By Chuckie Maggio, @ChuckieMaggio
Winter break is a chance to really relax and spend time with your family and friends. The holiday celebrations are much needed after a stressful exam week and end of the first semester.
For the Bonaventure men’s basketball team, however, there’s a lot of work to do while the rest of the student body is home. They have seven big games over the next month that can make a huge difference in the direction of their season. Some should be wins, some may be learning lessons, all will be important. Let’s take a look at the games remaining in the month of December.
Today the Bonnies head downstate to Iona for a tilt against the 5-2 Gaels. Iona, out of the MAAC conference, has defeated Wofford, George Mason, Florida Gulf Coast, Marist and Fairfield so far, with losses to Cleveland State and the 13th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks. The Gaels only trailed Kansas by five at halftime of that game, and were able to hold freshman superstar Andrew Wiggins to 13 points. Their offense has scored 80 or more points the last four games, dropping 90 on FGCU. Their leading scorer is Sean Armand, who has averaged 22.1 points per game, while their leading rebounder is David Laury, with 8.7 boards a game. In the college basketball power rankings by TeamRankings.com, Iona is ranked 111th in the country, 73 spots ahead of St. Bonaventure. All things considered, this one will be a hard-fought battle. The key? It may be fouls. Iona has 119 personal fouls on the season, while the Bonnies have registered 195 fouls. The team that is more disciplined will hold an edge on Saturday afternoon, and the Gaels have been much more disciplined so far this season.
Three days later, on Tuesday night, the Bonnies face their biggest challenge of the season thus far as they head to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to play the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Wake Forest, out of the ACC, currently has a record of 8-2, with their only losses coming against powerhouses Kansas and Tennessee. They come off of a win against A-10 member Richmond (76-66) and will have had ten days of rest before facing the Bonnies. The main Deacons to look out for are leading scorer Codi Miller-McIntyre and leading rebounder Devin Thomas. Both can fill it up and run the floor, which should make for great individual matchups against Andell Cumberbatch and Youssou Ndoye respectively. The Bonnies aren’t over-matched size-wise, but it would be a major upset if Bonaventure left with a win. The Demon Deacons are 7-0 at home and have scored 79 points per game thus far. To compare, the Bonnies have only scored 73 against lesser competition. The Deacons have averaged 12 offensive rebounds a game; the Bonnies have given up eight offensive boards a game and have held the height advantage for most of those games. Simply put, Wake Forest is more talented, but the Bonnies have shown that if they come out of the locker room ready to play for 40 minutes, they cannot be counted out, even against a team from the ACC. If they come out sluggish like they have the past few games, this will be a long night.
Four days after Wake Forest, the Bonnies will head to Niagara to face the Purple Eagles. This year’s edition of Niagara basketball is currently 3-8, but there is one win all Bonnies fans should be concerned about: Niagara not only beat Buffalo on November 13, they dropped 92 points on them in a double-digit victory. The Bonnies lost to UB last game and only scored 73. Was Niagara’s 92-point performance a fluke? Hardly. They’ve scored 90-plus points in five of their eleven games. That being said, defense will definitely be a key for the Bonnies, who will need to shut down Antoine Mason, the leading scorer in all of Division I basketball. Mason, who is averaging 28.6 points a game, has shot 45.8 percent from the field and has benefited from 137 free throw opportunities, shooting 76.6 percent from the stripe. They key to stop Mason may be to force him outside; he has only shot 26 percent from three-point range, showing he is a bit uncomfortable from behind the arc. The other key for the Bonnies in this one will be to fully take advantage of their size; the Eagles’ leading rebounder, Ramone Snowden, is 6-5, and Marcus Ware, who will likely defend Youssou Ndoye, is four inches shorter than the Bonnies’ big man. If Bonaventure can get the rebounding advantage and continue their shot blocking, they should win this one despite Mason’s scoring ability. And unlike Wake Forest, who draws fans even when students are on break, Niagara shouldn’t pose much of a home-court advantage, so the Bonnies just have to play their game.
The last game before New Year’s will be against the Delaware Blue Hens on December 30 at the Reilly Center. Delaware, who will play three games before facing the Bonnies, currently has a 5-4 record and only lost last Saturday’s game to Notre Dame by a five-point margin. None of their wins are majorly impressive, but their scoring has been; the Blue Hens have scored 80 or more points in seven of their nine games, dropping 90 against Hampton and Charleston Southern. Their main scorer, Devon Saddler, will be back after a month-long suspension for violating team rules. In the games Saddler was suspended, Davon Usher and Jarvis Threatt stepped up their scoring load, scoring 19 and 18 points per game respectively. Leading rebounder Carl Baptiste is familiar with the A-10’s style of play; before transferring to Delaware, he played one year for Phil Martelli at St. Joseph’s. If the Bonnies play strong, fundamental basketball they have a decent shot at this one, but it won’t be easy; Delaware plays up to their opponent’s level, grabbing offensive rebounds and keeping turnovers to a minimum. This matchup may be the most intriguing of Bonaventure’s December slate.
The Bonnies do not have an easy road ahead of them this winter break. In the remaining two and a half weeks of December, they have four tough games against good competition. Good showings in all four will boost their RPI and other statistics college basketball analysts look at when determining just how good a team really is. A 3-1 or 4-0 record in the four games would be excellent.
While students won’t be on campus for the games this winter break, they can still follow along with the basketball action. The Wake Forest game has been confirmed to be available on ESPN3, while the Niagara game will be shown on the Time Warner Sports Network. The Delaware game will be streamed live on GoBonnies.com, while Iona is offering a stream of Saturday’s game with a paid subscription to their site. For Twitter updates of the games, follow the @Bonnies_MBB account. There are plenty of ways to stay informed as the Bonnies enter one of their toughest stretches of the season.