Assessing Sacred Heart’s Trip to Canada

A few weeks ago, Sacred Heart embarked on a trip to Canada – Montreal and Quebec City, to be specific – to compete in five games against international competition. The endeavor proved to be valuable for the squad, especially when considering that only seven returning players logged minutes for the Pioneers last season. (I’m not counting Evan Kelley in that group, who played ~20 minutes before opting for season ending surgery).

Sacred Heart won all five of their games versus competition likely a step below the Division I college level. (Although Siena couldn’t say the same, as they went 4-1 after losing to McGill University.) After speaking with head coach Anthony Latina last night and pouring over the box scores, I broke down the trip. Let’s start with the positives:

  • This roster is the most athletic it’s ever been since, well, Sacred Heart began playing Division I hoops in 1999! As such, Latina plans to adopt an up-tempo, attacking style on both sides of the ball. Consider it a mission accomplished in Canada. In the five games, the Pioneers ran at a breakneck pace of 85.8 possessions per game! To put that in perspective, Nebraska Omaha led the country last season in tempo at 72.8 possessions per game. Of course, the Pioneers won’t come anywhere close to a mid 80s tempo when the real games begin, but Latina isn’t simply blowing smoke when he claims his team will get up and down the floor. The Pioneers will run.
  • Chris Evans (10.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.8 spg) and Evan Kelley (12 ppg) played significant minutes for the Pioneers. Why is this so noteworthy for a pair a grizzled juniors? Well, this caveat demonstrates the guards are fully healthy from their respective knee ailments. Between Kelley’s versatility and Evans’ ability to affect a game without scoring, they should provide a real boost to Sacred Heart if they can each log 25+ games for the 2013-14 season.
  • Perhaps most surprisingly, Sacred Heart freshman De’von Barnett led the team in scoring for the Canada trip with 14 ppg. Barnett, an under the radar athletic swingman, shot 64.6% from the floor while corralling 3 rebounds per game. You can call it homerism, but I’ll likely place Barnett in my yet to be published top ten NEC newcomers list, with the upside of making the all-NEC rookie team. As someone who loves Barnett’s potential, Latina cautiously agrees with my assessment.
  • Barnett wasn’t the only rookie who impressed, as 6’11” red-shirt freshman Cole Walton led the team in rebounding at 6.2 rpg. He didn’t score much, but on a team loaded with competent scorers, the Pioneers may only need Walton to command the boards and reek havoc around the rim defensively. He’s one of the guys I can’t wait to see practice come October.

Here were a couple of things the Pioneers need to work on:

  • Sacred Heart, versus inferior competition, committed an unacceptable 100 turnovers in the five games. Sure, they extracted 37 more takeaways from the opposition, but the offensive carelessness won’t slide against better competition. Latina wants his team to lead the NEC in assist to turnover ratio (A/TO), but they have a ways to go. Especially after posting a mediocre A/TO of 0.75 for the trip.
  • The Pioneers allowed their opponents to shoot 37.3% from behind the arc during the five game stretch. I’m cherry picking data, which is always a dangerous proposition, but if you take out the blowout victory over UQAM, then opponents shot an even better 40.0% from downtown. As a team that struggled to defend the perimeter last season (306th last season in 3PT defense according to KenPom), Latina has to be a little concerned about his team’s defense.
  • Tevin Falzon was inconsistent for the five game stretch. The 6’7″ stretch forward has loads of potential, but getting the sophomore to focus and exhibit confidence on a daily basis will be a challenge for Latina. Against UQAM, Falzon posted a wonderful line of 16 points, 9 rebounds, and two assists in 21 minutes played. In the other four contests combined though, he only netted 23 points. It may be unfair to pick on this second year player, but given his skill set, Falzon absolutely has the potential to be an above average player in the NEC down the road, if not immediately.

Overall, it was a positive trip for Latina and company. Frankly, I’ll project Sacred Heart to finish seventh or eighth when John and I do our NEC preseason poll down the road, yet this is a team that could surprise – think an upper half of the NEC finish – if everything falls in place.

For complete game write-ups and highlights of Sacred Heart’s trip, including a blog post by Anthony Latina himself, I recommend visiting the Pioneers’ newly designed basketball website.

Update: John broke down the box scores even further, by calculating, through his trusty spreadsheets, the usage rate and KenPom offensive rating for every Sacred Heart player on the trip.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pionner_pride.