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.
1. Can Sacred Heart play defense? What do they do when they’re successful at stopping the opponent?
RP: Sacred Heart can play decent defense over stretches of a game, but against a very good offensive club like LIU, they struggle mightily. Their biggest problem has been defending the three-pointer, as they’re allowing opponents to shoot 37% from behind the arc this season. If I’m Wagner, I’m looking to exclusively run plays for Tyler Murray, Latif Rivers, and Chris Martin to exploit the Pioneers defense. What do the Pioneers do well defensively? The short answer – not much. For a smaller team, they actually rebound decently, but defensively they are just too inconsistent to highlight any strength. Recently, they’ve been better defending the outside shot (like holding CCSU to 61 points), but I’m not confident that they’ve turned the corner.
2. SHU keeps getting smaller due to injuries, who holds down the paint at the moment?
RP: Without their only reliable front-court scorer in Justin Swidowski, Sacred Heart’s depth down low is dangerously thin. It’s a real weakness, especially with Swidowski out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. For now, Sacred Heart will put 4 guards on the floor most of the time, with G/F Louis Montes doing the dirty work inside. He’s done an admirable job so far. Currently, junior co-captain Nick Greenbacker plays a majority of the minutes as the “5”, but in reality he should only provide 8-10 minutes per game off the bench. Greenbacker, who by all accounts is an excellent teammate, is ultimately limited offensively and athletically. His best attribute on the court – besides his hustle – is his range. Against Quinnipiac he drilled two three-pointers in the 2nd half to keep the Pioneers in the game. His range, at the very least, keeps the opponent’s big man out of the paint, providing slashers like Gibson and Chris Evans room to operate. Stan Dulaire, though undersized at 6-foot-5, also contributes to the Pioneer’s front-court. He has more athleticism than Greenbacker, but he’s plagued with inconsistency at times too. Both men compete hard, but I shudder to think how they would fare against a combination like Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere.
3. It must be great to have Shane Gibson on your team, eh? What has improved in his game during his junior season?
RP: Shane Gibson, for a lack of a better technical term, is awesome! It’s a lot of fun watching and rooting for the guy. One thing that makes Gibson so special, is his ability to score without getting much separation from his defender. In addition, he’s been much more efficient with his shooting in his junior campaign. His effective field goal percentage has impressively improved from 44% last season to 51% this season. And going beyond the statistics, I can tell that he’s more patient with finding better shots and he trusts his teammates more. That point was evident in his game winning bucket against CCSU last Saturday – he chose to pass the ball to Phil Gaetano when he was doubled and four seconds later, Gaetano rewarded Gibson’s patience with a pass that freed him for a semi-open shot. The 2010-11 Gibson may have forced the shot against the double team. It’s been a pleasure to watch his maturation.
4. At 4-4 the Pioneers are sitting right in the middle of the NEC. Where do they go from here? Predict this team’s future.
RP: In spite of the Pioneer’s rough start early on, they are back on track toward 9-10 conference wins. Assuming they lose to Wagner, their next five games versus Bryant, Mount St. Mary’s, Monmouth, and FDU should produce three, or more optimistically, four wins. Then they conclude with each St. Francis team, LIU, and Robert Morris. I’d call that stretch a split which gets them 9-10 NEC victories, and a five or six seed in the first round of the NEC tournament. I can envision them winning a first round road game against St. Francis (NY) or CCSU, however I don’t see them getting past the semifinals of the NEC tournament.
A big thanks to Ryan for all the info on Sacred Heart. One of the best things about the Pioneers is that you can typically watch the games on their athletics site for free! Follow Ryan on twitter for more opinions on SHU and the NEC.