Call it the tradeoff to having to play such a brutal road schedule last winter.
A year ago, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team was put in the unfortunate position of not only having to play at both Dayton and VCU — traditionally the two most unforgiving venues in the Atlantic 10 — but do so in consecutive games.
Its road slate also called for contests at a surprisingly lively UPMC Events Center for the Duquesne game; La Salle, where Bona has won just once in the last decade, and all the way out in Saint Louis against a good Billikens team.
Interestingly, the Bonnies fared about as well on the road (5-4) as they did at home (6-3), though four of those setbacks came against the teams mentioned above.
The metaphorical payout?
This winter, a now year-older Bona will get each of those teams, almost all of whom will be projected to finish in the top half of the the league standings, inside the Reilly Center, making for both an enticing home schedule and a more manageable road portion than it experienced last season.
BONA WILL retain three of its five travel partners from last year — annual foes Duquesne and Saint Joseph’s, plus George Washington — per the league’s conference pairings for 2020-21, released Thursday. However, rather than facing George Mason and Fordham, which placed 12th and 13, respectively, last year, it’ll get home-and-home matchups with current heavyweights Richmond and Saint Louis.
That means, should the season play out as scheduled — which we know is a big if at this point — Bona fans would be treated to RC games against, among others, defending A-10 champion Dayton, VCU, Richmond (perhaps the early favorite for 2020-21), Duquesne and Saint Louis. It also means that coach Mark Schmidt’s team would certainly have a more difficult path to a top-four finish.
A year ago, its home-and-home pairings, and resulting 18-game schedule, seemed appropriate for a team that was set to return plenty of talent, but still one of the youngest in the country. Bona wound up playing each of the conference’s bottom four teams twice, and took advantage, going 8-0 en route to an 11-7 finish.
In doing so, it extended its league-best streak of consecutive seasons of double-digit A-10 victories to six.
BUT IF that slate was fit for a young (it mostly started four sophomores and a freshman) and still maturing team, this year’s schedule is tailored for a squad — with all five starters back, including two all-conference players — that will surely be expected to make a push for the top four again in 2021.
And that’s purposely so.
The league understands that it has a set number of teams each year capable of competing for an at-large position in the NCAA Tournament (or, to a lesser extent, a spot in the NIT). Now more than ever, it’s made an effort to maximize that potential by encouraging those teams to play more challenging non-league slates and having them play against each other in the league campaign more often.
That’s meant more matchups along the lines of Dayton-VCU, Saint Louis-Dayton and Rhode Island-Davidson.
THIS YEAR, Bona will (presumably) play home-and-home against the Spiders and Billikens. Those teams were picked to finish in the top tier of the Atlantic 10 (along with the Bonnies and Dayton) in a “way too early power rankings for 2020-21” released by BustingBrackets.com back in May.
Duquesne was listed in Tier 2 (alongside Davidson, UMass and George Mason).
That’s no coincidence. It’s an indication of how the league views the Bonnies heading into the new campaign. And for as daunting as that might end up being, it’s also another welcomed sign of respect.
That entire schedule, of course, comes with a glaring asterisk, one wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Atlantic 10, over the next several weeks, could push back those dates, attempt to create a more geographically-friendly schedule involving pods or wipe out the slate entirely.
But at least this — Thursday’s league-wide announcement, the potential for multiple Bona-Richmond matchups, the hope, at the moment, to move on as planned — brought about a sense of normalcy as it relates to college hoops.
And still now, nearly five months later, we’ll take those moments in any way we can get them. Following is a complete listing of the Bonnies’ home and road Atlantic 10 breakdown:
BONA 2020-21 ATLANTIC 10 PAIRINGS
(Bold denotes home-and-home partners)
Home: Dayton, George Mason, La Salle, VCU, Duquesne, George Washington, Richmond, Saint Joseph's, Saint Louis
Away: Davidson, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Duquesne, George Washington, Richmond, Saint Joseph's, Saint Louis