With a shift of power seemingly on the horizon in the Atlantic 10, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies are in position to not only contend for the league title, but to make a run in the NCAA tournament, despite missing out on the postseason altogether in 2016-17.
As Dayton and VCU enter rebuilds, Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure are the two favorites in the A-10, and the Bonnies have risen to power on the backs of one of the best guard combos in college basketball.
St. Bonaventure returns four starters from a year ago, including Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley. The two scored more combined points last year than any returning duo in the nation and both found themselves on the All-Atlantic 10 first team.
This will be coach Mark Schmidt’s most experienced team in years, and one that, despite its flaws, should be the best he has ever had.
Jaylen Adams is a star in the making
The senior point guard and potential Atlantic 10 Player of the Year is adept at flipping any question about his personal accomplishments — of which there are plenty — into a discussion about the Bonnies as a team and their NCAA tournament aspirations.
Adams says that with the returning experience, this team feels much like 2015-16, when the Bonnies were one of the first teams out of the NCAA tournament field.
“Our guys are two or three years deep into big minutes now,” he said. “It kind of reminds me of my sophomore year a little bit. We’re just more mature.”
Over the past two seasons, Adams has averaged better than 37 minutes per game, and has accumulated almost 1,200 total points in that time. For his efforts, Adams has been named to the watch list for the Bob Cousy Award, given annually to the best point guard in college basketball, and should get national All-American consideration.
He’s one of the best point guards in the game on both sides of the ball, and Adams says he has put himself into position to succeed this year, then have a long NBA career beyond.
Last year, with totals of 20.6 points and 6.5 assists per game, he was the only player in Division I to rank in the top 25 nationally in scoring and top 10 in assists. His teammate Mobley provides a reliable target when Adams would rather distribute than score.
Matt Mobley is the A-10’s best kept secret
Mobley has flown under the radar while Adams has become a household name among college basketball diehards. He doesn’t mind it, though.
“Any publicity he gets, the team gets,” Mobley said of Adams. “We can all feed off of it.”
A transfer from Central Connecticut, Mobley went from the Northeast Conference to the A-10, and after sitting out 2015-16, his production somehow increased despite the jump in competition. He scored 18.5 per game last year, shooting 38 percent from three and 86 percent from the line.
Mobley is more than just a scoring threat, too. He ranked eighth in the Atlantic 10 in steal percentage and averaged nearly six rebounds per game. He’s athletic and electric, and on most other teams in the country, he’d be the unquestioned go-to guy.
Mobley also has his eyes on a professional career, and the steps he’s taken to help himself should pay dividends for the Bonnies.
“I’ve been working on ball handling and shooting,” he said. “At my position, I feel like those are the two things you need to have a long professional career.”
Meet the supporting cast
With Mobley and Adams established as two of the best players in the league, it’s easy to forget that the Bonnies actually return four starters from last year, with guard Idris Taqqee and forward Josh Ayeni coming back alongside them.
The senior Taqqee has steadily improved through his first three years at St. Bonaventure and played over 33 minutes per game last season. He’s never been asked to do too much while sharing a backcourt with Adams and Mobley, but he has been a steady presence, particularly on the offensive glass. The Bonnies don’t return much size and will have to make up for the loss of Denzel Gregg inside, so having guards who can crash the boards is a necessity.
Ayeni, a sophomore, will anchor the Bonaventure front court. As a freshman, he showed flashes of excellence and finished the season in the top 25 in the Atlantic 10 in offensive rebound percentage, steal percentage, and offensive rating, per KenPom.
As for the newcomers, Ndene Gueye should see some time as a JuCo transfer. He averaged 14.6 points and 8.4 rebounds at Kilgore College but tore his rotator cuff over the summer. If he is healthy, he should provide an immediate impact. The same could be said of Courtney Stockard, who has sat out the last two seasons with foot injuries. There’s also freshman Tshiefu Ngalakulondi, who Schmidt said is the most athletic player on the roster, according to the Blue Ribbon Basketball Year Book. He’s listed as a forward but can also shoot.
The Bonnies will have a chance to make an early statement in the Emerald Coast Classic — a field that also includes TCU and Maryland. Both received votes in the preseason Coaches Poll and the Horned Frogs are No. 14 in KenPom’s preseason rankings.