By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio and Jeff Fasoldt @Jeff_Fasoldt
The St. Bonaventure Bonnies begin Atlantic 10 play on Saturday afternoon in Amherst, Mass. as they face the UMass Minutemen.
After a win over Binghamton just 12 days ago put Bonaventure’s record at 7-2, its fans were abuzz about a possible 9-2 record heading into the new year, and deservedly so. After all, the brown and white had only lost by four at Pittsburgh and the final two games of the non-league slate were against a 5-8 Maryland-Eastern Shore (UMES) team and a winless Delaware squad. The odds were in Bona’s favor to have some solid momentum going into 2015.
Instead of the easy wins that were expected, the worst-case scenario occurred as the Bonnies were upset in both games. Both teams exposed SBU’s weakness of defending the three-pointer, as they both shot 58.8 percent (10-17) from behind the arc. The Bonnies looked out of sync as they fell behind by as much as 16 against UMES, then saw a ten-point lead disappear against the Blue Hens. It was a disastrous two-game stretch for a team that has shown potential to finish in the upper-tier of the A-10 this year.
The Minutemen come into this one at 7-6. To compare common opponents, they defeated Siena 95-87 and beat Canisius 75-58, while Bonaventure lost to Siena by three and beat Canisius by six.
Saturday’s game is the latest edition of a rivalry these teams take very seriously. The players don’t like each other, the fans don’t like each other and coaches Schmidt and Kellogg aren’t likely to have sent each other Christmas cards. This game is always played with a lot of passion and emotion and is truly a battle when they hit the court. Let’s break it down:
St. Bonaventure- Mark Schmidt. 114-113 as Bonnies coach, 4-5 against UMass.
UMass- Derek Kellogg. 116-92 as Minutemen coach, 4-4 against St. Bonaventure.
Key players for UMass:
Maxie Esho- 6-8 senior forward, Esho is leading the Minutemen in scoring at 13 points per game and is trying to take the spot as the go-to-guy on a team that desperately needs one. He can be a force down-low and will have to be as he’ll go up against one of the best pairs of big men in the A-10 in Youssou Ndoye and Dion Wright.
Derrick Gordon- 6-3 junior guard, Gordon is a big-time player for this UMass squad averaging 12.1 points per game and leading the team with 2.2 steals per game. He is second on the team playing 30.5 minutes per game so far, only behind junior guard Trey Davis. Gordon made headlines last spring when he announced he was gay, making him the first openly gay player in NCAA Division-1 college basketball. However, most of those headlines have quickly been replaced by ones that highlight the impressive play of Gordon and Davis so far this season and their ability to play off of each other.
Keys to victory for UMass: UMass has to get the ball inside to Esho if they want to win this one. He’s their big time player and leader inside. UMass also has to knock down open shots from the outside as they’re only shooting 30 percent on the season so far.
Keys to victory for St. Bonaventure: If Bonaventure is going to steal one on the road, they are going to have to capitalize on UMass mistakes. The Minutemen turn the ball over an average of 14.6 times per game, while the Bonnies have scored 123 points off turnovers in their seven wins this season. Four Bona players (Marcus Posley, Jay Adams, Dion Wright and Andell Cumberbatch) are averaging at least a steal a game this year, and that active defense is going to have to come in handy on Saturday. Extra possessions and extra scoring chances are gold in the A-10; what a team does with those opportunities can be the difference between a win and a loss.
Predictions- Chuckie: The Bonnies haven’t won in Massachusetts’s Mullins Center since 2002, and the Minutemen are 26-6 at home since the 2012-13 season. Winning on the road in the A-10 is an arduous task, whether a student section presence is there or not. These teams are close statistically, but UMass will take this one at home as long as they shoot close to their average of 45 percent from the floor and take care of the ball. 74-65 UMass.
Jeff: UMass takes this game in a close battle, 68-65, because of the fact that they’re not playing at the Reilly Center and the dominant play of Trey Davis and Derrick Gordon at the guard spot.