Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Few Thoughts on Sacred Heart's Early Season Slide

First of all, I’d like to apologize. I haven’t been the greatest at updating the blog with recent game recaps. The truth is, I have a lot on my plate. A marriage. A full time job which requires me to commute nearly two hours a day. Another blog to write for. An insatiable need to watch as many episodes of The League as I possibly can (I didn’t start watching until season 3 launched). A 15 year old frisky feline that demands my attention when I’m home. But really, all of this is no excuse, as it shouldn’t take much to update my Pioneer Pride site with timely game recaps smeared with self loathing and bitter disgust. After all, transcribing my anguished fan-hood should come naturally!

It’s just difficult to write about your alma mater, the team you passionately root for, when they’ve sorely underachieved in the early going. It’s difficult when another blogger, or someone on Twitter, dismisses your Pioneers by calling them soft or bad, yet you can’t respond because you have no legitimate comeback. Some of issues are the team’s fault, and some of blame falls on the unfortunate circumstance of poor health. Losing Evan Kelley and Chris Evans to season-ending injuries is a substantial blow, especially when they’re basically the third and fifth best players on the Pioneers’ roster. Take the third and fifth best players off any NEC roster and see how they’ll do. Would LIU be as dominant without Jason Brickman and Brandon Thompson? How would our hated in-state rivals from Quinnipiac perform without say Jamee Jackson and Zaid Hearst? Do you think Central Connecticut would survive if they lost their point guard Malcolm McMillan along with long-range bomber Adonis Burbage?

The answer, of course, is those teams would struggle to maintain their current level. But rather than sulk and whine about what could have been, I’ll be a man and suck it up. Even though SHU has dropped five of their first seven contests and has yet to play a complete game from start to finish, I still remain a (fairly) confident fan.

The NEC is an one bid league, and for most teams in this low mid-major conference, November and December games really don’t mean all that much, other than making sure your team begins to cohesively gel as one before conference play kicks off. If Dave Bike can somehow piece it together this month, then I believe this team can have success. But they must do the following in order to have any kind of a chance in hell to finish in the top six of the NEC.

1) Paging Shane Gibson as a Junior - We’ve seen a different Shane Gibson this season, and I frankly don’t like. I can’t really pinpoint why he has struggled in the early going. Maybe he has more of a target on his back. Maybe school is adding unwanted stress to the fifth year senior. Maybe he's having girl trouble. Whatever the reason, I want the old Shane Gibson back. Sure, we’ve seen pockets of his greatness (the Yale, Stony Brook comebacks, his latest effort versus Holy Cross certainly comes to mind), but SHU desperately needs the 2011-12 version to grace the Pitt Center floor. Dave Bike needs the super-efficient, hit 43% of his threes, grab a steal and a half a game version of Gibson back. Hopefully, the nagging injuries won’t be an issue moving forward and Gibson can recreate the magic that made him such a special player last season. With the semester soon ending and a lighter schedule the remainder of December, I’m still making the bet that the Shane Gibson of old will terrorize NEC opponents come January.

2) For the Love of God, Play Some Freaking Defense - Defense has never been the strength of a Dave Bike led team, but even this seven game stretch has seen some rather atrocious defending. In the young season, the Pioneers are giving up 1.14 points per possession, good for second worst in the NEC. SHU isn’t turning the opponent over at all (only 16.1% of their opponent's possessions result in a turnover, good for bottom 20 in the nation), they aren't defending in the paint (49.8% field goal percentage defensed), nor are they defending the perimeter (37.4% three-point percentage defensed). For SHU to experience even a modicum of success, they have to win a couple of games on defense, which at this point seems to be a long shot. They can't keep going into halftime trailing - in the first seven games, SHU has been forced to begin the second half down every single game!

3) The Young Bucks Need to Step Up. Shane Gibson said it best when I asked him after the Lehigh game about the Pioneers’ rash of injuries. His response: “I feel like we're a young team, but we're not. Evan Kelley's hurt now so at the guards it's me, Phil (Gaetano) - Phil's a sophomore - Steve Glowiak's second year, so now we're young again.” Not only does sophomore Glowiak have to step up – and he has so far shooting a sensational 52.0% from behind the arc – but the freshmen frontcourt duo of Tevin Falzon and De’Aires Tate need to play well also. SHU has a somewhat deep frontcourt, but with the backcourt now seriously compromised, expect Louis Montes to play predominately at the small forward position. Much of time last season, Montes was part of Bike’s “small-ball” lineup instilled as the slashing power forward who could also stretch the defense with his perimeter skills. Now, with Gaetano, Gibson, and Glowiak (the 3G’s) as natural guards, Montes must play more as a “3” on the floor. This means Tate and Falzon need to fill the power forward role Montes will be vacating. Last Wednesday versus Holy Cross, Tate had his breakout game, scoring ten points with six rebounds in only 15 minutes of action. Earlier in the season, Falzon enjoyed some success as well, so hopefully as the season progresses, both of these freshmen can get further acclimated to the rigors of DI basketball and produce at a more productive and consistent level.

Sure, there are others things needed to spark an improbable Pioneers run (I’m looking at you, Justin Swidowski), but I wanted to hammer down those three main points. If SHU can improve in those facets mentioned above, I may not have to scale back my original conference projection of ten wins and eight losses for the red and white.

Although at this juncture in the season, I'm pretty damn close to doing so. Hopefully they can begin to turn things around at Lafayette this Sunday at 2 PM. Listen in, why don't you?

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

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