The Bonnies are already five games into their 2022-23 campaign. With a roster that now has zero returning minutes or points after the sudden early season departure of Justin Ndjock-Tadjore, we finally have some true game action to help us understand this new Bona's team.
Ahead of their Gotham Classic showdown on Black Friday against Notre Dame at UBS Arena, let's look at five things that stood out from Bona's first five games. Some surprising roles, highlights from the first handful of games and a key area for potential improvement.
Chad Venning showing promise in starting role
In my eyes, the most intriguing storyline with this year's Bona roster is the "five man by committee" as Mark Schmidt has coined the team's center spot. We've already seen an adjustment to the starting lineup, with Schmidt giving Morgan State transfer Chad Venning the start over Anouar Mellouk the past two games.
The starting five of Venning, Daryl Banks III, Kyrell Luc, Barry Evans and Yann Farrell has been the most positive Bonnies lineup by far. This lineup has played almost twice as much as the next most-used one, at just over 60 total minutes on the season. It's also been the most effective by far, posting a +48 points differential. No other lineup has had more than a +5 differential, so it appears that Schmidt is trending toward keeping this group on the floor as much as he can moving forward.
Venning's addition to the starting group has brought a strong presence in the paint. In addition to his help on the glass, Venning has been able to get to the free throw line often, with only Banks and Luc attempting more foul shots so far this season. He's been able to convert on 16 of 22 attempts, which has been a plus for the new starting big man.
Outside of a 1-for-5 performance against South Dakota State, Venning has been extremely effective from the field, converting on 57% of shot attempts to this point.
He had a breakout performance in the most recent game against Southern Indiana, blowing up for 21 points and 7 rebounds. As a starter, Venning has played 30 minutes a game, which is a huge increase from the 15 to 20 minutes he was seeing coming off the bench. Equally as important, he has only committed one foul in each of his starting performances.
Venning's increased volume and scoring success has been a huge positive for the Bonnies. I expect to see the same moving forward, while hoping that the big man can continue to stay out of foul trouble as well.
Effective 3-point shooting leading to high scoring volume
Three Bonnies are shooting 40% or higher from 3-point land through five games. Banks has led the way in both 3-point volume and conversions, with Farrell and Luc behind to round out Bona's scoring trio from long range.
This has helped drive the offense forward, as Bona has scored 80 or more points in three games so far this season. One of those performances was during the overtime loss to Canisius, however the Bonnies hit the 80 point mark in both of their recent wins against Bowling Green and Southern Indiana. Bona's 12 threes against Bowling Green were as much as any game last season besides UNI, where SBU connected on 15.
It's tough to beat a team that's consistently scoring that many points. Hopefully this scoring volume is a long lasting trend for Bona this year. This should be the case if the three balls continue to fall at a similar rate.
Kyrell Luc's pesky defense
Luc has been a consistent spark this season, continuing to find ways to get down hill and make opponents try to keep up with his quick first step. One aspect of his game that has shined is his on-ball defensive skills.
He's averaging close to 3 steals per game, often turning into a fast break and solid scoring opportunity for the team's primary ball handler. Luc has been creating problems for opposing guards, not giving them much room which then leads to those steals or other turnovers off of errant passes.
This is something that I'm confident will continue when Luc is on the floor. It's been a huge plus for the team in addition to his scoring prowess and ability to generate offense on the other end of the floor. Luc currently ranks top 100 in the nation in minutes, assist rate, and steal rate.
Cleaning up the turnovers
So far, Bona's are averaging 13.6 turnovers per game, which is tied for 200th in the country. This is less than ideal, however a bit expected for a fully new team still learning to play with each other.
The interesting aspect of this is that the number of turnovers has increased in recent games, as opposed to polished with more games under the belt. Bona turned the ball over 18 times in their loss to South Dakota state, while recording 14 and 17 turnovers in the recent wins against Bowling Green and Southern Indiana, respectively.
I expect this to be a big point that Schmidt will want to address moving forward. Turning the ball over even a couple of times less per game will go a long way in helping the Bonnies set themselves up to win games. Schmidt has stated that the team's goal each game is to keep turnovers at 10 or less.
Luc leads the team in turnovers, currently having almost double the amount of anyone else on the roster. While this is expected with the ball in his hands as much as it is, if Luc can help settle this number down himself, the entire team will reap the benefits of decreasing lost possessions.
The Iron Men: Banks, Luc and Evans
This trio is all averaging at least 36 minutes per game, sometimes playing the entire game. Evans went the full 40 minutes in the recent win against Southern Indiana, while Banks has went the full 40 three times already this year. Notably, Luc played over 43 minutes in the overtime loss to Canisius, and went over 39 minutes against Southern Indiana.
It appears that Schmidt is getting comfortable with his new starting group, with Farrell and Venning's minute share continuing to progress in recent games. One issue with Farrell has been foul trouble, which took a handful of minutes from him in multiple games. The good news is that Farrell has played 30 minutes or more in each of the past three games, hinting that Schmidt will want him on the floor as often as possible also.
What's particularly impressive is Barry Evans' minute volume as a freshman. He has been a constant on the floor and is proving to be a good off-ball creator alongside the backcourt tandem of Luc and Banks.
Schmidt went only eight players deep in the past game against Southern Indiana, with each player that came off the bench recording just 10 minutes or less. Keeping the starters on the floor as much as possible will bring some comfort as each member of last season's Bonnies starting five averaged 30 or more minutes per game.
This is clearly the preferred approach for the current Bonnies roster. I'm looking forward to seeing both Venning and Farrell's minute share increase as they continue in their starting roles. SBU is currently 351 of 363 in bench minutes usage at 21%. While this is clearly a low number, the bench usage is still more than double that of the past two seasons, which ended at 8.8% and 9.8%.
As the great Jon Rothstein says, "Mark Schmidt. MORE with LESS."