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The Other Top 25 Preseason Rankings: No. 9 St. Bonaventure

The Bonnies hope an experienced, deep roster can take the next step

NCAA Basketball: St. Bonaventure at Dayton David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

2019-2020 Record: 19-12 (11-7 conference); everything got cancelled, so no postseason :(

Key Returning Players: Kyle Lofton (junior, 14.1 PPG, 30.7% Assist Rate) Dominick Welch (junior, 11.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG) Jaren Holmes (junior, 11.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 40% 3P%), Osun Osunniyi (junior, 10.8 PPG, 10.6% Block Rate)

Key Losses: Amadi Ikpeze (12 starts, 3.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG), Bobby Planutis (5.4 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 51.7% of available minutes)

Key Newcomers: Jalen Shaw (JUCO, 11.3 PPG, 65 blocked shots), Jalen Adaway (Miami(OH), 8 PPG and 5 RPG in 2018-2019), Eddie Creal (JUCO, 15.1 PPG)

Look at that list of Key Returning Players/Newcomers versus what St. Bonaventure lost. Remember the Buffalo team of the past few years that Nate Oats worked magic with? That’s what St. Bonaventure in 2020-21, in my opinion, could look like over the next two years. There’s a strong core of juniors, complementary pieces in a few sophomores, plus a great group of newcomers.

This is a team that beat Rutgers on a neutral court last year (distinctly easier than at home), but started 0-3 against Ohio, Vermont, and Siena. Bona feasted on the bottom half the Atlantic 10, but earned only one win over anyone above them in the final conference standings (Duquesne, away).

This is an aspirational year. Maybe the real pressure won’t be there until next season. But this is a team primed to break out (in fact, in my awards picks, they’re my breakout team prediction) and take their place alongside Saint Louis, Richmond, and Dayton over the next few years. This is the year to show you they are capable of making noise.

I’m not sure I’m ready to call them a tournament team, but the tools are there. Now all we have to do is play the games.

Key Non-Conference Games

Do we even have any of these? COVID continues to take away everything fun and good in life.

Right now, St. Bonaventure has five non-conference games on the schedule, with the first three against Towson, Army and Stephen F. Austin in Mohegan Sun’s Bubbleville event. The other two are at Akron and at home against Buffalo.

3 things to Watch

How do the new pieces fit in?

One top-level scoring guard, one strong wing player with D-I experience, and some added depth at center. That’s a pretty good haul, and that’s just the transfers. In a brutal league with four or five teams vying for maybe two NCAA Tournament bids (GIVE THEM THREE, COWARDS, THIS CONFERENCE IS SO GOOD THIS YEAR), they’ll have to provide an immediate impact.

Osun and the defense

This is a dude with a top-25 block rate per KenPom and a top-100 two-point field goal percentage. He’s an all-conference player. Pairing him with the playmaking of Lofton and versatile scoring of Holmes gives the Bonnies a lethal attack. However, St. Bonaventure ended up near the bottom of the conference defensively despite his paint presence last year. Can the defense hold back the elite guards of the conference? You’re staring down Jalen Crutcher, Jacob Gilyard, Fatts Russell, and Jordan Goodwin, just to name a few. If the perimeter defense can’t be reliable, St. Bonaventure may be in for a rough time come conference season.

Do the starters take that next step?

I mentioned Buffalo earlier. That team upset Arizona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a lineup of mostly juniors and sophomores and then earned a 6 seed with almost that same lineup as seniors. The blueprint was a good-enough defense paired with an electric offense that didn’t turn the ball over, got offensive rebounds, and took intelligent shots (and playing really fast, thus getting an opportunity to let their offense cook).

St. Bonaventure had a poor effective field goal percentage last year, plays at a slow pace, and isn’t exactly lights out from three. The Bonnies don’t really turn over the ball and they offensive rebound, but having a team that shoots an 49.1% effective field goal percentage on minimal possessions isn’t going to be able to run with Richmond, Dayton, and St. Louis.

The good news is KenPom thinks this is a top-50 offense this coming year. If you believe in the analytics, that means the four factors on offense (effective field goal percentage, turnover rate, offensive rebounding, and free throws attempted/field goals attempted) will improve from last year. Maybe it’s Osunniyi absolutely dominating the boards that does it. We know this team doesn’t really turn the ball over and rebounds well. If they can get to the line and take smarter shots on their lower possessions (or crank up the tempo to let their offensive weapons open the floodgates), the offense has the potential to live up to its billing.

X-Factor

The turnover defense

As I said above, the defense was............well, about bang-on average. Thanks to Osunniyi, the block rate was pretty good, but the defense only turned opponents over 17.6% of the time. Out of all returners, only Kyle Lofton had a steal rate over 2% and unless the offense catapults itself into the stratosphere, this defense is sub-optimal.

The first improvement needs to be in turning the opponent over. Overwhelmingly, turnovers are created on the perimeter or in between the ball going from the guards to the bigs. If the perimeter defense can cause more havoc, less pressure is put on the offense to really kick it into gear.