20210115CM0543

St. Bonaventure forward Osun Osunniyi (21) pulls up for a jumper over Duquesne forward Andre Harris (30) during an Atlantic 10 Conference basketball game on Jan. 15 inside the Reilly Center.

ST. BONAVENTURE — The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team has done its part to set a schedule in accordance with its sky-high expectations for next season.

The Atlantic 10, clearly, is also doing what it can to position the Bonnies for the NCAA Tournament. … and the highest possible seed.

Bona was issued perhaps the league’s most challenging collection of conference games for the 2021-22 season, based on its five travel partner pairings, which were announced by the A-10 on Thursday.

Coach Mark Schmidt’s team, an almost unanimous preseason No. 1, will play home-and-home with Richmond, Saint Louis and VCU, widely considered the league’s three next best returning teams on paper. Bona will also continue its annual two-way rivalry with Duquesne and have a pair of contests against Saint Joseph’s.

And that figures to be the foundation of an A-10 slate befitting a Bona group that returns five starters and adds a revamped bench from a team that won both the regular season and tournament title in March.

FOR THE eighth-straight season, the A-10 will stage an 18-game league schedule, with teams playing five teams twice and eight others once. In addition to its travel partners, Bona will host Davidson, Fordham, UMass and Rhode Island in what could be a back-to-capacity Reilly Center this winter. It’s a breakdown that also includes road trips to Dayton, George Mason, La Salle and George Washington.

For Schmidt’s team, that represents a bit of a shakeup from last year’s originally scheduled home-and-homes, with VCU replacing George Washington as a return trip and the four other opponents carrying over.

And it’s drastically different from how things actually played out due to the havoc the COVID-19 pandemic created in 2020-21. By the end of the year, Bona had managed 15 league games (taking the No. 1 spot with an 11-4 record), with all but its first two being affected in some way or another by the coronavirus. It also wound up meeting Duquesne, VCU and Davidson twice and never got a game in against Tre Mitchell and UMass.

With an almost completed non-league schedule and the release of its travel partners (and what is expected to a typical slate in 2021-22), plus the recent lift on travel restrictions for recruiting and the return of its players to campus, Bona has finally begun its return to normalcy in the post-pandemic era.

And with that comes a proportionally arduous schedule for a Bona team that is being projected for the preseason Top 25 nationally.

THE BONNIES will be tasked with six contests against the other three teams that will likely be pegged for the top four in this year’s preseason poll – VCU, which earned at-large bid to the Big Dance after falling to Bona in the A-10 Tournament championship, and Richmond and Saint Louis, both of whom were on the fringe before having their seasons derailed due the pandemic.

Bona went 4-2 against that group last winter, including games in the A-10 Tournament. All three are expected to be in that same conversation this season, especially Richmond, which will welcome back the talented senior trio of Grant Golden, Jacob Gilyard and Nathan Cayo for a fifth year.

Then, too, after a year of playing in empty arenas, Bona figures to be competing in unwelcoming road crowds again this season. That will include trips to the A-10’s most hostile venues – Dayton and VCU – plus always-difficult away contests with Duquesne, Richmond, Saint Joe’s and Saint Louis.

The Bonnies will conclude the season at the A-10 Tournament, which will go back to being in one location after being held in both Richmond and Dayton last March. This year, the event returns to Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C, which hosted on one other occasion (2017-18) and will stage the 2021-22 A-10 Tournament from March 9-13.

Bona’s complete 2021-22 conference schedule, including dates, times and national television information, will be released at a later date.

BONA 2021-22 ATLANTIC 10 PAIRINGS (Bold denotes home-and-home partners)

Home: Davidson, Fordham, UMass, Rhode Island, Duquesne, Richmond, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis, VCUAway: Dayton, George Mason, La Salle, George Washington, Duquesne, Richmond, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis, VCU

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