Introduction: The Birth of “Boca Bobby”
As soon as the calendar flipped to December, those up in Olean woke up to almost a foot of snow on the ground. Meanwhile, the St. Bonaventure basketball team was 1,300 miles south, in Boca Raton, Florida. The Bonnies played two games in South Florida, winning both. While doing so, they won the Boca Raton Beach Classic Tournament. The Brown and White defeated the San Diego Toreros on December 1 by a score of 70 to 61. The following night, Bona stormed back from 17 down versus Florida Atlantic and won 71 to 64. In the come-from-behind victory, the legend of “Boca Bobby” was born – thanks to @SBUnfurled – as the Redshirt Sophomore Bobby Planutis scored 14 points in 24 minutes of action, his highest mark of the season to this point.
With the Bonnies 2-0 in the month of December, and their overall team health improved, let us now look ahead at the prospects of St. Bonaventure running the table during the Holidays.
Next Up: Saturday, December 7, 2:30pm vs. Hofstra
This Saturday, St. Bonaventure will celebrate the 1970 Final Four team, as this year is the 50th Anniversary of that team’s legendary run. Meanwhile, Hofstra will make the long trek up Route I-86 and look to spoil the party. Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich is no stranger to St. Bonaventure. Mihalich, played Guard at LaSalle in the late 70s and served as the Head Coach at Niagara University from 1998 to 2013. Playing almost every year in that span, Mihalich amassed an 8-6 record against the Bonnies as the man in charge of the Purple Eagles.
This season, the Pride and the Bonnies have shared two common opponents: Canisius and San Diego. A couple of weeks ago, up in Buffalo, the Griffs out-rebounded the Bonnies 40-24 and defeated the Brown and White 61-57. This remains to be Bonaventure’s last defeat. Meanwhile, Hofstra defeated Canisius 64-57, and had three players score 16 or more in that game (Buie, Coburn, and Pemberton). In fact, five players currently average 10 PPG or more for Coach Mihalich. As a team, Hofstra averages 82.0 PPG. The Bonnies, on the other hand, average a paltry 63.9 PPG but only give up 64.4. Hofstra has the capability to score at will, as they shocked UCLA by winning at Pauley 88-78 a couple of weeks ago. If the Bonnies want to win, their defense needs to shine once again.
In addition to locking down defensively, Sophomores Kyle Lofton and Dom Welch need to shoot the ball efficiently and combine for 30 points or more. In the win over Florida Atlantic, Lofton hit a huge three in the final minutes to essentially seal the victory for Bonaventure. Welch also shot 5-9 from beyond the arc in the win too. With Sophomore big man, and Bona’s best defender, Osun Osunniyi’s status up in the air due to injury, the back-court needs to step up. One could make the case that this is Bonaventure’s toughest game remaining on its non-conference slate.
Saturday, December 14, 4:00pm vs Gannon (D-II)
Following Finals Week, the Gannon Golden Knights will play St. Bonaventure for the first time since the 1976-77 season. A member of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC), Gannon currently sits a game below .500 with a 2-3 record. The Golden Knights have victories over Millersville and Alderson Broaddus. At the end of October, Gannon actually played an exhibition game at the University of Indiana. The Hoosiers won that game easily, 84-54. Unfortunately for Gannon, St. Bonaventure should take care of business, just as Indiana did. Expect the Brown and White to win this one by double-digits as Bonaventure’s size and defensive tenacity will be too much for Gannon to handle.
Wednesday, December 18, 7:00pm vs Niagara
The Purple Eagles have struggled over the last few years as they have only posted one winning season since Joe Mihalich’s departure in 2013. Last March, the administration at Niagara decided to terminate the contract of Chris Casey, Mihalich’s successor, and go in a new direction. Shortly thereafter, NU hired Patrick Beilein, son of John Beilein, and Purple Eagle supporters grew ecstatic over the hire. Unfortunately, on October 29, Beilein announced his resignation rather abruptly and Greg Paulus, who played as a Point Guard for Coach K at Duke, took over as interim head coach. Paulus, thrown into the fire just a week before the beginning of the season, finished the month of November with an 0-6 record. On December 1, Paulus finally got his first victory, as the Purple Eagles defeated Norfolk State, 65 to 51, down in Virginia. Niagara currently stands at 1-6 on the season.
The Purple Eagles and St. Bonaventure only share one common opponent so far, Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights defeated the Purple Eagles, 86 to 39, back on November 10. Bonaventure, meanwhile, got its first win of the season over Rutgers up in Toronto on November 16. Currently, Niagara averages only 60.7 PPG while conceding 76.4. That -15.6 scoring margin ranks 335 out of 350 Division I teams. To make matters worse, NU has only two scorers who average more than 10 PPG: Senior James Towns (13.7) and Sophomore Raheem Solomon (11.3). St. Bonaventure should not have much trouble scoring against Niagara and should win this one easily.
Saturday, December 21, 2:00pm at Middle Tennessee State
After three straight home games in the Riley Center, the Bonnies will travel to Murfreesboro, Tennessee to not only avoid the cold, rain, and snow, but to take on the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee State. After going 11-21 in his first season with the program last year, Coach Nick McDevitt is looking to re-establish the Blue Raiders as contenders in the Conference USA. Currently ranked 233rd (according to KenPom), the Blue Raiders have only one win against a D-1 opponent this season. That lone victory came against in-state rival Lipscomb on November 9.
Since that point, MTSU has accumulated five straight losses to D-1 opponents, with none of these defeats by less than a dozen points. In fact, MTSU’s schedule does not get any easier as its next two games are on the road at Murray State, followed by a trip to Oxford, MS to take on Ole Miss. When the Blue Raiders host the Bonnies on the 21st, they potentially could find themselves riding a seven game losing streak to D-1 opponents. It should be noted, however, that MTSU did sustain a sizeable victory, 86 to 38, over Columbia International University on December 3. CIU competes in the National Christian Colleges Athletic Association (NCCAA).
Despite its lack of success against D-1 opponents so far this season, Bonaventure fans should not overlook MTSU. St. Bonaventure has to travel all the way down to Tennessee less than 24 hours after hosting Niagara. Additionally, the Bonnies have to play this game less than 72 hours after playing NU. Logistics and fatigue could certainly play a factor in this game. For the Blue Raiders, Antonio Green and C.J. Jones lead the team in scoring as they average 17.0 and 16.3 PPG, respectively. If St. Bonaventure wants to win this game, the back-court needs to play well again. Lofton and Welch will need play well defensively against Green and Jones and shoot the ball efficiently. Bonaventure will also need to have a third, and possibly fourth, double-digit scorer to pick up the victory as MTSU averages 79.0 PPG. If “Boca Bobby,” Jaren English, and/or Justin Winston help contribute offensively down in Tennessee, St. Bonaventure should escape the Volunteer State with a victory.
Monday, December 30, 7:00pm at Buffalo
Last season, the Buffalo Bulls finished the year with a 32-4 record and a #15 ranking in the AP Poll. This season, Buffalo has not sustained that same level of success as they have accumulated three losses to this point. The Bulls lost to Dartmouth, UCONN, and Vanderbilt. They do have a strong victory over Harvard to counter the tough home loss against Dartmouth. They will also travel to DePaul, the Big East’s best kept secret this year, on Sunday. If Buffalo can win that game, they have the potential to have a record of 9-3 when they host the Bonnies on December 30. Buffalo hosts Army, Canisius, and Niagara following the matchup with DePaul.
Buffalo lost a lot of Seniors from last year’s NCAA Tournament, where the Bulls fell to eventual runner-up Texas Tech in the Round of 32. Jayvon Graves, however, returns from last year’s team where he averaged 9.7 PPG. This season, his scoring is up as he now leads the team with 16.6 PPG. Senior Davonta Jordan, a starter on last year’s team who averaged 7.4. PPG, contributes 13.2 PPG for this year’s squad. Guard Antwain Johnson and Forward Josh Mballa also average double digits. The Bulls, like last year, have an explosive offense as they currently score 80.9 PPG. That figure ranks third in the MAC behind only Central Michigan and Toldeo. Even though Buffalo may not return to the Big Dance, its offense should not be taken lightly. Coach Nate Oats once again has multiple players who can score and St. Bonaventure must play well defensively in order to win this game.
If Osun Osunniyi is back, and fully healthy, St. Bonaventure has a great chance of picking up a victory in Buffalo. Similar to the games against Hofstra and at Middle Tennessee, Bonaventure will need its back-court to show up and play well on both sides of the ball. If that does not happen, Buffalo could end up beating the Bonnies by double digits, just as they did last year at the Riley Center.
At worst, Bonaventure will finish this five game stretch with a record of 2-3. The Brown and White should take care of Gannon and Niagara easily. Obviously, the best case scenario would be if Bonaventure won all five of these contests. That scenario is certainly possible, but it will all depend on the health of Osun Osunniyi and the play of the back-court. If Osunniyi returns against Hofstra and plays well, and if Lofton and Welch can combine for 30 plus, then the Bonnies should win against the Pride. That same formula will work on the road against Middle Tennessee State and Buffalo. But, as we all know, college basketball is impossible to predict. We will have to wait and see where the Bonnies stand a month from now at the start of conference play.