It couldn’t be sugar-coated if you tried – Anthony Latina’s first season as the Sacred Heart head coach was, quite frankly, a disaster. To start, the Pioneers dropped 12 of 15 non-conference contests, and with the exception of road wins at Fordham, Hofstra, and a close call versus Boston College, little could have been derived as a positive. Continue reading
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)
With nearly half of the 2013 NEC all-conference selections no longer residing inside the conference, there’s plenty of opportunity for players to emerge into the limelight. Estimating who lands in the top 15 won’t be easy, but Big Apple Buckets will begin the process today by naming our all-conference second and third teams as the first installment of our two-part series. Tomorrow, we’ll present our NEC first team along with our player, rookie, coach, and defensive player of the year selections. Continue reading
I broke a personal best this past week when I attended four NEC games in three days. I spent a majority of my Sunday adjusting to the craziness as a result, but I’d certainly do it again. I saw two-thirds of the league in action, therefore I’m ready to broadcast my thoughts, opinions, and a bunch more on the week four version of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, NEC style. Continue reading
Head Coach: Dave Bike, 35th year (DI record: 145-235)
Last season: 14-18, 8-10 (NEC), lost in the first round of the NEC tournament to LIU Brooklyn, 90-78
NEC Preseason Coach’s Poll: 6th out of 12 teams
State of Program: Win-now mode
Key Player Lost: Stan Dulaire (15 mpg, 4.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.5 bpg)
Incoming Players: Tevin Falzon (PF), De’Aires Tate (F), Cole Walton (C)
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Phil Gaetano (4.0 apg, 39.1% 3PT)
G: Shane Gibson (22.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 43.3% 3PT, 86.2% FT)
G: Chris Evans (8.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.3 apg, 41.2% 3PT)
F: Louis Montes (7.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
F: Justin Swidowski (11.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 53.6% FG)
Key Reserves: Evan Kelley (PG), Nick Greenbacker (PF/C), De’Aires Tate (F), Tevin Falzon (PF), Mostafa Abdel-Latif (PF/C), Steve Glowiak (G)
- Supporting Shane – Of the 19 conference games played by SHU last season, Shane Gibson led the team in scoring for 17 of them. This accomplishment illustrates the greatness of Gibson, but also highlights the inconsistency of SHU’s supporting cast. Justin Swidowski, Evan Kelley, Chris Evans, and Louis Montes failed to become reliable secondary options throughout much of the past season, due to injuries, ineffectiveness, or both. If any of the above can reduce the scoring burden on the greatest Pioneer ever, then SHU could legitimately compete for a home game in the first round of the NEC playoffs.
- Defend Like They’ve Never Defended Before – If you sat down with head coach Dave Bike this offseason (and any other offseason), he’d predictably tell you his team must defend better to be a factor in the NEC. Why? Because according to advanced statistics, SHU has never been average to above average in defense efficiency in any Division I season under Bike. The Pioneers can’t always rely on their outside shooting to win games, and every once in a while the defense needs to step up. It could certainly go a long way to help improve the next storyline mentioned below.
- Make Like Jordan And Become Clutch – In a conference as competitive as the NEC, the razor-thin difference between victory and defeat can quickly define your season. Last season, SHU was 4-8 in NEC games decided in the final two minutes. Whether it’s making free throws, defending better, or being more aggressive on offense, this experienced group needs to execute better when it matters the most. Will their heartbreak regress towards the mean, or is this a team that will continually struggle in clutch moments?
Lineup Analysis: Dave Bike’s 35th season as Pioneer’s head coach comes with heavy anticipation with only one more season of eligibility remaining for scoring leaders Shane Gibson and Justin Swidowski. Gibson returns after a stellar season which saw the underrated guard average 22.0 ppg with a fantastic effective field goal percentage of 59.6%. Despite Gibson’s breakout party, SHU barely qualified for the NEC playoffs – the first time doing so in three seasons – and lost convincingly to the eventual champion LIU in the first round. The supporting cast of Swidowski and Chris Evans come off minor surgeries in the offseason. Their status is unknown for the first game versus Yale on November 10th. Their health and performance will dictate whether the Pioneers make a move into the upper tier of the conference. Louis Montes, on the other hand, looks great in the preseason and is prepared to make that next step. A contribution from freshmen forwards Tevin Falzon and De’Aires Tate would be welcome, as it would push Montes more often to the “3”, his natural position. Tate and Falzon, at the very least, are expected to inject much needed youth and rebounding prowess down low, an area that Pioneer teams have previously lacked in. Phil Gaetano is expected to share minutes at the point with the enigmatic yet talented Evan Kelley, although Gaetano should play the majority of the “1” in crunch time and when Kelley needs to spell Gibson for five minutes a night. Mostafa Abdel-Latif is a work-in-progress on the defensive end, but he could provide energy buckets off the bench in a minimized role.
“[Montes] spent the offseason getting into better condition and I would think going into this season, he’s probably in the best shape he’s ever been in. That is only going to help him more in pursuing the ball and being quicker to the ball, and finishing up drives, so we love to play him strictly at the ‘3’ if [Tevin Falzon or De’Aires Tate] develops at the ‘4,’ which I think one of them will.”
– Assistant coach Johnny Kidd, when asked about Louis Montes’ progression
“We have to get to the foul line more, and we have to be convinced of that. We have to learn to take it to the other teams as much as they take it to us.”
– Bike, when asked if his team needs to be more agressive offensively
Ryan – If Bike’s squad can stay healthy and perform better in close games (two big ifs), I expect the Pioneers to compete for a NEC home playoff game. I’m projecting 10-11 conference victories, which should could be good enough for the 5th or 6th seed.
John – Sacred Heart’s early schedule, even with the LIU gift, is hard. The Pioneers will have to persevere and then battle their way back into the NEC race. It’s going to be too much to get a home game, but maybe they can sneak into the 5 spot? Otherwise Shane Gibson probably is the unfortunate recipient of another first round tournament loss.
Previous NEC Team Capsules:
October 24: St. Francis (PA) Red Flash
October 25: Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
October 26: Bryant Bulldogs
October 29: Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers
October 30: Central Connecticut Blue Devils
October 31: Monmouth Hawks
Wagner heads to Fairfield, Connecticut to take on Sacred Heart on Thursday night. The Seahawks can’t Dave Bike’s squad lightly either. The Pioneers already took down Central Connecticut and Quinnipiac (twice) this season. I asked Ryan Peters of Pioneer Pride to give us the low down on SHU.