There have never been bigger expectations for St. Bonaventure basketball.
That’s not hyperbole in New York, where the program opens the 2021-22 season Tuesday hosting in-state foe and fellow conference champion Siena in St. Bonaventure, N.Y.
The Bonnies are ranked 23rd in the AP poll and all five starters are back from the team that went 16-5 overall and won the Atlantic 10 regular-season title and conference tournament, going 11-4 in conference competition.
Coach Mark Schmidt, who is beginning his 15th season at St. Bonaventure, said his team isn’t running from the headliner status.
“Expectations are high, but as I told the team a couple weeks ago, we’d rather have higher expectations than no expectations. We’re going to cherish it. We’re going to embrace it,” Schmidt told Buffalo radio station WGR.
Each of Schmidt’s five starters averaged in double-digits scoring a year ago, from Kyle Lofton’s 14.4 points per game to Osun Osunniyi’s 10.7. The former led the team with 5.5 assists per game, and the latter cleared a team-high 9.4 rebounds a game.
If Schmidt has any worries about his team becoming enamored with its own press clippings, he’s not showing his hand.
“I see guys that are really motivated, that see that it’s going to be harder than last year because we have the target on our chest. And they’ve worked their tails off. If they don’t get better, it won’t be because they were complacent,” said Schmidt, whose team was ranked fourth in the A-10 preseason poll 12 months ago.
Going into this season, they’re the unanimous No. 1 choice.
“Even within the five starters, we don’t have anybody that’s trying to do anything different than last year. We all want to have the same roles, and it’s about going and being better within those roles,” Young told The Athletic.
St. Bonaventure welcomed Division III Alfred University in for an exhibition on Thursday and overwhelmed the Saxons 95-54. It was business as usual for the Bonnies, who led the Atlantic 10 (and were seventh in the nation) in scoring defense a season ago at 61.1 points per game.
Siena, which won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season title at 12-4 last season and entered the conference tourney as the top seed, was bounced by ninth-seeded Iona to end the season.
This season, Siena was picked to finish eighth in the 11-team conference.
The Saints lost their top three scorers, who accounted for roughly 39 points per game on a team that averaged only 67.6 points per contest. That was fifth in the MAAC.
Jackson Stormo is the only double-figures scorer among the players Siena has returning. He netted 10.8 points per game to go with 5.5 rebounds.
Siena has a different type of expectation, coming from within.
Saints coach Carmen Maciariello has not been shy about singing the praises of freshman point guard Javian McCollum, calling him a mix of Ronald Moore and Doremus Bennerman,” according to the Times Union in Albany, N.Y.
That is a combination of Siena’s all-time leader in assists (Moore, with 823) and second-leading career scorer (Bennerman, with 2,109).
McCollum “does a great job with the ball and being able to move it and understands the game, and he has a passion about it. He’s feisty, I like that. … He’s acclimated himself. Him and (freshman guard) Jared (Billups) are doing great. Those guys I see as really good players for us for years to come,” Maciariello said.
McCollum said he doesn’t mind the high praise.
“I feel good about it,” he said. “I’m always competitive. I think I can bring it every day in practice, bring it in the games. He obviously trusts me by saying that, so it means a lot.”
–Field Level Media