Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sacred Heart's Ugly Mid-Season Report

This must be rock bottom, because I have a hard time envisioning the Sacred Heart Pioneers falling any lower.

After blowout losses (and I can’t highlight the word blowout enough) to Atlantic 10 clubs La Salle and George Washington over the holiday break, SHU is officially reeling. The losses were the sixth and seventh straight setbacks for the Pioneers, as their record has fallen to an unsightly, unfathomable 2-9 on the season. In fact, it's the worst start for SHU since the '04-05 season, when they lost 13 of their first 14 games. Somebody, please hold me.

Even though I'm in a fragile mental state and can't be trusted to provide an objective opinion regarding my beloved alma mater, I nevertheless felt this was a great opportunity to briefly evaluate the hapless Pioneers. So with NEC conference play on the horizon, I will provide an expectedly dire mid-season report, complete with grades!

This should be fun, just make sure you hide your children before continuing on. I may vent just a bit.

The offense hasn’t been as reliable as it was last year, which is mildly perplexing since only Stan Dulaire was lost from last year’s roster. Through 11 games, SHU offensive numbers are a little worse than average, which given the defense's performance, isn't good enough to win games. The injuries to Evan Kelley and Chris Evans have made life that much more difficult for Shane Gibson, who after a monster junior season, has been disappointingly average. Gibson is certainly attempting to shoulder the load offensively, as he's attempted nearly 36% of the Pioneers' total shots. Only one player on the Pioneer roster has a Ken Pomeroy positive offensive rating in Steve Glowiak, although that mark is regressing back to the average now that teams are beginning to realize the sharpshooter is a bit like a one-trick pony. Justin Swidowski hasn't looked dominant since returning from offseason shoulder surgery, and while Louis Montes has improved significantly, he hasn't been terribly efficient shooting the basketball (especially on the perimeter, where he's only sank one of 18 three-pointer attempts). 

Overall, you have an offense that is plagued with occasional shooting slumps. It surely makes life difficult with the Pioneers atrocious defense. More on that below...

A Dave Bike coached team will never be mistaken for Rick Pitino's suffocating Louisville defenses, that's for damn sure, but the defensive effort this season has been utterly atrocious. It was only fitting that the Pioneers gave up 66 (yes, 66) points in the first half of their loss to La Salle. SHU isn’t defending on the perimeter (opponents are shooting nearly 37% from behind the arc), forcing turnovers (bottom 15% nationally in defensive turnover rate), or protecting the defensive glass (bottom 12% nationally in defensive rebounding rate). Add it all up and you have a team giving up 109.2 points per 100 possessions. To put that number in perspective, only 25 teams in the country (there are 347 Division I teams) have given up more points per 100 possessions. Oy vey...

Everything is linked together and when a veteran team has only two victories after nearly two months of basketball, the coaching staff will almost never receive a positive grade. After all, this isn't a monster rebuilding project like Binghamton or Towson. This is a Pioneer team who's two best players are seniors. As a result, Dave Bike and his staff gets a thumbs down from this fan. They had some furious second half comebacks, which evidently illustrates that this team hasn't quit on their old coach. But when the Pioneers are consistently digging themselves out of early holes that are difficult to climb out of, some of blame must be directed at the coaching staff. There's no other way to explain it. 

Obviously, a record of two wins and nine defeats was not what I pictured for this veteran club. Sure, the Pioneers have suffered from a slew of injuries, both in the nagging and season-ending department, but I still can't use that as a full blown excuse nor should the coaches. They've lost several games in the final minutes (Holy Cross, Lafayette, Stony Brook) and have inexplicably dug themselves an early hole in most of their winnable games. How exactly do you fall behind 20-4 against Lafayette? Or find yourself down double digits in the first half to both Yale and Holy Cross?

I just spent about 30 minutes uncovering this overwhelmingly sobering gem of a stat. So far in all 11 games, the Pioneers have only held a lead 6.3% of the time. That’s right, in 445 possible game minutes, SHU has been ahead on the scoreboard for a paltry 28 minutes and 9 seconds.

This stat says it all. It says the Pioneers haven't been unlucky when evaluating their record, in fact they may be fortunate to have two wins! If it wasn't for those two miraculous comebacks versus Yale and Stony Brook (of which Ken Pomeroy claimed there were less than a 3% chance of happening), Sacred Heart would be in the same winless boat as the lowly St. Francis Red Flash. The stat says the Pioneers have been dominated on most nights. And it says the Pioneers are simply unable to put together a series of defensive stops long enough to allow their average offense to pull ahead. It's been a perfect storm of ineptness to put it kindly. 

Luckily, the NEC season begins with a two game homestand, starting this Thursday night when the Pioneers host a depleted LIU Brooklyn team. Sacred Heart MUST win this game, because if they can't defeat a team minus Julian Boyd, Jamal Olasewere, and C.J. Garner, then this could very well be a seven or eight win team that misses the NEC postseason for the third time in four seasons. Win on Thursday night and then show me something Saturday against an improving St Francis Terriers club.

Because these days, I need something - anything really - to tell me this Pioneer team is ready to play with the big boys. So far, they've been a sad, pathetic team that hardly warrants any kind of mention on this blog.

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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