On Saturday, Dec. 11, UConn will head down to Newark, New Jersey to take on St. Bonaventure as part of the Never Forget Tribute Classic, which will also feature the UConn women taking on UCLA. The Bonnies are a preseason top-25 team this season and have a legitimate chance to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
After winning the Atlantic 10 regular season and conference tournament last year, St. Bonaventure bowed out in round one of the NCAA Tournament to No. 8 LSU 76-61.
Despite the early exit, making the tournament at all last season was still a success for head coach Mark Schmidt — it marked just the eighth time the Bonnies made it to the Big Dance, and the third time since 2012. This year, with all five starters returning, Schmidt and St. Bonaventure are looking to do more than just make the tournament.
The Bonnies, ranked No. 23 in the preseason AP Poll and 30th in KenPom, return all five starters — guards Kyle Lofton, Jaren Holmes and Dominick Welch and bigs Jalen Adaway and Osun Osunniyi — as seniors.
All five starters averaged over 10 points a game last season, led by Lofton, a 6-foot-3 point guard who averaged 14.4 points and 5.5 assists per game last season. Lofton made the preseason Atlantic 10 first team this season with Osunniyi, a 6-foot-10 center and reigning A-10 Defensive Player of the Year. The two are a formidable duo on the pick and roll, as Osunniyi can use his length to finish around the rim. Defensively, Osunniyi ranked 21st in the country in block percentage last year and pulled down just under 10 rebounds per game.
While Schmidt will have all five of his veteran starters back in action, this year’s bench unit is essentially entirely new. The Bonnies are bringing in four freshman, two JUCO transfers, and Quadry Adams and Karim Coulibally, who transferred from Wake Forest and Pittsburgh respectively.
Adams, a sophomore, and Coulibaly, a junior, didn't do much at their old schools, but should be able to provide some solid depth at a slightly lower level of competition in the A-10, while the folks over at Three Man Weave believe that Oluwasegun Durosinmi, one of the JUCO transfers, could be good enough defensively to spell Osunniyi for stretches.
Even though it’s not ideal to have such a young and inexperienced bench, it’s possible no other school is more prepared to deal it with it than the Bonnies, who literally played their starters more than any school in the country by a sizable amount, ranking dead last in bench minutes per KenPom.
This microscopic rotation was enough to get through the A-10 with relative ease last season largely due to some incredible defense from those five starters. Led by Osunniyi, St. Bonaventure ranked 20th in defensive efficiency and 12th in defensive effective field goal percentage per KenPom. With everyone back, it’s reasonable to expect that unit should be just as good, if not better, this coming season.
Matchup with UConn
When the Bonnies and Huskies meet in December, it should be St. Bonaventure’s first real test of the season depending on how the Bonnies fare in the Charleston Classic in mid-November. Pending a deep run in that tournament, St. Bonaventure could very well be undefeated or close to it before they head to New Jersey, as KenPom currently has the Bonnies to projected to win all of their games prior to facing off against UConn.
While the crowd will likely be in UConn’s favor in Newark, the game will likely be a slugfest style, low scoring affair, with two of the best post defenders in the country in Osunniyi and Isaiah Whaley going head to head.