In the midst of his anger Sunday, St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt tried treating the NCAA Tournament snub like a loss during the season. He gave his players the evening to overcome their frustration and gather their emotions before directing their attention to the Bonnies’ next game.
Foul language could be heard from a distance inside the Reilly Center after the selection committee confirmed Bona’s fate. Presumably, the choice words were coming from players and not Sister Margaret Carney, the university president, but anything was possible under the circumstances.
For a coach, however, the simplest response to a complex situation was slamming the door on the injustice and thinking ahead. What’s next is obvious. The Bonnies earned a top seed in the National Invitation Tournament and will open Wednesday against Wagner at home. Try to contain yourself.
And after the NIT … who knows?
The elephant in the Reilly Center in recent years has been Schmidt’s future with the university. He’s a damned good coach, a blessing for St. Bonaventure in the aftermath of scandal and failure. He rescued the program and numerous players along the way and deserved better than a slap in the face Sunday from the NCAA.
“If he’s not the most underrated coach in college basketball, he’s one of the more overlooked,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “It’s no slight to St. Bonaventure or where they’re located or how big their school is. It’s a byproduct of being in the Atlantic 10. He does as good a job as any. The job he’s done this year has been about as impressive as any job around the nation. He can coach in any league in the country.”
Let me be clear: Schmidt isn’t looking for the exit. He made that evident while preparing for the A-10 Tournament in Brooklyn. He’s making $650,000, a good buck anywhere that stretches farther in the Southern Tier. He loves the community, the tradition, the fan base, the lifestyle, the job.
His goal when he arrived nine years ago was getting his three sons through high school. The oldest, Nick, attends Alfred University. Derek is graduating from Olean High this year while Michael is a freshman. Derek and Michael helped their school win a state championship over the weekend.
“I’m happy where I’m at,” Schmidt said. “We’ve accomplished a lot of good things. I make a good living. Money is not everything. At the same time, everybody wants to feel like they’re appreciated. Bonaventure has done that, to a point. I’m not looking to go anywhere, per se.”
Translation: He’s not hurrying for the door, but he didn’t lock himself inside, either. A bigger program in a better conference with more money and fewer obstacles is to bound make an offer that he can’t refuse. His alma mater, Boston College, must regret passing on him two years ago after going winless this year in the ACC.
As we learned Sunday, anything can happen.
Jaylen Adams was a first-team all-conference pick as a sophomore, leading to whispers that he could transfer to a bigger, more prominent school. After learning the Bonnies weren’t going to the NCAAs, he sent out this cryptic tweet: “I promise this is the last time I’m overlooked.” Was he preparing for departure?
It’s a shame the selection committee – “You’re asking people who don’t have basketball backgrounds to make those basketball judgments and I don’t think that’s fair,” analyst Jay Bilas said – doesn’t fully understand the far-reaching effects it can have when mid-majors are overlooked for inferior teams from power conferences.
Committee chairman Joe Castiglione pointed to Bona, No. 30 on the Ratings Percentage Index, failing to beat a nonconference team inside the Top 80. He ignored that they had seven wins against Top 70 teams, including Saint Joseph’s twice.
Look, it’s hard to win on the road anywhere. Monmouth, left out of the NCAAs after going 27-7, lost to Canisius in Buffalo. The bigger challenge for mid-majors is scheduling home games against schools from power conferences. To beat teams from bigger leagues means beating them in their backyard.
“To have them on the outside looking in, it’s just wrong,” St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said on CBS Radio. “You can give me all the explanations you want. I’m not pigeonholing any team that” the NCAA “put in, but what they did to that group of kids is borderline criminal.”
“Every measuring point has been successfully met,” A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade said in a statement while defending St. Bonaventure. “In short they met the eye test and the fact test.”
Indeed, the same could be said about Schmidt.
He was named the conference Coach of the Year this year after siphoning every drop from his team this year. The Bonnies, picked eighth in A-10 preseason polls, ended up sharing a conference title with Dayton and VCU, two teams bound for the NCAAs. Bona (22-8 overall) was 12-4 in the conference.
St. Bonaventure was neither the first nor last school claiming it was robbed. It happens every March. But the more you look back on expectations from bracketologists and learn about the selection process, the more it appears Bona was dismissed as a poor second-rate program from Podunk, USA.
Bona’s endowment is about $60 million. To say it’s the smallest in the 14-member Atlantic 10 is an understatement. Ten conference schools have more than three times that much in their coffers. Four have more than $1 billion. Richmond has more than $2 billion in its bank account.
“He’s done an incredible job,” Richmond coach Chris Mooney said of Schmidt. “St. Bonaventure has great tradition. He’s capitalized on that. He’s embraced the positives of great fans, great tradition and great league to play in. I never hear him complain about any of the perceived negatives. It’s a huge credit to him.”
Schmidt has stuck to basketball, but there’s only so much one man can take. The latest jarring insult might be enough for him to consider other options, such as Big Ten mess Rutgers, or nudge him toward another school. He’s making good money by most standards, but he’s the lowest-paid coach in the A-10.
That said, he never came across as a guy driven by money. “I don’t even see my paycheck,” he said. “My wife does.” He’s anything but flashy. “Money is important, but I don’t need to live in a 20,000-square-foot house and drive a Mercedes,” he said. “That’s not me.” More than anything, he’s about winning.
“There are jobs out there that make more money, but they’re not necessarily better jobs,” he said. “Winning is important. Being in a position where you can have success from a mental standpoint is so important. You can make more money, but winning is more important. Winning trumps.”
Say whatever you will about Schmidt, but he has won. He averaged 18.4 victories over the past five years despite natural recruiting disadvantages. He essentially has coached two teams at the same time, one that consists of eight players who compete in games and another with bench warmers developing for the future.
Andrew Nicholson was a jewel but only after playing for Schmidt did he evolve into the NBA player you see today. Seven-footer Youssou Ndoye was a project that he unearthed and turned into a dominant big man. Dion Wright morphed into a very good player after developing his game inside. There are many others.
The point is Schmidt makes players better. It’s not about to change no matter what happens next – or where. I swear.