(Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
The biggest non-conference game of the season is looming for the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team.
Bona will face Florida at 7 p.m. in Lakeland, in search of its first win against a “power conference” team since 2010, when it beat St. John’s of the old Big East.
The Bonnies aren’t getting much respect from the jump this morning, as most major sportsbooks have them at 13.5-point underdogs. Against a team that was picked second in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), however, that’s not a big surprise, and they certainly won’t be paying attention to the betting line.
These may not be the Final Four Gators with Joakim Noah, but Florida is still an elite program, one Bonaventure will have to play very well to beat.
“They’re close to a Top 25 team, and we’re going to measure ourselves against one of the better teams in the country,” coach Mark Schmidt told the Olean Times Herald.
What’s it going to take for SBU to grab an eye-opening win? Here are five keys to victory:
1. Early momentum. As I alluded to in yesterday’s Bonnies Mailbag, the Bonnies have to come out very energetic and get an early lead; they can’t come out flat and fall behind from the jump. In the last three games against power conference teams (Syracuse, Pitt, Wake Forest), Bona has led at halftime. While the brown and white did not secure the lead in the second half, they put themselves in the position to win by playing strong out of the gate.
Also of note: All three of those games were on the opponent’s home court. Lakeland is about two hours away from Gainsville, and plenty of Bonaventure fans are making the trip.
2. Rebounding. The Gators averaged 44 rebounds a game over their first two games, one of the best marks in the country in this young season. The Bonnies grabbed 33 boards in their season-opening win over St. Francis, outrebounding the Flash by just one. There is clearly work to do on the glass.
3. No easy looks. Schmidt’s pack-line defensive system is designed to prevent easy looks and force opponents to shoot more outside shots. Florida was 12-of-40 (30 percent) from beyond the three-point line in its first two contests, and a Bona team that allowed nine threes against St. Francis hopes the Gators’ poor perimeter shooting continues. Forcing Florida outside should be an advantage on the boards.
4. Avoid foul trouble. Eight Gators averaged 14.5 minutes or more over the first two games, and no one has averaged 30 or more minutes. Four Bonnies (Jaylen Adams, Matt Mobley, Idris Taqqee and Denzel Gregg) played three-quarters of the St. Francis game, so Florida uses much more of its bench. The Gators will be less affected by a few early block calls or reach-ins than the Bonnies, so the discipline has to be there. Center Chinonso Obokoh cannot pick up two personals in 34 seconds again, for example.
5. LaDarien Griffin. Griffin, a Jacksonville native, could come up big off the bench in his home state. Schmidt was pleased with the 10 minutes Griffin played last Saturday. The 6-foot-6 sophomore, who was high school teammates with Grayson Allen, showed some of his athletic ability with a powerful breakaway dunk and a near-posterization. If Obokoh or Josh Ayeni get in foul trouble, Schmidt will go small. If that happens, look for Griffin to use his length and quickness to give Bona a boost.