ST. BONAVENTURE — After displaying individual signs of brilliance during the regular season, the group established itself fully on consecutive days in March inside Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team’s then-freshmen trio accounted for nearly 70 percent of its team’s scoring in Atlantic 10 Tournament wins over George Mason (47-of-68 points) and Rhode Island (46-of-68 points).
The two guards gutted George Mason on Day 1, combining for 40 points and 10 3-pointers. Point guard Kyle Lofton was later named to the All-Tournament team. If there was any remaining doubt as to the overall potential of this class, it was appeased … and on the league’s biggest stage.
And in the weeks and months after that showing, the national media has begun to take notice of what any avid Bona follower had come to see: Lofton, Dominick Welch and Osun Osunniyi have arrived.
In April, Lofton was named one of Andy Katz’s 11 “rising stars” for the 2019-20 season.
Said Katz, one of the country’s most respected college basketball writers, of the 6-foot-3 guard: “Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt continues to find hidden gems on the perimeter. Lofton is the latest … Lofton averaged 14 a game and shot 44 percent. The Bonnies won’t be a sleeper next season, assuming their spot as an A-10 contender in the preseason.”
In June, Osunniyi made Katz’s preseason Top 25 list, at No. 21, for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar award, given annually to the nation’s top center. A month later, he was one of CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein’s “5 Breakout A-10 Players” for this season.
And last week, the two were highlighted in CBS’ “Atlantic 10 Offseason Reset,” in the “Who’s Back” category.
“Losing (Courtney) Stockard is going to hurt, but sophomores Lofton and Osunniyi are going to be very, very good for a long time in this league,” author Rob Dauster wrote. “One coach told me he thought Lofton was ‘the best freshman I’ve seen in the Atlantic 10 in a while; you would never have guessed he was a freshman,’ based on the way he played and his poise.”
Yes, Bona has a strong foundation in the former Putnam Science Academy teammates, both of whom made the A-10’s All-Rookie team last year. That’s to say nothing of Welch, who averaged 10 points, six rebounds and over two 3-pointers over the final six weeks of the season.
The rest of the college hoops-watching world seems to be taking heed.
— The Bonnies’ 2019-20 non-conference schedule won’t be released until later in the summer, but the opponents are beginning to take shape.
Bona will host Ohio, whom it’s met five times under coach Mark Schmidt (three wins, two losses), in its season-opener on Tuesday, Nov. 5, according to the D-1 Docket. It will also meet Siena on Nov. 12 in the 10th installment of the Francsican Cup and Little 3 rival Canisius on Nov. 23, per schedule releases from those schools.
Additionally, Bona announced Wednesday that the opponent for its Saturday, Dec. 7 game, in which it will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1969-70 Final Four team, will be Hofstra.
The Bonnies will also take on Rutgers in the inaugural James Naismith Memorial Classic in Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena on Nov. 16 and will reportedly be playing in the Boca Raton Beach Classic, at Florida Atlantic University, on Dec. 1 and 2.
Aside from those confirmed dates, Schmidt’s team will meet Vermont in the Reilly Center in the last of a three-game series that included stops in Rochester and Burlington and, of course, Big 4 rivals Buffalo (at UB) and Niagara (in the RC).
That makes for 10 established foes out of a possible 13 slots in the out-conference schedule.
— It isn’t unanimous, but the Bonnies are so far being viewed as a Top-5 A-10 team again this season.
In the earliest preseason prognostications yet, Schmidt’s team was pegged for fifth in Rothstein’s summer outlook and either fourth or fifth by a handful of Atlantic 10 bloggers.
In CBS’ “way too early” power rankings for 2019-20, Bona sits at No. 6.
“Mark Schmidt lost Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley before last season and still managed to churn out an 18-win season and a fourth-place finish in the A-10, so we shouldn’t be all that worried about them after losing four of their top six, including Courtney Stockard,” its entry read. “They have one of the best homecourt advantages in the league. Schmidt will find a way to get the best out of his roster and, sophomores Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi are ready for bigger roles.”
Bona is expected to be in the mix for the conference title alongside league favorites VCU and Davidson, which return nearly every key piece from teams that finished first and third, respectively, last winter, Dayton and Rhode Island.
The Bonnies have finished fifth of better in four straight seasons.
— Here are the numbers the Bonnies’ six new players will be wearing this winter: Robert Carpenter (2), Matt Johnson (4), Jaren English (5), Bobby Planutis (10), Alejandro Vazquez (11) and Justin Winston (35).
(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing Company group sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)