St. Bonaventure Athletics

Opportunity knocks for improved St. Bonaventure squad Saturday afternoon

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After winning 20 games and finishing in a tie for third place in the Atlantic 10 in 2011-12 (and reached the NCAA tournament) Mark Schmidt’s St. Bonaventure Bonnies took a slight step back last season, posting an overall record of 14-15 with a 7-9 mark in conference play. That tends to happen when you bid farewell to a player as influential and talented as Andrew Nicholson, and while the Bonnies did have three players averaging double figures offensively their biggest issues came on the defensive end.

St. Bonaventure finished the 2012-13 season ranked 14th in the Atlantic 10 in field goal percentage defense, with opponents shooting 44.9% from the field, and they were also 14th in the conference in adjusted defensive efficiency. So even with the loss of their top three scorers from a season ago, it was clear that regardless of who steps up to account for the lost scoring St. Bonaventure needed to improve defensively if they were to make a move up the Atlantic 10 pecking order.

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Through 15 games the Bonnies have been better defensively, with opponents shooting 42.6% from the field and scoring an average of just 0.97 points per possession. Add to this a balanced led by senior guard Matthew Wright (16.5 ppg, 3.4 apg) and the result is an 11-4 record, with the Bonnies winning their Atlantic 10 opener against Richmond on Wednesday night.

But while that 84-70 victory was a good one, a lot more will be learned about the Bonnies on Saturday afternoon when they visit No. 19 UMass in the first game of a triple-header on NBC Sports Network. It’s the first of two A-10 games on the docket, with Rhode Island/George Washington (2:30 p.m.) being the other and Ivy League rivals Princeton and Penn (6:00 p.m.) completing the slate.

While that Princeton/Penn game is the league opener for both, Rhode Island and George Washington will look to avoid starting 0-2 in Atlantic 10 play. In addition to being broadcast on NBC Sports Network, all three games are available on the NBC Sports Live Extra app as well.

UMass, picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic 10’s preseason poll, is off to a 13-1 start with point guard Chaz Williams leading a talented group of players capable of attacking teams on both ends of the floor. The length of Maxie Esho and Raphiael Putney makes for tough match-ups, and center Cady Lalanne’s been one of the most improved players in the Atlantic 10.

Both teams have six players averaging at least nine points per game this season, but UMass has produced more of the attention-grabbing wins that have them in the national polls and on their way to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998. With that being the case, Saturday’s game in Amherst represents a great opportunity for St. Bonaventure, especially when it comes to earning some respect within the Atlantic 10. If they can hit the offensive glass as they have thus far (14.0 offensive rebounds per game), the Bonnies could have a “puncher’s chance” at the Mullins Center.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.