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5 Questions Heading Into October

With the Bonnies first game just under 50 days away, and practice kicking off shortly, the college hoops season is inching closer and closer. Mark Schmidt’s club has as much pressure on them as ever before, and that includes Andrew Nicholson’s senior season when the Bonnies cut down the nets in Atlantic City and nearly upset Florida State in the NCAA first round. This year’s team has a significantly better back court, more experience, and the league isn’t quite as competitive at the top as it was five years ago (at least it’s not expected to look that way right now).

With all that hype and expectations comes a season that is beyond highly anticipated. Jay Adams has changed his number to #3, giving the Bonnies an all-senior back court of Taqqee #1, Mobley #2 and Adams #3….Pretty cool. Despite that tremendous back court the Bonnies do have some question marks heading into the 2017-2018 season. Let’s take a look at five of those such story lines today. Feel free to connect with us on Twitter @bonablog with your thoughts and comments.

  1. How far can this back court take SBU and how hard will Mark Schmidt ride them? We all know that the Bonnies are going to go only as far as Adams, Mobley, Taqqee will take them. Ultimately though, SBU’s success will likely depend on everyone else, mostly the front court, but Adams and Mobley are THE horses that will have to lead the way nearly every night. Last year, Schmidt played Mobley more than any coach played another other player in America, and Adams played the 80th highest percentage of his team’s games; essentially they play all game, every game unless foul trouble. If you expect Schmidt to cut the seniors’ playing time you don’t know the coach. Adams and Mobley will play nearly 40 minutes every single game, regardless of score or opponent.The question will be this: Will this duo or trio have the legs left in March to get this team to the A10 title game in D.C.? The college hoops season is long and difficult and if the Bonnies thoroughbreds don’t have any juice left come stretch time it will be a major issue. Adams and Mobley are considered one of the most dangerous back courts in America and won’t sneak up on anyone. This is an “NCAA or bust” season for the Bonnies and so the pressure on these seniors is truly incredible. It goes without saying that keeping the back court healthy and fresh is a must for this team to reach their ceiling. 
  2. What will the front court bring to the table? The guards are the “known” and the forwards are the great unknown for this team. If the Bonnies are going to challenge for the league title they will have to get much improved play from the forwards. We all remember how URI’s big men threw SBU’s forwards around like rag dolls in Pittsburgh last March, and that’s the difference between a good team and a really good team. Schmidt often says that, “everyone has guards but few teams have quality big men” and now SBU needs to find some big man to pair with their guards. Can Amadi Ikpeze become a league average starter as a sophomore? Can Josh Ayeni turn himself into a decent post-pivot and not just a stretch four? What will 6-10 JUCO transfer Ndene Gueye give Schmidt? Can junior LaDarien Griffin improve his offensive game to become more than just a defensively active wing off the bench? For as much as we know and trust the guards, the forwards on this year’s club are a huge question mark and the ultimate success of the season likely depends on the answers to the above questions. 
  3. Will SBU win the games they need to in the non conference? Games against Maryland, TCU or New Mexico and Syracuse may ultimately determine whether SBU is “in or out” come Selection Sunday if they are to qualify as an at-large. We don’t have to recap the 2016 season in which SBU went 14-4 in A10 play and beat St. Joe’s twice, and won a league share of the regular season title to understand that the Selection Committee places little value in the A10…they’ll place even less on the league this year. Thus, SBU’s ability to truly dominate the non conference schedule and win key games against recognized Power 5 schools is critical. SBU should aim to win all three of these games, but taking two of them should work. Loosing all three would be a disaster. It goes without saying that losing a game to a team like Canisius, Jackson State, Yale, Md. Eastern Shore, etc. would be a resume nightmare. There will be pressure, and lots of it, surrounding every single game this season…very, very different. 
  4. Which newcomer contributes the most off the bench this season? Last year Josh Ayeni and LaDarien Griffin were the two Bonnies who impressed the most given experience and prior play. Who will be that player or players this year? Courtney Stockard hopes to be ready for the season and we’ve heard great things about him, but back to back foot surgeries make him a massive question mark. If Stockard gives SBU anything at all this year I’d call it a win given the circumstances. Gueye seems to have an “inside track” to playing time given the lack of depth inside, but is he ready to jump from JUCO to the A10 right away? The one to keep an eye on could be 6-6 wing Tsiefu Ngalakulondi, who we’ve heard great things about. I’d expect “chef” to push Griffin for playing time as the first 3/4 man off the bench. Finally, Izaiah Brockington, a 6-4 guard from Philly who signed ultra-late in the period (August 8th) is a billed scorer from the well respected Philly Catholic League. However, much like Coburn last year, Brockington will in all likelihood, simply get better in practice each day competing against Adams, Mobley, Taqqee and Poyser and see the floor next season when numbers 1-2-3 are gone. If he sees the floor in games other than blowouts something has likely gone incredibly wrong. 
  5. How will this team handle high expectations and being “the hunted”? This is certainly the most big picture question of the bunch, but there’s no downplaying the significance in this topic. SBU has largely thrived as the underdog armed with an ‘us vs. them mentality.” This year the Bonnies will find themselves predicted to finish in the top 3 in almost every publication and most NCAA Tournament bracket projections already have them in the field. Schmidt and his staff will surely do all that they can to shelter the club from expectations and focus on a one game at a time focus, but in 2017 the hype machine is real and powerful. Sure, SBU is still “little old St. Bonas” from Western NY, but Schmidt has developed a real-solid reputation and Adams and Mobley will be talked about on National telecasts all year long. Major media types will tweet their praises all Fall and Winter and mention the Bonnies as a dark horse team. As  the University continues to struggle with enrollment and funding, this basketball season means a lot more than just hanging a banner in the Reilly Center. No one can downplay the financial and exposure ramifications of a potentially deep run in the NCAA Tournament. While the players may not be thinking about all of these angles, they certainly will feel the pressure of being the hunted and know what the expectations are for the group. This season could prove to be a critical intersection for the university on many fronts. Let’s hope they can block out that noise, take that one game at a time approach and let their talent and preparation speak for itself each night on the floor…the rest should take care of itself. 
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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.