The numbers are a bit skewed due to the Saint Joseph’s game, an outing in which it accumulated 27 assists and had a player score 38 points.
Still, the evidence is substantial.
The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team currently ranks in the top 40 nationally in both assists (36th, 16.8 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (26th, 1.4), figures that sit second in the Atlantic 10 behind Saint Louis. It now boasts five starters in double figures, all of whom are between 11.6 and 14.4 points per game and already have at least one 17-plus-point game to his name.
Perhaps the most telling sign, though, is this: Before Monday, none of the Bonnies’ current core had won an A-10 Player of the Week award despite a number of outstanding performances for teams that finished fourth and fifth in the league standings, respectively, over the last two years.
And that hasn’t necessarily been the product of some gross oversight. It’s because rather than needing one player to drop 25 or 30, Bona has more recently relied on a different avenue for its success: balance. It’s one of the primary reasons Bona came within a couple of injuries of making it two more 20-win seasons in 2019 and ‘20, and one of the catalysts for a promising start this year.
INDEED, BONA is 4-1, with its only loss (to Rhode Island) coming when it was without this week’s Atlantic 10 POW, Jaren Holmes. And it’s been more impressive than not, holding leads of at least 17 points in three of those games and knocking off the league’s preseason favorite in the other, despite a multitude of (ongoing) COVID-related challenges.
Balance has been a big part of that.
Just as critical, however, is having a talented, experienced team that can compete no matter the circumstances.
“Believe me, we’re not playing great,” coach Mark Schmidt insisted, “but we have some veteran guys, we have some guys that really care. It’s a blessing that we have guys that know the system, because we haven’t practiced a ton. So that helps, having character guys, guys that understand what it takes to be successful.
“At times, we’ve played decent. Sometimes we’ve struggled. We struggled at Rhode Island; not having Jaren hurt, but that wasn’t the only reason (we lost) — physically, we got beat up a little bit. But we have good guys, we have good players, guys that basketball means a lot to them.”
— In the wake of the postponed home game with George Washington, Schmidt said Bona used the extra time to get some much-needed practices in. It took Saturday off before getting back to it on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
“Just to get better, he said, when asked of the team’s approach during its week between games. “We haven’t had a lot of practice time, especially going 5-on-5, so we just tried to get better in all our areas.
“(We) tried to get more chemistry, getting guys more reps … because we’re not near where we need to be. I think we had a couple good practices and it was beneficial for us.”
— On Wednesday, Bona was set to face a typical Fordham team under Jeff Neubauer, one that struggles to score, but tries to offset that with a grind-it-out style and one of the A-10’s better, more aggressive defenses.
The Bonnies know what they’re up against. A year ago, they shot just 36 percent, committed 16 turnovers and tallied only 53 points in regulation before needing overtime to get by the Rams in the Bronx.
“One thing with teams … they’re a reflection of their coach,” Schmidt said. “They struggle offensively, and a lot of teams would put their heads down, (and say), ‘Man, I’m not scoring, I’m not gonna play.’ These kids really play, they play for Jeff, they play hard as heck, they’re very good defensively.
“(Sophomore big man Joel) Soriano causes problems inside, they take a zillion charges. They’re just hard-nosed kids, blue-collar kids that love to compete. They understand who they are and they play awfully hard.”
— Schmidt has often cited the ability to “steal some on the road” as part of the recipe for success in the Atlantic 10.
He was asked if there was an added emphasis, as a potential league championship contender, on being able to take care of a team such as Fordham, which sits just 1-3 this year and has traditionally floundered at the bottom of the A-10 standings … even away from the Reilly Center.
He was adamant that this was not how he viewed Wednesday’s contest, citing what the Rams have done in just the last week, knocking off preseason No. 3 Dayton (55-54) and taking preseason No. 5 Duquesne to the final seconds before falling 48-45.
“I would think you’d talk to the guys at Dayton and they’d (say), ‘We underestimated these guys,’” Schmidt said. “No. We struggle at Fordham, it’s never an easy game, it went to OT last year.
“We’re going down there understanding it’s going to be a really difficult game, and hopefully we can play well enough to win by one. This is not an ‘overlook’ game. They caught our guys’ attention. We’re not going to lose this game because we underestimated Fordham; that’s not happening. We may lose, but it’s not going to be because of that.”