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School: St. Bonaventure

Nickname: Bonnies

Affiliation: Atlantic 10

Coach: Mark Schmidt

2011-12 record: 20-12, 10-6

Overview

Andrew Nicholson plays for the Orlando Magic which means, if you believe the prognosticators, St. Bonaventure’s delightful NCAA Tournament run last season was a one-man show and the Bonnies will again fall into the lower reaches of the A-10. Then again, no one pegged Bona for much postseason success even with Nicholson so it’s not alarming to Mark Schmidt and Co. that the basketball seers are suddenly dancing on the Bonnies’ grave.

“We’re never going to be picked to win the league, we’re always going to be the underdog,” said Schmidt, whose team has improved its win total in each of the last five seasons. “In a way that’s good. People aren’t expecting us to have a great season so our job is to go out there and prepare the way we’re supposed to prepare, work hard in practice and give it the best shot we’ve got.”

The offense flowed through Nicholson — especially in the A-10 Tournament when he was an unstoppable force — but now the Bonnies will play a tick or two faster with a smaller lineup. Nine of the top 11 players return, including seniors Marquise Simmons and Michael Davenport. Both missed most of last season with injuries.

Seven returners appeared in at least 30 games last year, including Demitrius Conger, Matthew Wright and Charlon Kloof, who combined for 77 starts. That experience has to account for something and, most importantly, they all know how to win. That’s a taste not likely to dissipate even without Nicholson.

Keys to success

Not only do the Bonnies have to replace Nicholson, but also 6-foot-8, 235-pound Da’Quan Cook, who proved to be a valuable defender inside. Schmidt wants to play faster to produce easy baskets early in the shot clock out of necessity because of the lack of a determined low-post scoring threat. Only two players on the roster taller than 6-8 have experience. One is 7-foot sophomore Youssou Ndoye who, in time, can handle an expanded scoring role. The other is Simmons, who has battled injuries the last two seasons. The versatile Conger moves to power forward and will swing to the backcourt if needed, although the Bonnies have plenty of options at guard. Kloof seemed to improve with each game while Wright plays with a calming influence and is an underrated shooter. Eric Mosley also can stroke it from long range and so can Chris Johnson, who will fill it up quickly off the bench. Davenport’s injury was a blessing in disguise for Jordan Gathers, who gained confidence in his absence. Now that he’s back, Davenport, who averaged 11.1 points and shot 37 percent from long range in 2010-11, gives the Bonnies yet another valuable alternative on the perimeter. Because there is so much depth and experience, freshmen swingmen Dion Wright and Jean Yves Toupane, who comes from the same program as Ndoye in Dakar, Senegal, won’t have to play immediately.

Big games

St. Bonaventure certainly isn’t shying away from competition with a non-league schedule that includes Ohio (Nov. 28), Cleveland State (Dec. 15), North Carolina State (Dec. 22), Iona (Dec. 31) and Colorado State (Jan. 5). The A-10 bulked up with the additions of VCU (Jan. 12) and Butler (Feb. 6), two of four A-10 teams who should crack the nation’s Top 25.

Outlook

St. Bonaventure is past the point of rebuilding but there is some retooling to do. Playing fast-break basketball is entertaining and although the Bonnies have backcourt experience, they must limit turnovers. If the Bonnies can curb the turnovers and defend, an 18-win season and another postseason berth isn’t out of the question.

email: rmckissic@buffalonews.com