I'm a guy of science that typically values statistics over emotion or gut feelings. I feel the need to mention this because of what I'm about to say. I don't believe in jinxes and karma on the basketball court. So here goes nothing...
I feel this year's Sacred Heart Pioneers could be a team of destiny. I feel utterly ridiculous saying that, but there's just something special about this team that defies logic sometimes. How else do you explain missing three of your seven best players to injury yet still finding a way to have a share of the first place lead in the NEC? Advanced statistics be damned, this team may have what it takes to go to the NCAA tournament come March.
It's been a while since I've updated this site (sorry I'm a busy man), but I wanted to list the four biggest reasons why the Pioneers are in the improbable position they currently find themselves in. Here we go...
1) Shane Gibson, stupid!
It was a rough non-conference season for Gibson, as last year's NEC Player of the Year runner-up (I'm simply making this up, but I do believe he was second to Julian Boyd last year) struggled in multiple games this season. Once conference play began however, Gibson has been absolutely brilliant. The senior leads the NEC in scoring (25.4 ppg), free throw percentage (91.1% in 56 attempts), and is second in three-pointers made per game (3.25/game). In SHU's impressive home stand, Gibson averaged an efficient 29.5 ppg in two tremendous victories over previously unbeaten Bryant and feisty Monmouth. Against Monmouth, Gibson at one point scored 19 straight points for SHU! The two game effort was good enough to earn Gibson NEC Player of the Week honors. The senior is rolling again.
2) Phil Gaetano is Turning Into One of the Best Pure Point Guards in the NEC, Check That, in the Country!
I've been touting the wonders of sophomore Phil Gaetano over at Big Apple Buckets, who in reality was supposed to share the point guard duties with junior Evan Kelley this season. But then Kelley's kneecap blew out, therefore Gaetano is averaging a team high 35 minutes per game. The 5'10" floor general has certainly taken advantage, as he now has 75 assists against 21 turnovers in eight NEC games. That's an amazing assist to turnover ratio of 3.57, easily tops in the conference. In addition, his 7.8 assists/game is good enough for fifth in the entire nation. I could continue to praise Gaetano, but allow me to quote Monmouth head coach King Rice after Saturday night's game. Here's what the former point guard had to say about Gaetano:
"The key to their [team] is Shane, obviously, but Gaetano gets 8 assists in the half. That's the biggest thing when you have someone as steady as Gaetano and he's getting guys baskets that no one else is getting guys baskets like that in our league. You watch him in warmups, he's talking to the guys on the team telling them what we're going to do today. Then he goes and sits with Shane. You're the point guard and you're sitting with the main guy and I know he's saying 'you know man, I'm coming to you, I'm coming to you.' Gaetano runs the show."
3) Secondary Players Are Stepping Up
This goes without saying, especially when SHU has Justin Swidowski, Chris Evans, and Evan Kelley in street clothes every game. Steve Glowiak, who was expected to play the role of sharpshooting guard off the bench, has stepped in and given SHU double digits points in five out of eight conference games. He's shooting a solid 39.4% from behind the arc, after stinking up the joint last season with a 24.0% mark.
Louis Montes, who will have a post purely dedicated to him shortly, has been excellent as well, averaging 15.5 ppg (7th in the NEC) and 6.5 rpg (13th in the NEC). I hate to go all advanced statistics on you, but it's a good thing that Montes is nationally ranked in offensive rebounding percentage and fouls drawn per 40 minutes. The undersized forward is a load down low, and opposing defenders are clearly having a difficult time defending the versatile, yet physically imposing Montes.
Finally in the frontcourt, newcomers Mostafa Abdel-Latif, De'Aires Tate, and Tevin Falzon have all given Dave Bike significant contributions when needed. On Saturday with an ineffective Abdel-Latif and Nick Greenbacker on the bench, Falzon came in and scored 7 points while grabbing 9 rebounds. |
(Note: At one point, Falzon did miss an easy layup, which prompted an angry old man next to me to scream that Bike should put "that bum" on the bench. Comically, Falzon's family was sitting right in front of the old geezer, although none of them turned around to glare at him.)
4) Playing a Little Defense
I'm kind when I say that Dave Bike teams are typically terrible defensive teams. He likes offense, he likes guards that score, and he likes high shooting percentages. Well, SHU is scoring, there's no denying that with an offense that rates in the upper third of the NEC, but it could be the decent defensive effort that's pulling some of these games out. The Pioneers are second in the conference in effective field goal percentage defense and near the middle of league in points allow per possession (1.02 PPP). It doesn't sound all that awesome, but when compared to previous seasons, this is a stark improvement.
SHU may be 6-2 in the league, but there's still plenty of season ahead to them. They have to travel to all three NYC schools, Bryant, and Mount St. Mary's before the season concludes, so it won't be easy to close out on a high note. At the very least, the Pioneers have put themselves in an excellent position nearly halfway through the season. They've taken care of business at home (4-0), while staying competitive in every single game so far this season. The upcoming road trip at Wagner and Mount St. Mary's will provide another test for Dave Bike's group.
By the way, if you'd like to hear me talk about SHU and the NEC on the Sacred Heart halftime show from Saturday night's game, go here. The interview begins at the 55:10 mark.
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