ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – Two hundred and thirty-four days have passed since the St. Bonaventure Bonnies lost to the LSU Tigers in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. With all five starters returning from last year’s squad, the Bonnies find themselves ranked as the 23rd best team in the country on opening night.
To open up the season, Bona plays host to the Siena Saints, as the Brother Ed Coughlin Franciscan Cup returns after a year-long hiatus.
The game tips off at 7:00 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN+.
Recent Struggles to Open the Season
As the Head Coach of the Bonnies, Mark Schmidt holds a record of 9-5 in season-opening games. From 2011, Andrew Nicholson’s senior season, to 2016, Jaylen Adams’ junior season, Bona won five straight openers.
Since then, however, the Bonnies have managed to win just one.
“It’s difficult. Every season opener is the same way,” Schmidt admitted. “You don’t know what they are going to run. You don’t have tape. You really try to take care of yourself and prepare the best you can to play well. There will be some adjustments as the game goes along and running certain things we have not gone over. And that’s why there are a lot of nerves in the first game from a coaching perspective.”
The Siena Saints roll into Alleghany without their three top scorers from last season. With that in mind, Bona has no business losing this game let alone winning in a nail-bitter.
Alas, let’s take a look at the in-state rival.
Scouting the Siena Saints
A year ago, Siena was selected as the unanimous favorite to win the MAAC conference. This time around, things are a little different up in Albany. MAAC coaches picked Siena to finish eighth out of 11 teams in the preseason poll.
This makes sense considering the team has lost so much from a season ago.
Manny Camper, who led the team in scoring in averaging 14.1 points per game (PPG), now plays for the Grand Rapids Gold of the G-League. He also happened to win the 2021 MAAC Player of the Year award.
Jalen Pickett, who took 25% of the team’s shots last year, departed for Penn State.
Jordan King, who played his high school ball at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, transferred to East Tennessee State.
As a team, Siena averaged 67.6 PPG a season ago. Those three players that left the program were collectively responsible for almost 40 PPG.
No wonder why Siena struggled against Saint Rose, a Division II opponent, in their exhibition game.
With 12:55 left in that game, Siena trailed Saint Rose by eight. The Saints came back to win by seven, but Siena needs someone to step up as their number one scoring option.
Perhaps it will be Graduate Student Nick Hopkins, who started his career at Belmont playing for legendary coach Rick Byrd.
Hopkins led the way with 20 points against Saint Rose. He can light it up from deep too. Last year, he shot almost 38% from downtown.
Inside, Junior Jackson Stormo will likely operate against Bona’s Osun Osunniyi. Stormo, who wears a size 18 shoe, averaged close to 11 PPG last year. Standing at 6’9″ and weighing close to 250 pounds, Stormo could give Osunniyi some difficulty. After all, Stormo’s favorite athlete is the former Memphis Grizzly Zach Randolph. He even models his game after Randolph too.
Another player to keep an eye on is Aidan Carpenter, who is a 6’4″ guard from Hamden, Connecticut. Carpenter, who averaged 5.7 PPG in his freshman year last season, loves to get out and run. He can also guard multiple positions defensively due to his size and quickness.
Expect Siena Head Coach Carmen Maciariello to employ a seven to eight-man rotation.
Keys for the Bonnies
For Bonaventure, the biggest storyline is not the fact that this team is ranked for the first time since 1971. Nor is it the pre-game ceremony that will take place honoring last year’s sweep of the Atlantic 10 titles.
Instead, it is the health of Seniors Jalen Adaway and Kyle Lofton.
“They will be a game-time decision,” Schmidt told the media on Monday afternoon. “Hopefully, they will be able to play.”
Adaway suffered a minor ankle injury last week. If he does not play, Pittsburgh transfer Karim Abdul Coulibaly will likely start at the four position alongside Osunniyi in the frontcourt. Thinking long-term, it may be wise for Schmidt to hold Adaway out for the first two games before the Charleston Classic. After all, Schmidt has referred to Adaway as, “the most athletic guy on the team,” on numerous occasions.
Lofton, meanwhile, has a minor bone bruise per @SBUnfurled. He did not play in the exhibition against Alfred out of an abundance of caution but should be good to go Tuesday night.
Thus, the most important key for opening night does not necessarily involve the X’s and O’s, but rather, it is the overall health of the team. Schmidt needs to have his team at 100% by the time they depart for Charleston next week.
With all of this in mind, watch out for Guards Jaren Holmes and Dom Welch to light up the Reilly Center. Holmes shot 44% from deep last year, which led the conference. Welch, meanwhile, has made 166 three-pointers in his career, which ranks third among active Atlantic 10 players.
Holmes and Welch will need to step up due to the Bona injuries, and they should do so against an inferior opponent with limited experience.
For the first time since March 4, 2020, the Brown and White faithful will pack the Reilly Center.
“We are really excited,” Schmidt said. “This is what we do all preseason to get ready for the opening game. We are really excited to have the Reilly Center with fans again.”
The energy will be unmatched at the RC on Tuesday night as the game is almost sold out.
I think Holmes gets hot from three and leads the Bonnies to a comfortable opening night victory in front of an electric crowd. That terrific Bonaventure defense that we saw last season will once again shine as the Saints will have no answer for Osunniyi inside.
St. Bonaventure 74, Siena 57
Jack Milko received his B.A. in Political Science from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He is now working to get his M.A. in Sports Journalism from St. Bonaventure University. A lifelong fan of the Bonnies, Jack covers the team for @A10Talk. Follow him on Twitter for more Bonnies coverage at @Jack_Milko.
Featured image courtesy of Dan Nelligan, St. Bonaventure Class of 2020, who serves as a photographer for @A10Talk.