By Chuckie Maggio
St. Bonaventure fans had their first glance at the full 2014-2015 men’s basketball non-conference schedule yesterday when GoBonnies.com released it in its entirety. At this point in the summer, any basketball news is devoured by students and alumni across the nation, and a look at the first 12 opponents certainly generates buzz.
The Bonnies kick off the season with a traditional exhibition at home against Mansfield on November 8. The Mountaineers have made an annual trip to the Reilly Center for years now, and it’s always a great chance for the Division II school from Pennsylvania to get some experience playing against a Division I squad. From a Bonaventure point of view, this game will be a great chance to watch the new players in action for the first time. Andell Cumberbatch thrived in this one last year, introducing himself to the Bona faithful with a 23-point debut.
The first official game will be against Dartmouth on November 15 at the Reilly Center. The Big Green went 12-16 last year, 5-9 in Ivy League play, with a very young team. They only graduated one senior in May, and their top four scorers are returning. It’s certainly an intriguing first game on the schedule considering the two styles, the uptempo Bonnies facing off against the Ivy League, slow-tempo Green.
After Dartmouth, the homestand continues on November 19 when the Bonnies host the Franciscan Cup game against the Siena Saints. Everyone remembers last year’s contest, which Siena won at the buzzer on a layup by point guard Marquis Wright. The series with the Saints has seen many thrilling moments, so it would be no surprise if we saw the teams trade a couple baskets in the last few minutes again.
The next one is the game the students will be circling on their calendars (or setting an event reminder on their phones, let’s stay current): Canisius comes back to the RC on November 22. Billy Baron may have graduated, but the rivalry is still fierce, and no one has forgotten how Bonaventure thrashed the Griffins by 22 points last November. The electricity in the building when Canisius visits is unmatched, and that alone makes this game worth waiting for.
The Jackson State Tigers are the last opponent before Thanksgiving break. JSU has made the NCAA Tournament three times in their history, most recently in 2007 when they lost to eventual champion Florida in the first round. NBA fans may recognize Tiger alum Lindsey Hunter’s name. Hunter played 17 seasons in the Association and was a two-time NBA champion, winning rings with the Lakers in 2002 and Pistons in 2004. As for the current Tigers team, they are coming off of a disappointing 11-20 season in 2013-14 and lost double-digit scorers Julysses Nobles and Brandon West to graduation.
Thanksgiving weekend will feature a fun day of basketball at First Niagara Center when the Big Four teams come together for a doubleheader. The Bonnies will play in the first game against Niagara and Canisius will face Buffalo in the second game. It will be a great showcase of western New York basketball, and the event should rack up pretty good attendance numbers. Niagara lost star guard Antoine Mason when he transferred to Auburn. Only Doug McDermott averaged more points per game than Mason in Division I last season.
The Bonnies host the Buffalo Bulls in the first game of the December slate. UB got the best of a shorthanded Bonnies team last year in a close game where Jordan Gathers sat out due to injury and Matthew Wright went down with an injury in the second half. This year’s Bulls team will have a different look to it without star forward Javon McCrea, who graduated in May. McCrea was the go-to offensive weapon, and a shot-blocking machine.
The road tests begin December 6 at Ohio. The Bobcats, who had a 25-12 record last season, welcomed new head coach Saul Phillips this off-season after previous coach Jim Christian took the Boston College job. Phillips comes to Ohio from North Dakota State, a program he took to new heights this March when they made the NCAA Round of 32. There’s no doubt Phillips can coach, and the Bobcats are already an up-and-coming program (three straight 20-win seasons). This will be no easy task for St. Bonaventure.
The following Saturday will bring an even tougher challenge when the Bonnies face the Pitt Panthers at the Petersen Events Center, also known as the “Oakland Zoo.” The Panthers have one of the loudest student sections in college basketball, making it an incredibly tough place to play. It’s truly a remarkable atmosphere, and the team is successful year after year. Pitt had a 26-10 record in 2013-14, making it to the NCAA Round of 32 before losing to Florida. Jamie Dixon is a phenomenal basketball mind, one of the best coaches in the business.
The road trip concludes at Binghamton on December 20. The Bearcats are playing a tough non-conference slate like they usually do, with games at Notre Dame, Providence and Boston College. However, they’re coming off of a 7-23 season, and expectations are not high for the team’s chances this winter. The brightspot: Jordan Reed who figures to lead the team in scoring once again, as he is a powerful slasher to the hoop.
The Bonnies return home to face Maryland-Eastern Shore on December 22. Like Binghamton, the Hawks had a rough season last year at 6-24, posting a 1-15 clip on the road. The youth movement will try to bring MES to respectability, with sophomore scoring leader Hakeem Baxter leading the way. One thing that jumps out when looking at the Hawks’ roster: how small they are. The much-bigger Bonnies will have an advantage right off the bat.
The final game of the regular season slate will be at Delaware, a team Bonaventure hosted last year. Bonaventure won that contest last December, but the Blue Hens went on to have a very successful season, going 25-10 and winning the Colonial Athletic Association to make it to the NCAA Tournament. The top four scorers all graduated, which means 2014-15 could be a rebuilding year for Delaware.
All in all this is a good non-conference schedule for the Bonnies. There is a good mix of easier and more challenging games, which is exactly what a team with a mix of experienced and young players needs.
“(The schedule) looks tough,” said sophomore forward Denzel Gregg. “We scheduled some good programs and I’m looking forward to having a good start to a great season.”
This is just an early look at the schedule, but there is a lot of anticipation already building for the 2014-15 season. Can you really blame a school with no college football for looking ahead to hoops?