Just over eleven months ago, Fordham went into the Reilly Center in Olean, New York, and walked out with the first road conference win of Tom Pecora's tenure, a victory against 2012 Atlantic 10 champion St. Bonaventure that cost the Bonnies a chance to defend their title in Brooklyn, as well as one that sent Chris Gaston out a winner after four seasons as one of the greatest players in the Rams' recent history.
Gaston is gone this time around, however, and St. Bonaventure is still adjusting to life without all-world superstar Andrew Nicholson, who now plies his wares in the NBA for the Orlando Magic. However, head coach Mark Schmidt is still riding an experienced core led by double-figure scorers Matthew Wright and Charlon Kloof, not to mention the shot blocking prowess of seven-foot center Youssou Ndoye and the efficient shot selection of sixth man Dion Wright. At 13-10, the Bonnies are a deceptive bubble team, and with the right bounces in the right places, could steal a bid in much the same way they did in Atlantic City two years ago.
The Bonnies are still an enigma by and large around these parts, so to help get to know them a little better, we remain in-house for this pregame Q&A simply because we are privileged to have a man with an extensive knowledge of St. Bonaventure on our staff. It is truly an honor to bring in our staff "Renaissance Man" and St. Bonaventure alum, that being the great Ray Floriani, to share his infinite wisdom as it relates to his alma mater:
Jaden Daly: The Bonnies have had big wins this season against likely postseason teams such as Canisius, Iona and UMass, yet stand 13-10 on the year. Based on their overall body of work, do they have what it takes to be a team that receives a bid to the NIT or CBI?
Ray Floriani: The Bonnies have some nice wins as noted and some heartbreaking losses, such as UMass, Siena and Duquesne on the road and Dayton at home. Their overall body of work warrants playing past the first week of March. On their end, they need to close out February with some consistency, protect the home turf and ’steal’ one or two on the road. A win in the A-10 Tournament would benefit the situation as well.
JD: On that note, it seems like Mark Schmidt never gets enough credit for the job he has done, and that doesn't include the Atlantic 10 championship he won in 2012. Just how underrated is Schmidt and the quality of his work?
RF: Mark Schmidt has done nothing short of an outstanding job during his time at Bonaventure. He really doesn’t get enough credit from the mainstream media, but those who do get to cover his games, in print or electronic, come away duly impressed. Schmidt has also earned plaudits and respect from his peers. His 'pedigree' is solid, having played for Gary Williams at Boston College before assisting the late Skip Prosser at Xavier.
Besides resurrecting the Bonaventure program, he has connected with the entire area and the school’s alumni. He’s the type who will turn down a four-star restaurant for a corner pub with pizza and beer, very down to earth.
He is very well respected as a game coach and his preparation for teams has drawn opposition praise. When the Bonnies faced and were beaten by three by Florida State in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, Schmidt was lauded by the Seminoles’ Leonard Hamilton for his outstanding preparation and game plan. Beyond that, he is a coach who recruits character. His kids genuinely enjoy playing for him, which is vital today in coaching.
JD: St. Bonaventure has always been a senior-laden squad even before Andrew Nicholson exploded onto the scene. What will Fordham have to do to stop the Bonnies' two seniors and leading scorers in Matthew Wright and Charlon Kloof?
RF: One of the things Fordham can do is go at the Bonnie guards. Attack. They have been susceptible to foul trouble, so you can run your ball screens to free shooters. Another option would be to dribble penetrate a little more from the backcourt to try to pick up the hand checking call, but the main thing Fordham can do is not be tentative. Play your game, the guards are the Rams’ strength, so utilize them.
JD: On the contrary, the Bonnies have not exactly been adept at defending the three-pointer. With that said, how much more will Jon Severe be a topic of conversation in Schmidt's game plan?
RF: The Bonnies are allowing a too generous 38% shooting percentage beyond the arc in conference play. Without a doubt, the Fordham backcourt will be addressed in Schmidt’s preparation. The Bonnies do have seniors in the back line, namely Charlon Kloof and Matthew Wright. Having experience on the road is a plus. You might see some ’cheating’ by the Bonnies, going after the shooters, maybe a trap here or there. They can afford to overcompensate against the perimeter here because, to date, Fordham’s inside game has not been consistently strong. Besides, the Bonnies have a respectable presence in seven-foot Youssou Ndoye (52 blocks) manning the paint. The Rams are more of a perimeter threat, and that is a significant point in the Bonnie game plan.
JD: Finally, with this game starting a stretch of extremely winnable games against George Mason, Duquesne and Rhode Island, can the Bonnies play their way onto the bubble if they are able to run the table in this four-game tuneup for La Salle, Saint Joseph's and VCU?
RF: As the coaching cliché goes, take it one at a time. The winnable games as mentioned are a necessity. Out of LaSalle, VCU and Saint Joseph’s, they need at least one of those games. The tournament will also tell us a lot. If they harbor any Big Dance aspirations, a trip to the semifinals would be virtually mandatory. The remainder of this month and early March will spell out the Bonnies’ postseason fate.