By CHUCKIE MAGGIO
Very little carries over from St. Bonaventure’s 2017 exhibition game against Alfred to the one it will play Friday night at the Reilly Center.
The opponent is the same, the location is the same, the head coaches are the same and LaDarien Griffin is expected to be in the starting lineup. Other than that, there is a surplus of uncertainty.
Griffin is Bonaventure’s lone returning starter from last year’s exhibition. Both teams’ leading scorers a year ago, Courtney Stockard and Nick Schmidt, will be on the SBU bench on Friday; Stockard is making his way back from arthroscopic knee surgery and Schmidt is now a graduate assistant on father Mark’s staff. Fifty-three percent of the points the Bonnies scored in that game were recorded by players who are no longer wearing the brown and white (or will it be mostly grey again?) uniform.
The new-look Bonnies carry more question marks than they had in recent exhibitions. The uncertainty will add intrigue to a contest they should still win handily against a Division III opponent.
Question 1: Who starts? Griffin, Nelson Kaputo, Jalen Poyser and Amadi Ikpeze all have experience in the system and are likely starters. Stockard’s absence leaves a void at his position, with a bevy of viable options to get the nod from Schmidt. Look for freshman Dominick Welch or sophomore Tshiefu Ngalakulondi to crack the first five. Welch has impressed in practice and was a dynamic scorer in high school, while Ngalakulondi has a year under his belt and performed well in limited minutes.
Question 2: Who leads the scoring? The leading scorer of the exhibition game has finished the season as one of the team’s top three scorers in three of the last four years; Denzel Gregg was fourth in 2015-16. Each of the projected starters are candidates to get 20-plus points so it will probably come down to who has the hot shooting hand. My prediction: Poyser quells some of the doubt over his jump shot and hits five three-pointers in a 23-point performance.
Question 3: How many minutes does each center play? The center rotation will become clearer when the regular season starts next week, but the Ikpeze/Osun Osunniyi breakdown is worthy of attention. Foul trouble will always be a factor, but Osunniyi will garner a decent amount of minutes as the coaches evaluate what they have in the young big man. Don’t expect the freshman to usurp the junior anytime soon, although Schmidt said he wants Ikpeze to be more consistent.
Question 4: How many threes will Alfred make? With a significant size disadvantage, the Saxons turn to the three-ball to score points against Bona. They’ve combined for 26 triples in the last two meetings, though Nick Schmidt recorded four of the 12 last year.
Question 5: How will the pep band sound? I’ve been anti-pep band for years because the Reilly Center atmosphere doesn’t require one, especially on Saturdays. But several contributors worked tirelessly to bring the band back, including a member of the Goo Goo Dolls, so I’m all ears for its big debut on Friday night. At the very least, newer generations of Bonnies fans are going to learn the oft-ignored fight song and alma mater.