It’ll be hard to top the emotional highs of the 2017-2018 season for St. Bonaventure fans. The Maryland and Vermont buzzer beaters, the Syracuse thriller, the thirteen game win streak, and finally, the UCLA triumph all added up to possibly the most successful Bonnies season in the past few decades.
This years team will look very different. For the first time in four years, Jay Adams won’t be carrying the ball up the court, Idris Taqqee won’t be there to snag a gritty rebound, and Matt Mobley won’t be draining any long distance threes.
The Bonnies weren’t stagnant in the recruiting season though, securing six commitments in this class, five of whom are immediately eligible. This past season and offseason proved the rumors that had been circulating. The expectations have changed for Bonnies fans, and for Schmidt. They’ve already proven that they can not only compete at a high level in the A-10, but nationally. Now the question is if they can maintain that success.
Here are a few keys to success for the Bonnies in this upcoming season.
Embrace the Inexperience
There were 6,800 total minutes played last year. 4,024 (59%) of those minutes have either graduated or transferred. So, there will be plenty of playing time available for the young returning players who were mired on the bench last season, and to the six new players (including Poyser) who are eligible now. Mark Schmidt has not been particularly excited to play new players in the past, but will likely be forced into that situation this season.
Luckily for Schmidt, this entering class of recruits is undoubtably the most highly touted, and hopefully the most talented, crop of players he’s had during his tenure.
Although many of these up-for-grabs minutes will be accounted for internally, with Nelson Kaputo, Amadi Ikpeze, and Tshiefu Ngalakulondi all expected to play a much larger role, the freshman and transfers will be pushing the returnees all season long for playing time, and potentially starting jobs.
Osun Osunniyi, already a fan favorite before even stepping on the court, will be the backup big-man at the start of the season. However, because of Amadi Ikpeze’s foul tendencies, he will likely be thrust into game action immediately.
Kyle Lofton, former National Prep Champion and teammate of Osun, will push Nelson Kaputo for minutes. Jalen Poyser will be expected to start, Dominick Welch and Alpha Okoli will both be weapons of the bench, and Melkisedek Moreaux should compliment Courtney Stockard and LaDarrien Griffin nicely as a small-forward who can crash the glass.
There will be a learning curve when this fresh faced team first takes the court. My advice to Schmidt, the team, and fans?
Amadi Ikpeze makes the Big Jump
Amadi took a big leap forward last season, increasing his total playing time by over five minutes per game. He also doubled his scoring output, collected 1.2 more rebounds per game, and cut down his foul rate per minute by 35%. Amadi has the potential to become a force for the Bonnies down low, and one of the best big men in the A-10.
However, Ike still has to make significant progress to reach his full potential. He collected only 16 blocks all season, and regressed substantially from the foul line, where he shot only 59% last season after going 10-11 from the stripe in his freshman campaign.
Amadi has spent all summer reworking his shot to include more arc, hopefully leading to a better jumper, foul-shot, and more touch around the rim. However, the obvious answer to Ikpeze’s finishing woes is to improve his positioning. It seems that he is unaware of his location in the paint relative to the basket. He’ll often catch the ball behind the basket, then having to contort his body backwards just to get the ball in front of the backboard. Other times, he’ll dribble himself into the same bad positioning. Fixing his shot mechanics may improve his mid-range game, but better positioning would go a long way towards solving one of the Bonnies biggest weaknesses last season, finishing around the rim.
We saw LaDarrien Griffin go from role player to most improved player in the A-10 last season. If Ikpeze can make a similar improvement, the Bonnies will have the two-way force inside that they were lacking last season.
Courtney Stockard is Healthy
Courtney Stockard will be the most important player for the Bonnies this season. Period. There was no doubt who the best player on the floor was the day the Bonnies conquered UCLA.
If you need evidence, just watch the video below.
But it wasn’t just the UCLA game that Stockard went beast mode in. From the onset of the season, Stockard proved that he had ice in his veins. He muscled in the game winner over Maryland, took the charge (likely the most important one in St. Bonaventure history) against Syracuse, and scored 31 points in the triple overtime win against Davidson.
Stockard will likely be their biggest scorer, one of their best defenders, and potentially the senior leader they need to step up. For those reasons, he’s a dark horse POTY candidate as well.
The Bonnies simply cannot afford to have him missing time this season.
Guards Make it Rain
The Bonnies are losing 209 three pointers to either graduation or transfer this season. That accounts for 24% of their total offense, and 31% of their scoring from the field. The combined three point percentage from returning players is only 33.8%, which would put them roughly in the middle of the league, however, the returning squad (Stockard, Kaputo, Griffin, Ngalakulondi,Ikepeze) took only 3.8 threes per game. Last year’s team took nearly 20.
The Bonnies will need to find a way to make up this deficit in three pointers. Most likely, the returning players will shoot considerably more threes. Kaputo will be the starting point guard, which should give him ample opportunity to fire away, and Stockard will no longer be the number three scoring option, allowing him to shoot more as well. Although Courtney started the season cold from deep, he shot 43.8% in the final eight games.
The Bonnies will also look to Jalen Poyser, now eligible after transferring from UNLV, and Dominick Welch, who scored 2,736 points in his high school career, to make a few threes. The reports from practice about Poyser have been promising, although he shot only 30% from three in his time at UNLV. Welch has proven he can score, and shoot, but he has yet to prove it against high level competition. He did shoot 38% at Spire Academy during a prep year though, where he earned Power-5 Prep Conference Player of the Year.
The Bonnies won’t be able to replace the shooting ability of Adams and Mobley with only two players, but four or five of their talented guards may be able to recreate them in the aggregate.
Game By Game Predictions
It’s September 12th. The Bonnies don’t play a regular season game for 57 days. Why not speculate a little bit?
Jackson St.: Win
Boise State/Creighton: Loss
Akron/Illinois St/ Georgia/ Clemson: Loss
George Mason: Loss
St. Joseph’s: Win
Rhode Island: Loss
St. Joseph’s: Loss
George Mason: Win
La Salle: Win
George Washington: Win
St. Louis: Loss
A10 Tournament Thursday: Win
A10 Tournament Quarterfinals: Win
A10 Tournament Semifinals: Loss
Final Projected Record: 21-13 (11-7 in conference)
This will be a fun Bona team to watch. The combination of returning talent and high quality recruits has Bonnies fans (especially those of us who route for the Bills) anxiously waiting for the all-important Alfred exhibition opener.
They will undoubtably regress after their 26 win, NCAAT season, and I expect them to show signs of a raw team early on. However, I do think this team, like many of the previous Schmidt squads, will come together at the end of the season and muster their fourth straight 20 win season.