CHARLESTON, S.C. – On Thursday, the 22nd ranked St. Bonaventure Bonnies (2-0, 0-0) will square off against the Boise State Broncos (1-1, 0-0) at 2 p.m. in the first game of the Shriners Children’s Charleston Classic.
The game will air nationally on ESPN2.
“It’s a tremendous thing for our program to be on ESPN and get some national recognition,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt told the media this week. “It’s tremendous for the program, for the school, for the alums, and for everybody. I know our alums are looking forward to it and hopefully we play well.”
“There are a number of great things about Bonaventure, but being the basketball coach and having the fan base that we have, there is just nothing like it. You may have bigger fan bases, but there are no better fan bases [than St. Bonaventure’s]. They are committed to us. We will have a load of people down there and they have been talking about it for months now. We are excited and hopefully we give them something to cheer for.”
The Bonnies come to the Palmetto State with high expectations and a lot of fan fare. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the man behind bracketology, picked St. Bonaventure to win the whole tournament back in July.
But the Bonnies are not focused on the big picture.
“We don’t have a wider view,” Schmidt confidently remarked. “The whole scout, the whole preparation is to be 1-0 at 4:30 on Thursday. After that, we’ll worry about after that. But you can’t have a good showing if you don’t show well in the first game. All the preparation goes into game one and then we’ll make adjustments after that game… you can’t win the tournament unless you go 1-0. We just have to stay focused on the task at hand and that is Boise State.”
So with that, let’s take a look at the Broncos out of the Mountain West.
Scouting the Boise State Broncos
Winners of 19 games a season ago, the Boise State Broncos began the 2021-22 season ranked 80th on KenPom and were selected to finish fourth in the Mountain West preseason poll. For what it is worth, the Broncos currently rank 74th.
Straight up, Boise State is solid. They will prove to be a much tougher matchup than Siena or Canisius was.
“[They are] really athletic, really long, mature, and very well coached,” Schmidt said. “They are a team that loves to play in the open court. They have a big guy inside and they surround him with four athletic, skilled guys.”
Boise State would likely be a Top 25 team had they returned Derrick Alston Jr., but he departed for the NBA. Alas, the Broncos return four starters from a year ago, which includes senior Abu Kigab. The 6-foot-7 forward scored in double figures in 15 games last year. He averaged 11.8 points per game (PPG) and 5.4 rebounds per contest in 2020-21.
In the opening night victory over Utah Valley, the fifth year senior tallied 12 points and nine rebounds. But in last Saturday’s loss to UC Irvine, Kigab scored just nine points and struggled from beyond the arc, making 1 of 6 from downtown.
Speaking of three-point shooting, Boise State is one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country to this point. According the KenPom, the Broncos rank 347th in the country shooting the long ball, having made just 16.7% from deep. But do not let the small sample size fool you. A season ago, Boise drained almost 35% of its three point attempts.
Even Schmidt admitted that “Boise State has really good shooters.”
One of those shooters, and another returnee, is senior guard Marcus Shaver Jr.
Shaver led the team in scoring with 14 points in the loss to UC Irvine, despite going 0 for 3 from downtown. A season ago, he averaged 39.5% from beyond the arc, which led the team.
Another player to watch out for is Mladen Armus, who led the team in rebounding last year. Standing at 6 feet, 10 inches, the Serbian native corralled ten boards against UC Irvine but struggled offensively. He scored just five points on 2 of 6 shooting. Armus will likely matchup against Bona’s Osun Osunniyi, if ‘Shoon is healthy and good to go.
And then there is senior guard Emmanuel Akot, who logged the most minutes out of any Bronco the last time out. Akot, who started his collegiate career at the University of Arizona, stands at 6 feet, 8 inches and averages 11.0 PPG. He can score at all three levels and he even tallied 17 points against SMU in the NIT a season ago.
Ultimately, in order to have a respectable showing in Charleston, Bona will need to get by Boise State.
Pending the Result of Thursday’s Matchup, Bona will Play Clemson or Temple
If St. Bonaventure loses to Boise State, they will play the loser of Clemson and Temple at Noon on Friday. If the Bonnies move to 3-0, then they will play the winner of the Tigers and the Owls at 2 p.m. on Friday.
Currently, Clemson ranks 55th on KenPom while Temple ranks 109th. I have previously said that I would rather have Bona beat Boise and play Temple, just for the sake of an old rivalry, but Clemson would be better for Bona’s resume. Despite being a traditional football powerhouse, Clemson is one of the better teams in the ACC this year. The Tigers have one of the most efficient offenses in the country and have raced out to a 3-0 start. They have also made 46.6% of their 3-point attempts thus far.
And of course, Bona will have another game on Sunday and will take on either Elon, Ole Miss, West Virginia or the Golden Eagles of Marquette, who just knocked off the 10th-ranked Illinois in a wild finish.
How Do the Bonnies Win the Whole Thing?
I know Schmidt is not thinking beyond Boise State, but let’s briefly think big picture.
The Bonnies will win the Charleston Classic if they rebound better, improve their three-point shooting, and get off to better starts.
In the victory over Canisius, Bona struggled to corral offensive rebounds. They cannot afford to give up second-chance opportunities like they did last Sunday night.
A main reason for that was due to the absence of Osunniyi, who has a lingering back injury.
“We are hoping that he is going to be able to play,” Schmidt said Tuesday. “We’ll see how it goes tomorrow in practice and we will go from there.”
Schmidt did not sound overly optimistic, but it remains to be seen if Osunniyi will make an impact in Charleston. Frankly, Bona will need ‘Shoon to play, and play well, if they plan to go 3-0.
On offense, the Bonnies need to shoot the three ball better. They do have great shooters, but the shots just have not fallen yet.
“I always say jump shots are fickle,” Schmidt told me when I asked him about his team’s shooting woes to this point. “You win by playing defense, especially early in the season… Hopefully our shooting comes along, we have good shooters, but right now, in the first two games, we have struggled. Boise State has really good shooters and they are 7 for 43 from three, so that is just how it is. It is such a small sample size right now. If we make six in the next ten games, then I’d have a concern. But hopefully we can shoot better.”
To this point, the Bonnies have made just 20.7% of their shots from downtown, which is good for 335th in the country, according to KenPom. Kyle Lofton, Dom Welch, and Jaren Holmes are all solid from deep. They just need a couple of them to fall to boost their confidence.
Furthermore, JUCO transfer Linton Brown should have an opportunity to knock down a few from the outside. Given this team has to play three games in four days, the Bonnies will need production from their bench. Brown drained over 48% of his attempts from deep at Indian River State College a year ago.
And finally, the Bonnies must get off to better starts in Charleston.
They have struggled out of the gate against both Siena and Canisius and Schmidt knows that too.
“Getting the ball to go in early, getting stops early, [and] having energy early [are the keys to getting off to a good start],” Schmidt said. “At home, sometimes you can get behind and catch up. But on the road it is much more difficult… We are playing really good teams down there, and getting off to a good start is really important when you are playing the caliber of teams that we are about to play.”
Hopefully the Bonnies can get off on the right foot on Thursday afternoon against Boise State.
Jack Milko received his B.A. in Political Science from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He is now working to get his M.A. in Sports Journalism from St. Bonaventure University. A lifelong fan of the Bonnies, Jack covers the team for @A10Talk. Follow him on Twitter for more Bonnies coverage at @Jack_Milko.
Featured image courtesy of Dan Nelligan, St. Bonaventure Class of 2020, who serves as a photographer for @A10Talk.