturday’s victory over Fordham was likely his last at the Reilly Center. With 22 seconds remaining, Ndoye exited the court with his fellow seniors to a standing ovation. The big man smiled and hugged his coaches and teammates.

“This is really humbling,” he said afterward. “I will never forget this. I will take this everywhere I go. I learned so much stuff just being around my teammates, socially and going to school here.”

Then Ndoye talked about the challenge ahead for the Bonnies. In his mind, perhaps he hearkened back to that tweet on Sept. 8.

The focus is clearer now than it has ever been.