The NEC postseason is almost here! After tonight’s action, just one regular season game remains for each team before the conference tournament begins next Thursday. Let’s break down all of the action as the top eight teams (well not the top seeded St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers) continue to jockey for position. Continue reading
We all want to think our hard work will pay off in whatever we do, maybe it’s a promotion, maybe it’s just benching more or running a faster 5K. The zero-sum game of team athletics doesn’t always lend itself to linear growth, however. To climb the ladder, you must push someone else down a rung.
Coming off a dreadful 5-26 (2-14 NEC) campaign last season, Sacred Heart said and seemed to do all the right things in the offseason, then finished 6-7 in non-conference play, with most of those seven being extremely competitive. But then the Pioneers started NEC play 1-5 and needed overtime to beat Fairleigh Dickinson at home.
On the first Saturday of 2015, the NEC kicked off its conference season with five games. Let’s dive right into it by breaking down the action from all five. Continue reading
Half of the NEC was in action on Wednesday night, so let’s recap each contest. In all, it was a mostly disappointing evening for the league with four teams failing to come out victorious.
Bryant 87, Dartmouth 77
Let’s begin with the good news. Bryant recovered nicely from their drubbing out west to Gonzaga by handling the Green Wave on the road. Dartmouth, behind the efforts of all-league talent Gabas Maldunas (14 points, 11 rebounds), managed to keep the game close before succumbing late. Dyami Starks scored 35 points once again, this time on a very efficient 18 shots. In fact, all of the Bulldogs were tremendously efficient in this one, posting a splendid scoring line of 59% FG%/43% 3PT%/82% FT%. Bryant’s superb shooting allowed them to overcome 15 turnovers. The big four of Starks, Alex Francis, Joe O’Shea, and Corey Maynard combined to impressively score 79 of their 89 points.
Holy Cross 122, Sacred Heart 118
After a wild, back-and-forth affair in Worcester, Holy Cross held on after ten minutes of free basketball to earn their first win of the season over Anthony Latina’s Pioneers. This will be a cruel bus ride back for Sacred Heart – they had a seemingly commanding five point lead late before a three-point play by Dave Dudzinski evened the score with just three seconds left in regulation. In the end, Cullen Hamilton’s 35 points on 21 shots and Dudzinski’s interior presence (26 points, 15 rebounds, 2 blocks) was enough to outlast the feisty Pioneers. Sacred Heart imposed their will for much of the game – attacking the rim, pushing the pace (there were 192 total possessions in the game), and forcing careless errors out of the Crusaders. In spite of this, Holy Cross found a way to win their third straight against their New England rivals. Evan Kelley was excellent in the loss, scoring a career high 32 points. His final efficiency rating of 33 was the best individual performance for an NEC player this young season. Steve Glowiak was also terrific, scoring 28 points by sinking seven out of nine three-pointers.
Villanova 90, Mount St. Mary’s 59
It may be against two teams from the power conferences, yet Jamion Christian can’t be pleased with his team’s effort early in the season, especially defensively. Tonight, the Mount gave up 1.22 points per possession (ppp) after allowing West Virginia to score 1.27 ppp on opening night. Really, it was an ugly effort in Philadephia any way you slice it – Villanova shot 63% from the floor, won the rebounding margin by 15, had 11 more assists, and outscored the Mount 60-16 in the paint. Ouch. Julian Norfleet has been the only glimmer of hope thus far, as he led the team tonight with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists. Rashad Whack and Sam Prescott have been ice-cold early on; both guards have combined to miss 30 of 41 shots in two games.
Purdue 103, Central Connecticut 73
If you were expecting an encore to LIU Brooklyn’s terrific effort last night in Indiana, then you came away disappointed. After jumping out to an early 17-14 lead thanks to Faronte Drakeford’s eight points, CCSU was shutdown for the next 5:17. The prolonged slump allowed Purdue to extend their lead to double digits and they never looked back. The Boilermakers scored 1.36 ppp, which was buoyed by 22 assists versus a mere nine turnovers. For the second straight game, Kyle Vinales led the Blue Devils in scoring with 22 points, but it was acquired by jacking up 21 attempts. This time, however, Vinales was afforded more rest; in fact, nine Blue Devils logged 14+ minutes in the game. Of the bench guys, freshman Matt Mobley was quite active with 10 points and four rebounds in limited time.
Dayton 70, St. Francis (PA) 57
It’s been a tough stretch for Rob Krimmel’s Red Flash. Tonight was their third game in six days, although St. Francis didn’t appear tired throughout much of the contest. Dayton was only up three at the under four minute timeout for the second half, but a 13-2 run sealed the deal for the Flyers. Four Red Flash players – Earl Brown, Ronnie Drinnon, Ollie Jackson, and Malik Harmon – finished in double figures for the night. 17 turnovers inevitably did St. Francis in, with three of those coming in the final three minutes. Dayton sank almost as many free throws (21) as they did field goals (23) in the victory.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride
Head Coach: Anthony Latina, 1st year
Last Season: 9-20, 7-11 (NEC), Failed to Qualify for the NEC tournament
NEC Preseason Poll: 8th out of 10 teams
State of Programs: Reloading
Starters Returning: 3
Key Loss(es): Shane Gibson (21.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.2 spg, 41.6% 3PT%), Justin Swidowski (7.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg), Nick Greenbacker (4.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.0 bpg)
Incoming Players: De’von Barnett (F), Leo Vincent (PG/G), Cole Walton (C), Tavon Bookman (G)
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Phil Gaetano (4.8 ppg, 7.9 apg, 2.3 A/TO)
G: Steve Glowiak (10.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.5 spg)
G: Chris Evans (DNP due to injury)
F: Louis Montes (14.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
C: Cole Walton (Fr.)
Key Reserves: Evan Kelley (G), De’von Barnett (F), Tevin Falzon (PF), Leo Vincent (PG/G), Mostafa Abdel-Latif (PF/C)
- Staying Out of the Trainer’s Room – Good health wasn’t on the Pioneers’ side last season, as Chris Evans, Evan Kelley, and Justin Swidowski – arguably three of the team’s six best players – played a combined 17 games because of injury. The misfortunate was enough to completely strip Sacred Heart’s depth, resulting in an ugly end of year slide that pushed the Pioneers out of the NEC postseason. Now in Anthony Latina’s inaugural season, SHU desperately needs better fortune health wise, if they want to possess any chance to compete in the deep NEC.
- Replacing an All-Time Great – For the past two seasons, Shane Gibson posted an offensive rating north of 106, despite handling more than 30% of Sacred Heart’s possessions. How exactly does a team replace that production? With a bevy of athletic guards and forwards at Latina’s disposal, the solution to Gibson’s graduation will be through a balanced approach. Five, six, maybe even seven players can lead the team in scoring any given night, so this newfound balance should make it more difficult to scout/defend the Pioneers. At least that is Latina’s hope.
- A Bland Look No Longer – As good as Dave Bike was coaching offense, he was equally as bad getting his team to defend. The last five seasons under Bike produced the following defensive efficiency ranks: 305, 276, 271, 310, and 295. Oh dear. To improve on this facet, Latina has focused more of his coaching efforts on the defensive end this preseason. The team plans to change up their defensive looks throughout the game, as well as apply full and half-court pressure (think Mount St. Mary’s Mayhem style) when warranted. It will be an entirely different look for the Big Red, and one that could pay dividends during league play.
After patrolling the sideline for 35 seasons, Dave Bike has retired, paving the way for long time assistant Anthony Latina. To be frank, the coaching change was likely overdue, as the defenseless Pioneers had missed the NEC playoffs three of the past four seasons. Enter the enthusiastic Latina, who must navigate without one of the greatest Pioneers ever to wear the red and white, Shane Gibson.
Gibson was a magnificent scoring machine, averaging 22.0 and 21.6 ppg in his final two seasons, respectively. He was a joy to watch, yet his graduation may serve as a blessing in disguise for a hungry head coach eager to install an up-tempo, balanced system. Despite Gibson’s greatness, the Pioneers morphed into a one-dimensional squad on both sides of the ball. It made the team somewhat easy to scout and defend against, especially late in the game.
In the present, this may be the deepest, most athletic team Sacred Heart has ever trotted out in its 16 year Division I history, and Latina plans to fully utilize these assets. The rotation will feature nine to ten players, highlighted by a bevy of versatile veteran guards. Phil Gaetano leads the charge as the heady facilitator, as evident with his marvelous 38.6% assist rate last season. The selfless floor general simply excels at making his teammates better, but in order to emerge into the all-conference discussion, he’ll need to cut down on his turnovers and improve his shooting percentages.
The rest of the guard rotation will feature three juniors, two of whom are coming off red-shirt seasons in Evan Kelley and Chris Evans. Now healthy (although both players were a little banged up last week in practice), both guards not only improve the Pioneers’ backcourt depth, but they also add versatility, ball handling, and perimeter defense, all of which were sorely lacking last season. Evans and Kelley, along with sharpshooter Steve Glowiak, who should lead the team in made threes, will play most of the minutes at the “2” and “3”.
The starting power forward is the consistent Louis Montes, who’s coming off one of the more underrated seasons in recent memory. Playing in the shadow of Gibson, Montes averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. As an undersized “4”, Montes is a difficult cover who adeptly uses his body and sneaky athleticism to create opportunities near the rim. Improving his free throw percentage would be more than welcome, since the senior is fantastic at drawing contact and getting to the line.
After those five aforementioned upperclassmen lies uncertainty, albeit intriguing uncertainty, with the remainder of Latina’s roster. Freshman swingman De’von Barnett possesses jaw-dropping athleticism that may find him in the running for NEC Rookie of the Year. Latina expects Barnett could play 20 minutes per game backing up Evans and Montes at the “3” and “4”. Next is the enigma of Tevin Falzon, a tantalizingly talented stretch four who has a promising future in this league if he can just gain some confidence. Red-shirt freshman center Cole Walton, who’s added several pounds of muscle to his skinny frame last season, could provide an impact in the low block on occasion. Finally, there’s combo guard Leo Vincent, who should back up Gaetano at the point, but likely will be featured off-the-ball more next season.
Add it all up and you have a solid collection of players, making Sacred Heart one of the most balanced squads of the NEC. It remains to be seen if the apparent lack of a go-to-scorer will haunt this team during conference play.
“I want to press, but I will only press a lot if we are at full strength. If we lose a perimeter guy, we’ll go more for half-court type of pressure a lot like (Mount St. Mary’s).”
– Latina, when talking about his new look defense
“He’s going to force me to start him (eventually). I want him to play about 20 minutes per game this season.”
– Latina, when asked about the potential of freshman forward De’von Barnett
Ryan – As optimistic as I try to be when assessing my alma mater’s chances, I simply can’t ignore how deep the NEC is this season. There will be no cupcakes on the schedule, so it’s going to be a battle every night. Sure, the Pioneers can sneak into the league’s top five with good health and terrific production from their underclassmen, but the safe bet is guessing they’ll settle into the 7th or 8th slot at season’s end. (12 total wins, 7-9 NEC)
John – Well, I bet that Sacred Heart is going to be a lot more fun to watch this season, but will they be better on the court? That’s tough to say. Getting key pieces back from injury definitely helps, but Shane Gibson was a humongous part of what this team has done the past few seasons. Now that he’s gone there are a lot of extra possessions to pick up. It just feels like a lot of work. Sure, SHU could surprise in Anthony Latina’s first season, but this is probably a step back in order to move forward. (11 total wins, 6-10 NEC)
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). Continue reading
When Anthony Latina became the Sacred Heart head coach in late May, one of his first tasks was to fill the scholarship opened up when De’Aires Tate unexpectedly transferred. It appears the Latina can cross that goal off the to-do list.
A source has indicated that Eyimofe “Mofe” Edukugho, a 6’6″ power forward who last played at Erie Community College, has verbally committed to Sacred Heart. The athletic, yet undersized Edukugho was a Division II JUCO All-American selection this past preseason, yet he tore his ACL in his first game this past November. Prior to the injury, Edukugho had an excellent freshman season with Erie, establishing an impressive nose for the basketball on the defensive end, among other talents.
Realistically, Sacred Heart never would have had a chance to procure a JUCO talent like Edukugho if it wasn’t for the ACL injury he suffered last year. Still, this may prove to be a savvy gamble by Latina and his staff, should Edukugho return to the level he exhibited before the knee injury. Edukugho and sophomore Tevin Falzon now give Latina two high ceiling bigs, with each possessing three years of eligibility. Throw in 6’11” redshirt freshman Cole Walton, and you have a young frontcourt with upside.
In addition, reports out of Fairfield indicate that Evan Kelley and Chris Evans are both healthy after each missed last season because of lingering knee issues. Both are enrolled at Sacred Heart for the summer session, and have been working out on campus. Kelley and Evans will be absolutely needed if Latina wants to begin his Sacred Heart career on a positive note.
Edukugho is likely the final piece to the 2013-14 Pioneer roster. He joins 6’0″ combo guard Leo Vincent, 6’5″ wing De’Von Barnett, and 6’2″ guard Jordon Gleason as Sacred Heart’s latest recruiting class. The current depth chart shakes out like this:
PG: Phil Gaetano, Leo Vincent
SG: Steve Glowiak, Jordan Gleason
G: Chris Evans, Evan Kelley (will likely fill in at all three guard positions)
F: Louis Montes, Eyimofe Edukugho, De’Von Barnett
C: Tevin Falzon, Mostafa Abdel-Latif, Cole Walton
We’ll have more on the Sacred Heart recruiting class in the weeks to come.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride