Let’s think about a simpler time… March 7, 2020, to be exact. The Atlantic 10 was the talk of the college basketball world as College Gameday rolled into Dayton to watch the No. 3 Flyers massacre the George Washington Colonials and complete their unbeaten conference season.
We all know what happened after, though. The COVID-19 pandemic robbed us of the chance to see Obi Toppin lead Dayton to its first Final Four in more than half a century.
But, as we try to put a cap on this pandemic, a new Atlantic 10 monster has emerged. After their 2020-21 conference title win, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies have become one of the talks of the college basketball world as they try to follow in the footsteps of that Flyers team.
Last season, Mark Schmidt and the Bonnies trotted out the same lineup for 20 of their 21 games, culminating in an Atlantic 10 title and a 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament. You rarely see that in college basketball at any level. Not only do they return all five of those starters, they also bring in two ACC transfers.
Spearheading the starting five is First-Team All-Atlantic 10 member, and the most used player in the country, Kyle Lofton.
Last season, Lofton played 40 minutes in 10 of the Bonnies’ 21 games, scoring in double digits in all but four and leading the team in scoring at 14.4 points per game.
The Atlantic 10 tournament was when he really put on a show. In a semifinal matchup against the Saint Louis Billikens, Lofton reeled in a career-high 10 rebounds, scoring 12 points to accompany it. During the championship game against VCU, Lofton was an immaculate 7-7 from the free-throw line as he led the Bonnies to their first A-10 Tournament title since 2012 with a game-high 23 points.
What a game by UC grad Kyle Lofton, who led St. Bonaventure to victory in the A-10 Title game as the Bonnies beat VCU, 74-65!— Union Catholic HS (@unioncatholichs) March 14, 2021
Lofton scored 23 points and had 6 assists as the Bonnies advanced to the NCAA Tournament! @DrReaganUC
Watch @Kloft0 (number 0) celebrate in this video pic.twitter.com/N2oECtlkZz
Lofton’s battery mates Jaren Holmes and Jalen Adaway were both capable of big performances and proved it throughout A-10 play.
On Jan. 6, Holmes put on one of the most impressive performances ever at the historic Reilly Center, scoring 38 points off eight three-pointers, and adding 10 rebounds in an 83-57 victory over Saint Joseph’s.
To accompany him during that game, Adaway scored 24 points, only missing one shot from the field.
Each of them followed that impressive game in January with impressive performances in February. Adaway scored 43 points during the second week of the month as Bonaventure beat La Salle and fell short against VCU. He took home A-10 Player of the Week in the process. The next weekend, Holmes tallied his first double-double in a 69-58 victory over Davidson, picking up 19 points and 11 rebounds. Both ended the season with double-digit scoring tallies in the Bonnies’ Round of 64 loss to LSU.
The big man of the squad, Osun Osunniyi, also scored in double-digit that game, but he is more known for his defensive work. Not only was Osunniyi the first Bonnie to ever compile 60 blocks and 50 assists in one season, he won A-10 Defensive Player of the Year and A-10 Tournament Most Outstanding Player. He averaged a double-double in the tournament and racked up 13 blocks.
His offense isn’t bad either. He averaged 10.7 points per game and ranked in the top 200 nationally of four offensive KenPom categories.
Teammate Dominick Welch also has an eye for offense. completing 38% of his 130 three-point attempts on the season.
That starting five is deadly, even before adding in the transfers.
Quadry Adams transferred in from Wake Forest where he played nine games as a freshman, shooting 50% (8-16) in his limited time on the court. He and Lofton were high school teammates and will look to rekindle that on-court chemistry in Olean.
Pittsburgh transfer Abdul Karim Coulibaly started 20 of 22 games for the Panthers last season, leading the team in shooting percentage at 51.1%. He also led his high school team to back-to-back No. 1 prep national rankings while scoring over 1,000 points in his career and averaging a double-double during his senior season.
This new, deeper Bonnies team will open the 2021-22 campaign with a rivalry game against Siena before heading to Charleston for the Charleston Classic, an event with only one other NCAA Tournament team from 2021 in West Virginia.
For now, they’re a dark horse Final Four team. Depending on how they do in the non-conference, you might have to drop the term dark horse before long.