ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – After a lengthy off-season full of lingering questions, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies open up their 2022-23 campaign against the St. Francis Red Flash on Monday night at the Reilly Center.
The Bonnies and the Frankies tip off at 7:00 p.m. The game will air on ESPN+.
As we all know by now, the Iron Man Five departed the program this past spring. The New Look Bonnies, a team that returns just four points from last year, face a St. Francis squad that finished 9-21 a season ago.
With that said, the Bonnies should not sleep on the Red Flash.
Northeastern Conference (NEC) pollsters selected St. Francis to finish third in the pre-season poll behind Merrimack and Sacred Heart.
The Frankies had numerous injuries a season ago but return five of their top six scorers.
“St. Francis is a good team with good players. It’s going to be a good test for us,” said Mark Schmidt, who enters his 16th season as the coach at St. Bonaventure. “They are healthy now, and they had a good recruiting class. Coach [Rob Krimmel] does an excellent job with them. But these are scary times because you don’t know. We are into scouting and preparation, but that first game is the most nervous you are as a head coach because of all the unknowns. You try to go off of last year and then make adjustments during the game.”
Unlike the Bonnies, St. Francis did not have an exhibition game. So the Bonaventure coaching staff can only watch tape of the Red Flash from last season.
When scouting the Frankies and watching the film, the Bona coaches took note of Josh Cohen. A native of Lincroft, New Jersey, the 6-foot-10 Cohen led the team in scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots. He averaged 12.9 points per game (PPG), 7.0 rebounds per game, and shot 57.5% from the floor. The redshirt junior can impact the game from both the high and low post, but he does not shoot the three-ball.
A classic back-to-the-basket big man, Cohen could give the Bonnies some difficulties inside. Both Max Amadasun and Chad Venning, two new big men for the Bonnies, will have their hands full guarding him. Cohen also does a great job working the pick-and-roll.
Speaking of the Bonaventure big men, Coach Schmidt will employ a committee approach for that position to begin the season.
“They need to defend, rebound, and bring toughness to our team,” Schmidt said when I asked him about his frontcourt. “We will have all of those guys playing, and we will get production out of all of them. It’s not going to be like ‘Shoon playing 35 minutes a game. Each guy will do their role. The better they play, the longer they will play. The big man spot will be by committee to start.”
Neither Amadasun nor Venning got the start against Alfred. They will likely come off the bench in the opener, as both players struggled offensively in the exhibition. They did a decent job defensively but need to improve their rebounding. Keep an eye on how these guys defend Cohen Monday night, the actual game within the game.
Without question, the strength of this Red Flash team lies in its frontcourt. But the same cannot be said for the St. Francis backcourt.
Ronell Giles, a 6-foot-5 junior from Brandywine, Maryland, averaged 10.8 PPG a season ago. He’s an athletic slasher but struggles with his jump shot. In 16 games last year, he shot just 36.4% from the field. Giles missed 14 games due to an injury.
Zahree Harrison, West Philadelphia born and raised, stands six feet tall and will handle the point guard duties. Although he averaged just 3.5 PPG last year, he finished strong and averaged 10.4 PPG in the team’s final five games. A solid offensive player when given the opportunity, Harrison struggles defensively. Look for Kyrell Luc and Daryl Banks, the new Bonaventure backcourt, to exploit this weakness.
Maxwell Land and Marlon Hargis round out the probable starters for the Frankies.
Land, the only player to start all 30 games last year, ranked first on the team in 3-point field goal percentage at 32.5%. The Cincinnati, Ohio, native stands at 6-foot-4 and will likely serve as the team’s second option on offense behind Cohen.
Hargis, who transferred to St. Francis from Holy Cross after the 2019-20 season, averaged 6.6 PPG for the Red Flash last year. The 6-foot-7 forward will likely match up against either Barry Evans or Anouar Mellouk.
Evans, Mellouk, and Yann Farell all started against Alfred. This freshman trio has tons of length and talent. Not too long ago, three freshmen led the Bonnies to an appearance in the 2019 Atlantic 10 Championship game.
Evans and Mellouk, standing at 6-foot-8, demonstrated their length at both ends of the floor against Alfred. Evans threw down a couple of dunks that excited the Reilly Center crowd and finished with a dozen points. As for Mellouk, the Dutchman helped anchor the St. Bonaventure press, which thwarted Alfred in the second half. The Amsterdam native finished with two points and played 14 minutes.
Standing two inches shorter than his fellow freshman, Farell finished the game with 10 points and led the team with 11 rebounds. Farell, a native of Gabon who most recently played for Keystone Academy in Erie, Pennsylvania, can leap through the roof. He will need to contribute on the glass again, or else the Bonnies could find themselves in trouble.
Finally, Banks and Luc will need to lead the team offensively to start the new season on the right foot.
Banks, a 6-foot-3 guard from Somerset, New Jersey, poured in 18 points and dished out seven assists against Alfred. He can facilitate the offense and score at all three levels, but he does not need to force shots. The former Peacock attempted seven 3-pointers and made just two in last Wednesday’s exhibition. Against the Red Flash, Banks will need to exploit their weak backcourt and drive to the paint.
In his post-game presser after the Alfred exhibition, Coach Schmidt talked about the importance of winning the battle of the paint. If Banks can drive in the lane, opportunities will open all over the court. He did this masterfully in the second half against Alfred; a significant reason Bona outscored the Saxons 38-to-19 over the final 20 minutes.
The same goes for Luc. The former Crusader drained three 3-pointers and finished with 17 points. He also played 29 minutes, which led the team. The Dorchester, Massachusetts native struggled in the opening minutes of his Bonnies debut, but once he found his groove, the offense gained momentum. A good three-point shooter, Luc can also score at all three levels despite standing at just 5-foot-11.
Five weeks of pre-season practice are now in the rearview mirror. For players, coaches, and fans, butterflies, nerves, and pre-game jitters will linger all day until the jump.
“You get the nerves out when you make plays on defense, dive for loose balls, take a charge; those blue-collar type of plays help get you into the game,” Schmidt said. “You will make mistakes, but play hard, trust yourself, and play to your strengths.”
The New Look Bonnies will likely come out with some butterflies and make some early miscues, but they have more talent than the Red Flash overall. I like the Bonnies to win in single digits in a game where the offense struggles early but picks up some momentum in the second half, similar to what we saw against Alfred.
St. Bonaventure 66, St. Francis (PA) 58
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.
Featured image courtesy of Dan Nelligan, St. Bonaventure ’20.