Welcome Back Bonnies Fans. It’s been nearly eight months since the Bonnies have played meaningful basketball, but tonight at 7 pm on ESPN+ Schmidt’s new-look squad will take the court against the Bucknell Bison. The Bonnies will be without star point guard Jaylen Adams and his backcourt mates Matt Mobley and Idris Taquee, who graduated in May. The Bison are dealing with departures of their own, as they graduate three seniors who combined to score over 4,800 points during their careers.
For most fans, this is an exciting opportunity to see the debut of five (potentially six if Melki is healthy) new players and to get a glimpse of the future of this program.
Seniors Courtney Stockard and Nelson Kaputo, along with transfer Melkisedek Moreaux, sat out in last Thursday’s tune-up against Alfred. Stockard, unquestionably the Bonnies best player entering the season and the hero against UCLA in last years NCAA Tournament, will be out for certain tonight. In an interview, Nelson Kaputo said there was “no doubt” that he would play in the Bonnies opener. Melkisedek’s role is more up in the air, as Mark Schmidt said “We hope,” he’ll play. With the Bonnies already starting this season by graduating three of their anchors from last years team, losing two out of their three current seniors in the opener is a recipe for an upset.
Where’s Jay Adams?
The Bonnies will open up the 2018-2019 season without the luxury of having their former All-American and A-10 POTY point guard Jaylen Adams bringing the ball up the court. Instead, senior Nelson Kaputo (if healthy) and Freshman Kyle Lofton will be sharing time at point guard. It will be interesting to see how Schmidt deploys each guard, considering his usual aversion to playing freshman, but also factoring in how poised Lofton seemed in his debut last Thursday. Is it possible the Bonnies have another four-year starting point guard in Lofton?
Can Another Big Man Makes the Big Jump?
Last year LaDarrien Griffin took huge strides to become the A-10 Most Improved Player of the Year. This season, the Bonnies will count on Amadi Ikpeze to deliver similar returns and provide the strong post presence that they have been lacking since Youssou Ndoye graduated in 2015. Amadi struggled last year with positioning and playing defense without fouling. His play will be even more critical this season, as the A-10 continues to get bigger and bigger.
Three Keys to the Game
Have Confidence in the Newbies
Like it or not, Schmidt will be forced to play freshmen in key roles during the opener. Schmidt should understand that for this developing team, giving the newbies ample playing time, allowing them to make (a few) freshman mistakes, and letting them get comfortable playing at the D1 level, is more important than the outcome of this individual contest. I expect Kyle Lofton to make a bad mistake tomorrow. I also expect him to make a lot of important plays. I expect him to make even more important plays come March.
Let the kids play.
Utilize the high-intensity defense
The Bonnies played their best defense last year in the 1-3-1 with Griffin at the top. Griffin’s exceptional length and quick feet, paired with the speed and aggression of Matt Mobley, Idris Taqqee, and Courtney Stockard forced UCLA into 20 turnovers. If anything, this years team may be even MORE athletic. Given how deep the bench is, I would hope the Bonnies play their highest intensity defense, rotating fresh bodies in and out, and force Bucknell into 15-20 turnovers.
Make it Rain
Why not? The Bonnies went 12-24 from deep in their exhibition, with their freshman going 9-12. They will need to find a way to replace the barrage of treys made by Jay Adams and Matt Mobley, and I find it more likely that their guards will recreate those points in the aggregate from 3-point range than Ike and LaDarrien will be able to score significantly more inside. Dom Welch was a proven shooter in high school, Lofton and Okoli appear to have smooth strokes, and Poyser lacked no confidence in hoisting up 6 triples in the exhibition. Hopefully, those four will be threats from deep, and at least open up the interior for the post players.
This will be a tough one for the Bonnies. No Stockard, and the infusion of six new players will inevitably cause growing pains. But, I still think the Brown and White find a way to squeeze out a win in the Riley Center.
Bonnies 73, Bucknell 68