BROOKLYN, N.Y. – All 15 head coaches from the mighty Atlantic 10 conference met members of the media at the Barclays Center on Thursday to discuss the upcoming season.
The Atlantic 10 also released its preseason poll for the 2022-23 season. Pollsters picked St. Bonaventure to finish 10th as the Bonnies received 194 votes overall.
The Brown and White find themselves in a much different predicament this season as opposed to a season ago when they were the unanimous preseason favorites.
“I would rather be the favorite than the guy picked 15th,” joked Mark Schmidt, who enters his 16th season as the head coach at St. Bonaventure. “But as the favorite, every game is the biggest game on the schedule for your opponent. You have a huge target on your chest.”
But preseason polls mean nothing in the Atlantic 10. Just look at recent history.
Last year, Richmond went on an incredible run in D.C. to capture the Atlantic 10 championship. The Spiders then went on to upset Iowa in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
In 2020, the Spiders stood atop the preseason poll. Yet, the Bonnies steamrolled through the Atlantic 10 Tournament and won the 2021 title.
No tournament was contested for obvious reasons in 2020, but VCU was the preseason favorite in the fall of 2019. When the pandemic struck, the Dayton Flyers were the best team in the country, let alone the conference.
Before that, the conference selected the St. Louis Billikens as the number-one ranked team in the preseason poll. The Billikens–the six seed in that year’s tournament–went on to win the 2019 Atlantic 10 Championship, besting the Bonnies by two points in Brooklyn.
“I don’t know,” Schmidt said when asked why preseason favorites rarely fulfill expectations. “Maybe you guys in the media don’t know what you are doing. In my 16 years here, maybe two or three preseason picks have been right.”
A few weeks ago, the Bonnies announced that the team selected Daryl Banks III and Moses Flowers to serve as team captains for the 2022-23 season.
Both players are redshirt juniors. They are also the only upperclassmen on the roster.
“Those two gained the respect of their teammates because of their resumes,” Schmidt said. “With Banks, the stuff he did in the NCAA Tournament [with St. Peter’s] not only gives him confidence but also gives our guys confidence knowing that we have a guy that went to the Elite Eight. Our guys can feed off of that. It resonates when he says something, and our guys listen to it. He has the resume to back it up. If we brought in people without experience, we would look at each other and ask, ‘what are we doing here?’ But we have a few guys who have done it, which helps in practice.”
Banks scored 890 points in three seasons for St. Peter’s, averaging more than 11 points per game (PPG).
Meanwhile, Flowers, a native of Dorchester, Massachusetts, transferred to St. Bonaventure from Hartford. Flowers started 66 of 69 career games at Hartford. He averaged 14.7 PPG and 6.4 rebounds per game a season ago.
Both players, who are each listed at 6-foot-3, will likely start opening night against St. Francis (PA) on Nov. 7.
Name, Image, and Likeness
Every coach I spoke with today agreed that name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals for student-athletes were long overdue.
Yet, it still has issues.
New UMass Coach Frank Martin summed it up perfectly when I asked him for his thoughts on NIL.
“It is long overdue but I wish that when the door was opened, there would have been clarity and better direction,” Martin said. “Instead, the door was opened and people said, ‘good luck.’ We all walked into something brand new and impactful.”
National pundits have compared the current state of collegiate athletics to the wild west. The NIL system barely has any structure to it, other than the fact that coaches cannot get involved.
“The hardest part for me is that I am not allowed to be a part of [NIL],” Martin noted. “If I am caught cutting a deal with a recruit, then I lose my job. I can’t be a part of it, yet it’s a new norm in college athletics.”
“I am also being asked to manage the personalities and dynamics within the locker room,” Martin added. “I will give you an example: say that this is my third year at UMass, and you are going to be a senior. Because of your sacrifices, taking charges, diving for loose balls, and doing everything I have asked you to do, we have built a program that is now worthy of being a Top 25 team.
“We now sign a five-star player, Player B, and he walks into the locker room on day one and says, ‘I got a NIL deal for X number of dollars,’ and then you are sitting there thinking, ‘how about every charge I took to help us win in the last three years?’ And I am being asked to manage that moment even though I have nothing to do with it. The waters will eventually settle, and the ships will stay afloat, but that is the difficulty of the moment.”
Schmidt had plenty to say about NIL too, considering he lost four starters from a year ago to the transfer portal and bigger paydays at larger institutions.
Jaren Holmes and Osun Osunniyi departed for Iowa State while Dom Welch and Kyle Lofton set sail for the SEC. Welch now plays at the University of Alabama, and Lofton suits up for the Florida Gators.
“We had four guys that could have come back left,” Schmidt said. “It’s unfortunate but it’s a part of the college basketball landscape right now. I don’t agree with it. But it is what it is. You have to adjust it. We don’t have big NIL money. So we try to get kids that are at lower levels who have had success. We are trying to get kids who are looking for a challenge, not for money. I’m not saying this is going to work, but that is what we are trying to do.”
Schmidt followed this blueprint this past offseason.
The Bonnies brought in six transfers. In addition to the aforementioned Banks and Flowers, Schmidt signed Kyrell Luc, Anquan Hill, Chad Venning, and Max Amadasun.
All of these players had success at lower levels. They all want to thrive as Bonnies and are excited to don the Brown and White this winter in the Reilly Center.
Luc arrives in the Enchanted Mountains after dominating the Patriot League from the seven hills of Worcester, Massachusetts. He won the Patriot League Rookie of the Year while averaging 13.0 PPG for Holy Cross. He also started all 31 games for the Crusaders.
Hill comes to Bona’s from Farleigh Dickinson, where he won the Northeastern Conference Rookie of the Year award. He started 17 of 26 games for the Knights and averaged 7.7 PPG.
Venning, who Schmidt is excited about, comes to the Bonnies from Morgan State. After slimming down over the summer, Schmidt hopes Venning can see up to 20 minutes of game time. He averaged 7.2 PPG while playing only 13.8 minutes per game a season ago.
Then there is Amadasun, who, at 6-foot-10, could be a force inside. The former Pitt Panther did not see a lot of action while in the ACC, but his size will undoubtedly help this team in many ways.
New Atlantic 10 Tournament Format
The Atlantic 10 announced changes to its postseason tournament.
Previously, the first round commenced on Wednesday of conference tournament week and wrapped up with the championship on Selection Sunday.
Going forward, the first round will begin on Tuesday. The second round will take place on Wednesday, and the quarterfinals will occur on Thursday.
Teams will have off on Friday to rest, recuperate, watch game film, and meet with the media.
“We will have an Atlantic 10 Final Four weekend,” said Bernadette McGlade, the commissioner of the Atlantic 10 conference.
The semifinals on Saturday and the championship on Sunday remain unchanged.
Essentially, the conference moved the first three days of the Atlantic 10 tournament up by one day.
“I like it,” Schmidt said when asked about the new structure. “I think that day off is huge. The games will be better. You can do a little more preparation and rest.”
If the Bonnies make it to Atlantic 10 Final Four weekend, that extra day pays huge dividends for Bonaventure fans looking to travel to see their beloved team play.
As I noted on the A10 Talk Podcast this week, I have no idea how the starting lineup will look to begin the season.
Neither does Schmidt.
“No, no, we have only had two weeks of practices thus far,” said Schmidt when I asked him if he has any idea what the rotation will look like. “During these first few weeks, we try to put guys together and see who plays well together. Right now, we are working on fundamentals. There is no first team or second team. Every day I change it up.”
On Saturday, the Bonnies will have their first intra-squad scrimmage. Schmidt described this as his team’s “first test” of the preseason.
Next week, Bona plays at Kent State in a “secret scrimmage.” Schmidt referred to this as “the second test” of the preseason.
Then on Wednesday, Nov. 2, the Bonnies host Alfred in their official exhibition game. By then, the coaching staff hopes to understand what the rotation will look like. Schmidt referred to this game against the Saxons as his team’s “third test.”
“It’s like teaching,” Schmidt noted. “We give them material, test them on it and see how the guys do. After the second test, we start developing the rotation and who will play.”
Jack Milko is a current graduate student at St. Bonaventure University. He will graduate with an M.A. in Sports Journalism in May 2023. He also covers the Bonnies for @A10Talk. Follow him on Twitter @Jack_Milko.