By CHUCKIE MAGGIO
Another schedule release, another off-court victory for the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball program.
The Atlantic 10’s annual post-Labor Day announcement of its conference schedule wasn’t nearly as anticipated as last year, when Bonnies fans clamored all summer for a Friday night game against Rhode Island on ESPN2 that eventually came to fruition. There was no crown jewel game on this slate, mainly because summer projections for the new-look Bona squad are all over the map; with no consensus, it was difficult to predict how much national exposure SBU would get.
Wednesday’s release was good to Bona Nation: Bonaventure is scheduled for 11 televised games, its third straight year in double-digits. The Bonnies will host a Friday night contest on ESPN2 for the second straight year when they host Davidson on Feb. 1.
One of Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt’s favorite sayings is, “Win your home games and steal some on the road.” With that in mind, here’s my ranking of Bonaventure’s five biggest conference games.
- Away at Richmond, Jan. 26. The Spiders return four of their top six scorers from a year ago and, despite losing dismissed guard De’Monte Buckingham, will be in the mix for an A-10 Tournament bye. Richmond has been a perennial house of horrors for SBU; the Bonnies are 3-8 in The Robins Center and haven’t won there since 2009.
- Home vs. Saint Louis, March 9. The Billikens are the likely league favorites and the regular season finale is always important for A-10 Tournament seeding purposes. The Bonnies don’t make a trip to St. Louis this year and haven’t lost to SLU at home since 2013. A victory over one of the conference’s top teams, on what will probably be Senior Day for Nelson Kaputo, LaDarien Griffin and Courtney Stockard, could serve them well before Brooklyn.
- Home vs. St. Joseph’s, Jan. 9. The Hawks may be voted second to the Billikens in next month’s A-10 preseason poll, but SJU arguably has the best returning core in the league: Charlie Brown, Chris Clover, Taylor Funk, Lamarr Kimble and Pierfrancesco Oliva. Barring injuries, which have plagued Phil Martelli’s teams since DeAndre’ Bembry left for the NBA, this early league test will have postseason implications.
2. Home vs. VCU, Feb. 9. As the only Saturday home game in February, this will be the Alumni Weekend game. It will also be the first meeting between the teams at the Reilly Center since the infamous ending from two seasons ago, which CBS Sports Network will likely be happy to replay for viewers at home. St. Joe’s is still Bona’s biggest A-10 rival but VCU is currently the most reviled. The sellout RC crowd will be as hostile as it gets, especially with a smattering of Rams fans making the trip from Richmond.
- Home v.s. Davidson, Feb. 1. Bonaventure and Davidson have played seven times since the Wildcats joined the conference in 2014-15. Two of those games have seen overtime, while another was decided by a buzzer-beater. On the first night of February, in front of a Friday night Reilly Center crowd and ESPN cameras, fans will be expecting another special moment in this young rivalry.