Mark Schmidt would not bite.
On Monday, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball coach, a Boston College graduate and a Massachusetts native, was asked if there was any added incentive to beat Notre Dame later in the week. Of course, he was still focused on southern Indiana, so he wouldn’t delve further into the Irish. But given his proud standing on the other side of the “holy war” rivalry, one has to consider that in his first experience as head coach, it would be a little sweeter for him to beat ND.
More importantly, this is a great early opportunity for his Bonnies, a chance to show that if Bowling Green marked their first decisive win and USI gave them their first winning streak, THIS would be their first real triumph of the 2022-23 season Season. And that chance comes today (4pm WPIG-FM, ESPN+ livestream) when Bona meets the Irish in the Gotham Classic Showcase Contest at the UBS Arena in Elmont.
FOR BONA (3-2), the buzz in this one derives largely from his opponent’s caliber. ND currently ranks 66th nationally according to KenPom, third-highest among Bona opponents (behind only Dayton and Saint Louis) and goes 5-0 unbeaten today at the start. On paper, it appears to be just as strong, or maybe even stronger, than the team that advanced 24-11 from the top four to the round of 32 at last year’s NCAA tournament.
But there’s also a bit of pride when the Bonnies attempt to take down another Catholic school they mostly live in the shadow of, in front of one of their largest alumni bases in the country, on Long Island, in a Spotlight -Game at an NHL Venue.
“We’re excited,” said Schmidt after his team’s 80-66 triumph over Southern Indiana on Tuesday. “You always get excited when you play against an ACC team. They are a talented team, well trained. I think they have the oldest team in the country (4 out of 5 starters are fifth year players). We cut out our work for ourselves.
“(But) we want to play these kinds of games in environments like this. We will have many Bonaventure fans there. It should be a great environment and we look forward to the challenge.”
BONA HAS a bit of momentum on his side after back-to-back wins and reason to think it’s a good fit for ND: The Irish also beat Bowling Green and Southern Indiana at home, but by almost the same margins (82-66 and 82-70) as bona. It also had a trio of close decisions against Radford, Youngstown State and Lipscomb, winning those games by an average of just three points. Plus, this is the kind of game where the Bonnies have occasionally caused a stir — when they’re young, injured, or both, and they’re unlikely to stand a chance against the mighty Power 6 team. Recall that in 2019 they beat Rutgers in the Naismith Classic without Osun Osunniyi and Jaren Holmes, starting two freshmen in the process.
And while that hardly applies to a team made up entirely of new players, recent history is also on Bona’s side. As of 2017, the Bonnies have been 9-7 against Power 6 opponents, including a 3-2 mark against the ACC, with victories over Clemson and Virginia just last season.
Nonetheless, as Schmidt noted, this particular challenge will be a difficult one.
INTERESTING, Notre Dame, at least initially, bears a strong resemblance to last year’s Bonnies … minute-wise. The Irish fielded their own Iron Man 5 as all five starters averaged between 33 and 38 minutes per game, accounting for 72.4 of their 79.4 points per game. Only one reserve has played significant minutes, giving them a current rotation of six.
And there is hardly a weak point in this opening line-up.
All five are averaging double digits, highlighted by 6-foot-10 forward Nate Laszewski, last year’s top reserve who has gotten off to a smashing start this winter with 20 points and nine rebounds a game. It’s a group that also includes returning starters Dane Goodwin (15 points) and Cormac Ryan (10 points) in backcourt, as well as five-star recruit JJ Starling (14 points), a 6ft-4 guard and the senior ND include Mike Brey era recruit.
Under Bray, now in his 23rd season, the Irish have remained consistently solid, reaching the Big Dance 13 times with two Elite 8 appearances (2015-16). That year, ND was selected to finish seventh out of 15 teams in the ACC preseason poll.
THIS FOR Bona is a shot at his first real turning point in a new era, a potential stepping stone into a variety of games over the next three weeks against tough mid-major competition including Buffalo and another showcase game against Iona on Dec. 11. It’s also an opportunity to build on some of the things it’s done well so far that we didn’t always see in the Kyle Lofton/Osunniyi era.
Bona has scored over 80 points in three of his first five games since 2016-17, shooting a respectable 36.3 percent from 3-point range. It’s early days, but Bona hasn’t averaged more than 70 points, or 35 percent from distance, since 2017-18, the year it ranked #1 and #2 in those categories respectively in the Atlantic 10.
It has also laid the groundwork for a stronger presence inside, most notably with Morgan State’s transfer of Chad Venning. The 6-foot-10, 270-pound forward got off to a promising start, exploding for 36 points in 12-of-20 shooting (and 12-of-16 at the line) in his last two contests, including a career . -high 21 against Southern Indiana on Tuesday. Venning is quickly becoming a fan favorite due to his rimming skills, defensive efforts, and deceptive athleticism on some drives and dunks.
And Bona will almost certainly need another good game from him if he wants to beat Notre Dame.
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