BROOKLYN – At another time with less at stake, Mark Schmidt might have been inclined to provide a medical update on freshman guard Jaylen Adams. But with St. Bonaventure set to begin play Thursday in the Atlantic 10 Tournament opener, he locked his lips and threw away the key Wednesday.
Can you blame him?
“Why would you tell anybody?” Schmidt said. “No one does. You’re not going to show your hand. You want to have any advantage you can. You want the other team to have to prepare for everything. I don’t care what league you’re in, everything is so even. If you have an edge in some area, you try to take advantage of it.”
St. Bonaventure plays Saint Joseph’s at 6:30 p.m. in the Barclays Center (NBCSN, 95.7 FM). Bona, the seventh seed with a 10-8 record in conference play (17-12 overall), won both meetings during the regular season. Saint Joe’s, the 10th seed, finished 7-11 in league play (13-17 overall) after losing five of its last seven games.
The Atlantic 10 has been extremely competitive all year, even by its standards. Eight teams in the 14-team league had winning records in the conference. Davidson, picked to finish 12th, ended the season with nine straight victories to finish first. Davidson’s last loss was at home to … St. Bonaventure.
It helps explain why Schmidt was evasive about Adams after practice at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus. Schmidt is a grossly underrated coach who has worked wonders en route to a 123-122 record over his eight seasons in Olean. He’ll check every dumpster in the borough for a competitive edge no matter how small.
In a league this tight, it can make a big difference.
Adams was coming into his own before undergoing surgery on his right ring finger last month. He has not played since Feb. 11, a 55-53 loss to Massachusetts. The trickle-down effect of him returning would add depth to the lineup and get Marcus Posley back to shooting guard.
However, it also would mean throwing a freshman point guard into a difficult situation. Adams resumed practice last week, but he hasn’t played under game conditions and has never played under A-10 tourney conditions. He has little, if any, experience playing in such an intense atmosphere.
If you’re looking for a prediction, I’m guessing Adams will play.
“That’s a decision we have to make,” Schmidt said. “Not only, ‘Is it fair to him?’ but ‘Is it fair to our other players?’ It’s going to be hard in that type of environment. He’s 18 years old, and it’s not like he’s been in that environment. And he hasn’t played in 30 days. It’s a tough call.”
The Bonnies can beat anyone on a given night, but they have a tough road awaiting them to reach the NCAAs. For starters, winning Thursday means beating an opponent three times in the same season. It’s a tall order for any team even though Bona won three straight and four of five down the stretch while the Hawks struggled.
St. Bonaventure won the two previous meetings by nearly identical scores – 70-61 in Olean and 70-60 in Philadelphia. Still, the Bonnies should proceed with caution. Last year, they took down top-seeded Saint Louis in the conference tourney.
It happens in the A-10.
“You can’t take any team for granted because anything can happen in the conference tournament,” Posley said. “You could be the worst team in the league and still come out on top. It’s the best thing about the A-10. It’s not really a powerhouse. The best teams have been beaten. It’s crazy, but it makes the conference so much fun.”
The Hawks are nowhere near the same team that won the conference tournament last season and came within one shot of beating eventual NCAA champion Connecticut in First Niagara Center. The senior guard who led them into the tournament, Langston Galloway, is now playing for the Knicks.
Four holdovers from that team are now starting under coach Phil Martelli, and a fifth, Aaron Brown, is one of the better sixth men in the conference. DeAndre Bembry was a first-team all-conference pick. Schmidt believes he would have been named Player of the Year if the Hawks had more success.
The Atlantic 10 sent a conference-record six teams to the NCAA Tournament last season. Saint Joe’s nearly knocked off UConn. Dayton reached the Elite Eight. This year, the league likely will send Davidson and Dayton and possibly Rhode Island. A fourth team could go if none of the first three wins the conference tourney.
Any team could get on a run because every team is flawed. VCU plays great defense but lacks a point guard. Davidson moves the ball with precision but doesn’t rebound well. Richmond has a terrific point guard in Kendall Anthony but plays without a true big man. Dayton and Rhode Island lack talent or depth in certain areas.
St. Bonaventure has a 7-foot center in Youssou Ndoye, who averaged 11.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per game and had 11 double-doubles this season. The Bonnies have been short a point guard. Adams increases their chances of making a deep run in the tournament.
“Of the years that I’ve been in this league as a head coach, this is the most open it has ever been,” Schmidt said. “There’s nobody that really separated themselves. That’s what it’s going to be for the next four days. It’s going to come down to the final minutes and who’s going to make a bucket.”