If you’re of the “what have you done for me lately?” ilk, as is the case for many a sports fan, then the lead-up to St. Bonaventure's Centennial Season Premier against Ohio Tuesday night could provide you with some irrational dread.
After having won 12 straight home openers dating back to 2004 (and posting a 48-2 record overall since the Reilly Center opened), the Bonnies have dropped their last two such contests despite being favorites.
Two years ago, ahead of maybe the most anticipated Bona season in almost a half century, Jaylen Adams came down awkwardly on his ankle in an exhibition against Alfred (ugh), and missed all six November dates. Thanks to the colossal onions of Courtney Stockard against Maryland (and later against UCLA in the NCAA Tournament), that season turned out just fine, but the initial gut-punch of losing at home to Niagara to kick off that season couldn’t be nursed by any amount of Jameson.
When Bucknell came to town for last season's opener, the aforementioned, large-onioned Courtney Stockard was still recovering from off-season arthroscopic knee surgery. The Bison scored the last six points of the second half to force overtime - an extra period that saw LaDarien Griffin also injure his knee. LDG would miss the next ten games, a span during which Dominick Welch – who was playing 30+ minutes a contest - also got injured. This depleted roster twice required us to roll out a starting lineup of Lofton-Poyser-Okoli-Ngalakulondi-Ikpeze, and thinned out a much-needed bench during a three-games-in-three-days tournament. It was a mess of a non-league slate due to injuries to our seniors and our soon-to-be stellar freshmen still adjusting to college ball.
Now, for the third year in a row, we’ll see an injury-riddled team open the season in the RC. This time, though, it won’t be the Bonnies. After going 6-12 in the MAC and getting bounced in the first round of their conference tournament last season, Saul Phillips was given the old Vince McMahon “YOOOUUU’RE FIIIIIIRED!” from the Ohio AD and replaced by Jeff Boals.
Boals returns to his alma-mater after assistant coaching stints at Akron (under Carla Tortelli – er, I mean – Keith Dambrot), then under Thad Matta at Ohio State. He took over at Stony Brook in 2016 and steered them to a 55-41 record over three seasons before moving on to the Bobcats.
What comes along with Boals beginning his tenure at the helm in Athens, during what most would deem a “reset year”, is a good amount of mystery. Not only does the roster feature eight (!) freshmen, Boals closed off a majority of his practices during the preseason. So even those “in the know” were left to guess how the team would look once games started. Five of their six-most-used players from last season are gone.
What is known at this point is that a third of Ohio’s scholarship players are tending to injuries. Junior wing Connor Murrell (foot) and freshman Ben Roderick (knee) are on the shelf indefinitely, and freshmen Marvin Price and Miles Brown have missed the entire preseason due to “minor” procedures on their knees.
Price and Roderick are two of the three highest-rated recruits to join Ohio this century. Roderick was a star high school player in Ohio and would have gotten major minutes against the Bonnies, but injured his knee in the team’s “secret” scrimmage against Robert Morris. The big, physical Price should eventually be a nice fit for Boals’ system, but Boals probably won’t be able to let the two freshmen run against SBU.
Matching up with Kyle Lofton at the PG position will be fellow sophomore Jay Preston, who will take over for the departed Teyvion Kirk. Like Lofton, Preston has no real backup, and will likely be expected to run the offense for 30+ minutes a game. When Preston isn’t on the floor, he’ll be supplemented by Lunden McDay or Jordan Dartis.
Dartis missed all of last season with a hip injury, but before getting a medical redshirt, he was a prolific 3-point shooter – connecting on 45% of his 500+ attempts. He’ll have a welcomed return, especially considering Kirk’s woeful numbers from deep (10-47 last season). Preston, Dartis and McDay are all about 6-3, 185, and Lofton, also 6-3, 185, will likely guard whichever one brings the ball up. Some combination of Welch/Vasquez/Johnson/Okoli will be called on to limit Dartis’s long-range production and match up with McDay on the wing. Jaren English would have also been called on to give minutes at the wing, but a broken hand will sideline him for 4-6 weeks.
Redshirt Sophomore Ben Vander Plas will see duties at the “4” for Ohio. At 6’8”, 235, Vander Plas averaged 8.6 points and 5 rebounds in 23 minutes during an inconsistent freshman campaign last season. Vander Plas also averaged over five three-point attempts a game (50-162 for 30%). He’ll be matched up opposite Bobby Planutis, Justin Winston or Robert Carpenter throughout the night.
Ex-Georgia Tech behemoth (6-10, 240) Sylvester Ogbonda will man the middle for Ohio and matchup with Osunniyi. Ogbonda played in just 19 games over the last two seasons with the Yellow Jackets before becoming a grad transfer. Osun gives up about 50 pounds to Ogbonda, but is far more skilled both offensively and defensively. Should Ogbonda throw his weight around enough to get Osun into foul trouble, senior Amadi Ikpeze also sizes up at 6-10, 240, and should be able to adequately spell Osun down low. Freshman Nolan Foster (6-10, 222) will provide backup minutes at center for Ohio.
With what's a bad combination of both inexperience and injury for Ohio, the Bonnies should be able to control this game from the get-go. KenPom lists this as the third-highest win probability of our non-league schedule at 79%, behind Gannon (100%) and Niagara (93%).
Pick to click: Dom "DomoD" Welch. Ohio will likely start three 6-3 guards, which means Welch will have a size advantage at the "3" for good chunks of the game. He'll mostly be matched up against either a freshman playing his first real college game, or a guy who didn't play at all last season and was never a strong defender in the first place. Along with getting hot from the outside, Welch could also be able to use his size and athleticism to pull down his fair share of rebounds. Let's Winn.