Friday, February 22, 2013

3 Reasons Why You Should Attend Sacred Heart's Last Home Game

This Friday, Sacred Heart received a headline from of all places, but it had nothing to do with the men’s basketball team that currently sits in seventh place in the Northeast Conference. Instead, it was focused on Don Cook’s replacement, who will undoubtedly become the most famous athletic director in the nation, not just in the cozy Northeast.

In case you have been living under a rock or simply can’t handle the internet after watching SHU suffer another painstaking loss to Quinnipiac last night, Bobby Valentine – yes that Bobby Valentine – will take over for Don Cook on July 1st as the next athletic director for Sacred Heart. July is more than five months away, so excuse me now as I defer my opinions of Bobby V for another time. And now with that out of the way, please allow me to implore you all as to why all Pioneer fans should attend tomorrow basketball doubleheader at the Pitt Center.

1) Come Support the Newtown Community

All you have to do is show up and buy a ticket to the enticing doubleheader between the Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac women and the Sacred Heart and CCSU men at 3:30 pm. A portion of the proceeds will generously go to The Newtown Scholarship Association’s Sandy Hook Elementary School Memorial Scholarship Fund. There will be several events on site for kids, including an autograph session with both the men’s and women’s teams. Even if you don’t care much for the product on the Pitt Center floor (trust me, I’m not a fan sometimes), Saturday is a wonderful opportunity to donate and support the children of Newtown, CT who’ve dealt with an unfathomable and absolute nightmare in their quaint town.

Besides, I can’t think of a better way to spend my Saturday this way: Have a greasy belt-busting lunch at the Merritt Canteen, get ushered around aimlessly by SHU’s Public Safety before parking, stop in Sacred Heart’s six million dollar chapel for a quick prayer, get Femi Akinpetide and Nick Greenbacker’s autograph, have my face painted, and then watch Sacred Heart battle a couple of in-state rivals inside the conference. Sounds like great fun to me! (No seriously, it does…expect for maybe the face painting part.)

2) Saying Goodbye to a Sacred Heart Legend

They grow up so fast, as it only seems like yesterday that a skinny Shane Gibson was coming off the Pioneer's bench to bomb threes in 2009. Today’s Shane Gibson is a little more (OK, a LOT more) jacked and has deservedly earned the title as Sacred Heart’s greatest Division I player of all time. I mean just look at his career numbers:

1,981 career points scored (first at SHU and fifth overall in NEC)
272 made three-pointers (first at SHU and eighth overall in NEC)
41.5% career three-point shooting percentage
85.1% career free throw shooting percentage

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s just a wonderful display of scoring and efficiency and this Saturday is your last chance to catch Gibson in his home whites. The fifth year senior is likely to crack the 2000 point mark versus CCSU (19 points away), so you’ll also be treated to an opportunity to witness Gibson crack another historic NEC milestone. Seriously, if you consider yourself one of the true 517 Pioneer fans out there, you’d be a damn fool if you missed out on a chance to experience the sudden rush of calm when Gibson hoists up his patented line drive three-pointer. There are hardly any better drugs than that, although I bet you could find some good stuff if you meander down Park Avenue for a few miles. (And remember kids, don’t forget to say “brown bag” at the shady liquor store counter should you desire some fiery spirits and lukewarm Natty Lite after 9 PM.)

In addition, this may be the last time you’ll see Dave Bike patrolling the sidelines, barking at referees with the same ferocity as my wife directs toward the TV when she realizes Revenge or The Bachelor is a rerun. This is pure speculation – and no, I didn’t get this from the same source who told me the Bobby Valentine interview was a farce, damn you coveted Pioneer Pride source – but you just never know when the big guy will decide to hang up the outdated, bland grey sports coat for good. Given that Don Cook is leaving, it’s completely plausible that Bike would do the same when the Pioneers’ season concludes.

3) Because You Care About NEC Playoff Basketball, Stupid!

Saturday’s basketball doubleheader begins with the second place lady Pioneers hosting the big bad Quinnipiac Bobcats, who can clinch a #1 seed with a win. You may not enjoy women’s basketball as much, but do your school proud by showing up to support Ed Swanson’s club. I don’t care what the sport is, anytime Quinnipiac has a chance to secure a #1 seed in its sports playoffs on Sacred Heart’s soil, the fans/students need to prevent that from happening at all costs. (For those interested, here Craig D’Amico’s excellent game preview of Quinnipiac versus Sacred Heart.)

For the second half of the doubleheader, the seventh place Pioneers will meet the ninth place Blue Devils for a desperate game of the round ball. This isn’t far off from a play-in game for the NEC postseason tournament (only the top eight teams qualify), therefore with both team’s back to the wall, it’s safe to expect some inspired, high energy play. Both clubs are struggling badly and are a combined 1-7 in their last eight (thank you Fairleigh Dickinson!). Soooo, you’re saying someone has a chance to win?!?! Why, yes they do!

Moreover, this game promises to employ a quick up-tempo style with both teams gladly pushing the pace. Trust me, this matchup won't imitate your typical Big Ten battle where the first team to 55 wins the game. I’d expect to see some fireworks in this one between Gibson and the CCSU’s stars, Kyle Vinales and Matthew Hunter.

I hope to see everyone there. I’ll be at center court, a few rows back opposite the benches intently watching the SHU Dance Te….I mean basketball team. If you see me shedding a tear after Gibson calmly sinks his fourth three-pointer of the game, do me a solid and had me a tissue. And also do the same if Howie Dickenman’s ridiculously shorthanded Blue Devils find a way to pull out a tight one late.

Until next time...

Ryan Peters covers Sacred Heart men’s basketball for Pioneer Pride and Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Rough Times Possibly Ahead for Sacred Heart

It's been a while since I've updated my Sacred Heart blog, because frankly I've been disappointed in their recent results. Phil Gaetano misses a game with the flu, and next thing you know the 2-21 St. Francis Red Flash come into the Pitt Center and defeat the Pioneers, 64-60. So much for cupcakes...

But now with the NEC is in its home stretch, I at least wanted to give Pioneer fans an update on SHU's current status within the standings. Here's how it looks, both for the standings and head-to-head tiebreakers:

4) Wagner, 9-5 (lost tiebreaker, 0-1)
5) Quinnipiac, 8-5 (leads tiebreaker, 1-0)
6) Sacred Heart, 7-6
7) Mount St. Mary's, 7-7 (lost tiebreaker, 0-1)
8) Central Connecticut, 6-7 (leads tiebreaker, 1-0)
9) St. Francis Brooklyn, 6-8 (leads tiebreaker, 1-0)
10) Monmouth, 5-9 (leads tiebreaker, 1-0)

As you all know, the top eight make the NEC postseason and SHU holds a precarious 1.5 game lead on the ninth place St. Francis Terriers. (Don't worry about Monmouth - they need to win out with games at Robert Morris and Wagner.) Yet, SHU controls their own destiny. A critical in-state set with Quinnipiac and CCSU awaits and with those head-to-head tiebreakers currently in Big Red's favor, it would certainly behoove SHU to take care of business this week. If they do, then they'll be in fantastic shape to make the postseason, and who knows, maybe have an outside shot at a home playoff game in the first round of the NEC tournament (top four seeds earn that).

Unfortunately, the remaining schedule is unkind. So unkind that our advanced statistician friend Ken Pomeroy has projected the Pioneers as significant underdogs (see the percent chance he gives SHU to win each game) in their last three contests, all away from the "friendly confines" of the Pitt Center.

KenPom Predictions:
2/21: Home vs. Quinnipiac, 74-73 (53%)
2/23: Home vs. Central Connecticut, 82-80 (55%)
2/25: Away at Bryant, 83-72 (20%)
2/28: Away at LIU Brooklyn, 85-75 (21%)
3/2: Away at St. Francis Brooklyn, 78-69 (23%)

Yikes. This won't be easy, but if SHU can someone win at least two more games, that should get him in. The first step is tonight against Quinnipiac in what could be the last conference battle between the two programs. Is it too much to ask for the fans to show up and support their Pioneers? Please?

Until next time...

Ryan Peters covers Sacred Heart Pioneers men's basketball for Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Pioneer Pride's All-Favorite Sacred Heart Team

As I sat in insufferable traffic heading to work last week, I thought of a good post. (Well, at least I think I did.) How about I publish my all-favorite Sacred Heart men’s basketball team? I’ll select eight or nine of my favorite Pioneers during the program’s 14-year D-I era. Keep in mind this lineup shouldn’t be confused with SHU’s all-time team. Sure, some of these players would easily find their way on that prestigious list, but others would most likely fall short. 

Let’s begin with my starting five…

PG: Phil Gaetano, 2010 - present, sophomore
As Bill Paxton eloquently stated in his latest profile piece, the diminutive Gaetano is a throwback player – a selfless floor general who possesses excellent floor vision, an above average handle, and the late game poise needed to calmly and efficiently run an offense. I’m a sucker for those types of point guards, but they’ve been few and far between during Dave Bike’s D-I tenure. After Tavio Hobson, there hasn’t been a true assist man on this roster until Gaetano arrived for the 2011-12 season. Now in his second year, Gaetano runs the show and almost always gets three to five assists every game that no one else this side of Jason Brickman could possibly get. Sacred Heart is in really good hands for the next two and a half seasons with Gaetano controlling and dishing out the rock.

SG: Shane Gibson, 2008 - present, senior
It’s not his career scoring average of 14.4 ppg - or the 17.7 ppg averaged his past three seasons - that makes Gibson one of my favorites, but rather the efficiency at which he scores the ball. Despite receiving scores of defensive attention anytime Sacred Heart steps on the court, Gibson has always found a way to get his points and keep his Pioneers relatively competitive. His smooth jumper is fun to watch, but sometimes I really enjoy watching the opponent’s reaction after he makes one of his patented “he had no business shooting that” jumpers. The greatest Pioneer ever doesn’t need much space to get off his shot, yet this year the guard seems to be driving to the hole more as defenders crowd him on the perimeter. Gibson only has eight guaranteed games left in his collegiate career, so I encourage you all to witness the 6’2” sharpshooter before it's too late. He will definitely be missed.

G: Drew Shubik, 2003 - 2007
You heard me wax poetic before about Shubik, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that he made the cut on my all-favorite team. Watching the 6'4" guard/wing made Pioneer fans appreciate his game so much more. In his breakout junior season, Shubik finished nationally ranked in effective field goal percentage, steal rate, and assist rate, while also grabbing nearly four rebounds per game. Shubik's versatility from that magical '06-07 season was amazing, but perhaps it was his transformation into a point guard the next season that was his most impressive feat. As a NEC guard, Shubik could simply do it all, even if he didn't appear to be the most physically gifted athlete on the court.

PF: Joey Henley, 2003 - 2009
Henley was your classic easy to root for, high character athlete that Bike covets. The bouncy, yet undersized Henley was often the best athlete on the floor and hardly let his bigger defenders get in the way of a career that included two All-NEC selections. To this day, he’s my favorite Pioneer not only from his on-the-court production, but also because of his teammate and leadership qualities that every star player should aspire to have. It also didn’t hurt that the Washington state native averaged 13.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game as a junior and senior. It’s such a shame Sacred Heart missed out on an NCAA tournament berth in the mid 2000s by a sliver, because Henley certainly deserved better. These days when Sacred Heart recruits and signs a big man, the dream scenario for that prospect is to turn into the next Joey Henley.

C: Tim Welch, 1999 - 2002
Finally, it’s a blast from the past! Welch is the only member of my all-favorite team who played while I attended Sacred Heart. It’s really too bad there isn’t another guy from that era here, but that’s what happens when Sacred Heart averaged only five victories per season in my last two years at the school. Nevertheless, the 6’10” Welch posted very respectable numbers of 9.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game, even though he wasn’t the most physically imposing big man patrolling the paint. Other than Kibwe Trim, you can certainly make the argument that Welch was the most consistent presence in the paint for Sacred Heart in its 14 seasons as a D-I program.

And now onto my sensational bench…

G/F: Jerrid Frye, 2003 - 2007
It was a treat to hear Frye on the Sacred Heart halftime show a few weeks ago, as it brought back fond memories of the short-lived glory days of Pioneer basketball. Frye possessed a silky smooth mid-range game, which these days is simply a lost art. The lengthy Frye was very good at creating off the dribble, attacking the rim, and reeking havoc on the defensive end, which are the main reasons why I enjoyed watching him immensely. Without him, Henley, and Shubik, there’s no NEC finals appearance at Central Connecticut in 2007.

G: Chris Evans, 2010 - present, junior redshirt
There’s a reason why I gave Evans the nickname of “The Future” during his freshman season. The do-it-all player from nearby Stamford filled up the stat sheet and wasn’t one of those one-trick pony guards who just camps out at the three-point line waiting for someone else to create his shot. After his standout All-NEC Rookie team freshman campaign though, Evans played his second season with a bad wheel, which unfortunately hasn’t improved since undergoing offseason meniscus surgery. I maintain Evans’ omission from the Pioneers' current roster is their biggest loss and I doubt I’m alone in that sentiment. Hopefully with fingers crossed, the playmaker can get healthy once again. At this point, I may spray deer antler extract into his mouth next time I see him at a game.

G: Chauncey Hardy, 2006 - 2010
There was just something about the barely 6’0” guard that was so endearing to watch. He didn’t seem to have a weakness or a wonderful strength – Hardy was the type of player who could do everything at an above average level. He could pull up and shoot the three (career 41.0% 3PT), create off the dribble, fasciliate when needed on offense (career 3.0 apg), and play steady defense. After being selected to the All-NEC Rookie Team in his freshman campaign, Hardy oddly never matured into an all-conference selection, but nonetheless averaged at least 10.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.3 steals in his final three seasons. It was one of those quietly productive NEC careers. May Chauncey rest in peace.

G: Corey Hassan, 2008 - 2011
The New Hampshire kid with the moniker "Hassan the assassin" cements my bench as the lethal three point specialist. Truth be told, Hassan did so much more than that for Bike, earning him an eventual NEC scoring title and an All-NEC Second Team selection. His quirky shooting stroke may not have produced the prettiest mechanics, but Pioneer fans always felt good when Hassan’s rainbow arc shot was heading toward the basket.

Sure, it’s a small team overall, but Dave Bike loves guards so I felt this was only fitting. Do you have a favorite Pioneer I left out?

Until next time...

Ryan Peters covers Sacred Heart men's basketball for Pioneer Pride and Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride