Season In Review: Sacred Heart Pioneers

In what was expected to be the year Sacred Heart would compete for a NEC home playoff game, the Pioneers fell flat on their face. Injuries to Chris Evans and Evan Kelley in the preseason took away the team’s depth – not to mention two of their best players at creating off the dribble – and forced sophomore guards Phil Gaetano and Steve Glowiak to step up. Both guards did exceed expectations on the offensive end, but the backcourt was extremely thin and allowed virtually no room for error. Throw in Justin Swidowski’s season long issue with his shoulders, and you had a severely undermanned team for most of the season. Continue reading “Season In Review: Sacred Heart Pioneers”

NEC Team Capsule: Sacred Heart Pioneers

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)

Major Storylines:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Coach’s Quote:

“[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

Final Prediction:

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

NEC Breakout Candidates – Part 1

Every season, the NEC produces players that generally come out of nowhere, or elevate themselves from a typical role player to a program cornerstone.  Players like Scott Eatherton and Jason Brickman, for example, elevated their game last season to become valuable contributors for their respective teams.

Continue reading “NEC Breakout Candidates – Part 1”

LIU needs five more minutes to take down Sacred Heart

After Shane Gibson’s three to force overtime LIU Brooklyn could’ve just given up. The Blackbirds had come back from 11 down in the second half only to see their six-point lead with 35 seconds disappear. Instead LIU got even, fast, scoring the first 10 points of overtime to close out a 103-91 victory at the Wellness Center.

“I think the biggest thing was probably experience,” said Michael Culpo about what helped the Blackbirds in overtime. “We went into overtime in the finals last year so we weren’t that rattled coming into overtime. We just knew that we needed to pick it up and play better than them in that five minute segment.”

Culpo hit two threes during the initial flurry in overtime that sealed the game for LIU. That Blackbirds were up 91-81 by the time there was 3:25 remaining in the extra period. LIU’s largest lead of the game came with 36 seconds remaining in OT at 14.

The win gives LIU 20 victories on the season and keeps the Blackbirds one game up on Wagner with three NEC games left to play. Along with Robert Morris’ victory over Bryant it also gives the conference three 20-game winners for the second time in league history.

Things didn’t come easy for the Blackbirds. Jim Ferry shortened his rotation down to just seven players as thanks to the play of center Justin Swidowski, 23 points, and Gibson, 24 points, SHU kept the pressure on all game. The Pioneers also used a 2-3 zone to slow down the game’s tempo for stretches and stay within striking distance.

“I thought Sacred Heart did a good job of trying to control the tempo of this game,” Ferry said.

One of the side effects to the zone was a return to form for Culpo. The senior had been struggling lately, going 5 for 15 over his past four games, but he stepped up and went 6-10 from beyond the arc against SHU and scored 20 points.

“I don’t think anything was any different. My teammates never lose confidence in me,” Culpo said. “They’re always looking for me. As of late I’ve been struggling shooting the ball, but I’ve been in the gym getting extra shots up.”

Jamal Olasewere recorded a double-double again, with 27 points and 11 boards, and Julian Boyd added 20 points and nine boards, but rebounding will be a priority before physical Quinnipiac comes to Brooklyn for Senior Day on Saturday afternoon. The Bobcats are coming in off a 64-56 home loss to St. Francis (NY) on Thursday night.

“I’m just expecting a physical, intense game like every LIU-Quinnipiac game has been for the past four years,” Ferry said. “They’re all tough, grind-it-out games. I think we’re fortunate we’re at home. We’re going to have to play better than we played tonight to win that game.”