Bonnies await Buffs tonight in NIT tip-off | Basketball

The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team understands what it’s up against.

Bona was given the furthest road trip of the 16 visiting teams in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. With a Tuesday night game instead of Wednesday, it had just one full day to prepare for a top four team in the Pacific 12 Conference, and even that window doubled as a travel day.

The Bonnies, rather than a home game, which might have been expected for a team that was on the NCAA Tournament bubble until the final week of the regular season, are being tasked with playing two time zones over while most everyone else has something of a regional matchup. Their fans are being asked to watch their team play at 11 p.m. locally.

In any other setting, Bona would have plenty to be up in arms about. In this instance, however, it’s chosen not to be … not when this opportunity was anything but guaranteed one day earlier; and not after what happened last Friday against Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinals.

BONA, AS cliche as it sounds, is merely happy to be taking the floor. And that’s its mindset heading into tonight’s NIT matchup with fourth-seeded Colorado (11 o’clock, WPIG-FM, ESPN2-television) inside Boulder’s CU Events Center.

“We’re just happy to be playing,” coach Mark Schmidt maintained. “There’s a lot of teams that would love to be in the NIT. It’s not the NCAA, but it’s a pretty prestigious tournament. It’s really hard to get into, especially in the last 4-5 years since they changed the rules.

“We’re excited about it.”

Bona (20-9), of course, has historically fared well when the metaphorical cards have been stacked against it. It wasn’t until this year, when labeled the clear-cut favorite for the first time under Schmidt, that it came up shy of any reasonable expectations. But even with a chance to embrace their former underdog selves in this one, the Bonnies aren’t particularly concerned with slights or added fuel to the fire.

Their focus is on doing what the last Bona team in their position — the 2015-16 squad, which was bounced at home by Wagner in the NIT first round after falling short of the Big Dance — couldn’t: Winning in Round 1, making a run to Madison Square Garden and adding another strong NIT finish to the program ledger.

That’s a list that includes the 1977 title, third-place finishes in 1952, ‘58 and ‘71 and trips to the semifinals in 1957 and ‘60.

“We’re excited about playing — it’s the NIT, it’s a great tournament,” Schmidt reiterated. “There’s a big banner up on our wall with the 1977 NIT champions, so we’re honored to be playing in this tournament and we’re looking forward to competing and hopefully we can go out there and win a game.”

BONA, SCHMIDT said, learned of its postseason bid as its name was announced during the Selection Show special at 9 p.m. Sunday.

It departed for the Rocky Mountains around 5:30 p.m. Monday.

That didn’t leave it a ton of time to prepare for a big, skilled Colorado team (21-11), one that finished fourth in the Pac 12 standings and recently nabbed an impressive 16-point home win over No. 2 Arizona.

The Buffaloes are led by a pair of bruising forwards: first team all-league selection Jabari Walker (15 points, 9 rebounds) and 260-pound second-team choice Evan Battey (12 points, 5 rebounds), the latter of whom also leads Colorado in 3-pointers (41-of-82, 50 percent). Behind those two, CU ranks in the top five in the Pac-12 in both scoring (and field goal percentage) offense and defense and rebounding margin and sits No. 1 in 3-point percentage (.370).

The Buffaloes go 6-8, 6-9 and 6-10 on the front line.

“Any time you’re playing a Power 5 team, that’s the bodies you’re gonna play, no matter who you’re playing,” Schmidt said of Colorado’s size. “They’re long, they’re big … the 4s and 5s are really, really good. They can both shoot 3s. They’ve got really good guard play (highlighted by Keeshawn Barthelemy’s 11 points per game), they’re well-coached, but they’ve got the big bodies.

“They’ve got Power 5 bodies, and that’s not unusual … it’s what you expect. It’s gonna be a challenge for us, but we’re looking forward to it and hopefully we can withstand their size and play well.”

CU IS coached by Tad Boyle, who’s similar to Schmidt.

Both have won a number of games (Boyle is at 254 victories and counting in 12 seasons with the Buffaloes) and each has quietly turned his program into a sustained winner over a long stretch (Boyle has led Colorado to five NCAA appearances, including to last year’s Round of 32, and three NITs).

Bona, in most respects, will be viewed as the “hunters” tonight. CU went 12-5 at home, and only two of those losses came to unranked teams. It had a crowd of 11,079 for its stunning 79-63 home win over Arizona on Feb. 26. But it’s hoping that early season triumphs over Power 5 programs Marquette and Clemson and a hard-fought battle with UConn have helped prepare it for this moment.

Then, too, the Bonnies did win their only other game against a Pac-12 foe under Schmidt: against UCLA in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament in 2018. And these seniors want to make at least one more memory in 2022 … unfair turnaround or not.

“They got the same turnaround as we got,” Schmidt noted. “But we’ve played against Power 5 teams, our guys aren’t going to be intimidated. They’re a good team, they’re a talented team, and they wouldn’t be in the NIT if they weren’t.

“They came in fourth in the Pac-12 and they beat Arizona, and last time I looked, Arizona was top three in the country. So they’re a talented bunch of guys and we got our work cut out for us.”

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