NEC Recap – February 19

On the second to last Thursday of the regular season, all eight teams have officially punched their ticket to the NEC tournament. Now it’s all about seeding, so let’s break down the action to see where everyone stands with just three regular season games remaining. Continue reading “NEC Recap – February 19”

Picking Out the NEC’s Most Underrated Players

One of my favorite posts to write during the season is the Big Apple Buckets awards. The awards could be for the preseason, midseason, end of season; I don’t really care. I simply enjoy highlighting the excellent players of the NEC! While I usually rank the top 10 to 15 players of the conference, I also take pleasure in mining through rosters to find the truly underrated, invaluable gems, using both advanced statistics and my eyes. Continue reading “Picking Out the NEC’s Most Underrated Players”

Three Thoughts: St. Francis Brooklyn 73, Sacred Heart 71

Leadership bringing intangibles to the party, but just what are intangibles? And what exactly is leadership?

Alas, even KenPom can’t help us there, but St. Francis Brooklyn gave us a pretty good idea Saturday afternoon in its NEC opener. The Terriers, picked to win the NEC for the first time (they’ve never won, either, obviously), found themselves down 18 late in the first half at upstart Sacred Heart, who was looking to get the last vestiges of a 2-14 NEC (and 5-26 overall) campaign out of their mouths.

Continue reading “Three Thoughts: St. Francis Brooklyn 73, Sacred Heart 71”

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

Sacred Heart Recruits Frontcourt of the Future with 2012 Class

Sacred Heart Pioneers, 14-18 (8-10 NEC), Lost 1st Round of NEC Tournament to LIU

Players Lost:
F Stan Dulaire, 21 mpg, 4.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.0 apg
PG Steve Zazuri, 2 games played

Incoming Recruits: 
Tevin Falzon
, 6’7″ F – Newton North High/Winchendon School (MA)
Cole Walton
, 6’11” C – Bellevue High (WA)
De’Aires Tate
, 6’6″ F – Martin Luther King High (GA)

With good reason, Dave Bike and the Sacred Heart (SHU) coaching staff made it a priority to recruit frontcourt depth for the 2012-13 season.  The Pioneers struggled to score inside and defend the paint, especially when junior Justin Swidowski missed time due to injury or foul trouble, thereby forcing co-captain Nick Greenbacker and the now graduated Stan Dulaire to play extended minutes.  As a result, Bike felt the need to use all three of SHU’s available scholarships on skilled big men that should bolster their front line and bench in the short-term and improve the long-term outlook of their inside play.

Leading the group is early commitment Tevin Falzon, who at 6-foot-7 has an opportunity to make an impact right away in the Northeast Conference.  Heading into his senior season at Newton North High, Falzon reportedly drew the interest of a few Division I schools, which included Robert Morris and Quinnipiac.  Unfortunately for Falzon, a broken wrist in the preseason plummeted his stock, so much so that Falzon didn’t have a single Division I offer to mull after the season.  Despite this, SHU assistant coach Johnny Kidd saw enough in Falzon’s comeback from the wrist injury to offer him an early scholarship this past summer.  The gamble paid off.  Since signing his National Letter of Intent with SHU, Falzon had an excellent post-graduate season at Winchendon School, impressing many with his improved conditioning and explosiveness.  Now with a season of post-graduate under his belt, Falzon has made it clear he’s ready to compete at the college level.

Falzon profiles as a versatile big man who’s comfortable both on the perimeter and in the paint, which fits well into SHU’s perimeter oriented offense.  His ability to stretch the defense – by using his range to pull post defenders out of the paint – gives him an opportunity to play right away, specifically as Swidowski’s back-up.  In this role, he should provide scoring off the bench and could be part of a very respectable four man rotation in the frontcourt including Swidowki, Greenbacker, and junior transfer power forward Mostafa Abdel Latif.  At the very least, Falzon’s insertion into this rotation should push Louis Montes back to his more natural position, small forward.

Size can be difficult to acquire in the NEC, yet SHU was able to sign 6-foot-11 center Cole Walton from Bellevue High in Washington State.  Walton has solid athleticism, good hands, and decent range as a big, but as is the case for most lanky high school seniors, Walton will need to bulk up considerably and improve his offensive arsenal to compete in the low block with the likes of NEC up-and-coming big men Jalen Cannon and Ousmane Drame.  Because of this, Walton probably translates as the biggest project of the recruiting trio, albeit a project with very good upside.  If the SHU coaching staff can transform a skinny and less athletic 7-foot-0 Liam Potter into a near double-double machine his senior season, then perhaps Walton can realize his potential much earlier into his Sacred Heart tenure.  Given the glut of big men on Bike’s roster, it certainly makes sense to redshirt Walton this upcoming season and have him ready for the 2013-14 campaign, when Swidowski, Greenbacker, and seldom used Femi Akinpetide are off the roster.  After all, Walton hasn’t even turned 18 yet and an extra year to allow the freshman to physically mature surely couldn’t hurt.

The final piece of the recruiting puzzle was completed last Tuesday, with SHU acquiring the services of 6-foot-6 power forward De’Aires Tate.  Tate had verbally committed to SWAC doormat Grambling back in the February, yet he most likely reneged on his commitment when head coach Bobby Washington was dismissed after a 4-24 season.  Grambling’s loss is Sacred Heart’s gain.  The Pioneer coaching staff describes Tate as an athletic, yet undersized, high-energy rebounder (or as Jay Bilas would say, “this kid has a nice motor”) who could contribute on the glass and the defensive end of the floor right away.  Other than this grainy Youtube video however, there is hardly any information out there on Tate, so for now, we’ll have to take the coaching staff’s word that this was a recruiting coop.  Only time will determine if Tate’s ceiling is closer to Stan Dulaire, or in a dream scenario for the red and white, Joey Henley.

All in all, the Pioneers addressed their urgent need for big men of the future.  They signed three players who each possess unique talents and should compliment each other well in the years to come.  With four players scheduled to graduate after next season, including the greatest Pioneer of them all Shane Gibson, SHU will have four more scholarships to offer with the focus shifting to finding a top of the line wing playmaker.  For now though, this incoming class will add some much needed depth to SHU’s front line, and with any luck, could help catapult the Pioneers into the upper echelon of the NEC for the 2012-13 season.

Ryan Peters covers Sacred Heart Basketball and the Northeast Conference on Pioneer Pride and Big Apple Buckets.  You can follow Ryan on Twitter here.