2008-09 Sacred Heart Basketball Preview
Pioneers look to take the next step in NEC
The past few seasons have been pretty good if you're a fan of the Sacred Heart Pioneers. Always in contention for a conference title, either in the regular season or postseason, but there's one thing lacking on that resume: an NCAA Tournament appearance. Last season's NEC Tournament seemed to break exactly the way that Dave Bike and his team would like, with the Pioneers hosting Mount St. Mary's in the final. But they couldn't get the job done, watching the Mountaineers complete their turnaround and win the automatic bid. Now Coach Bike has to replace mainstays Drew Shubik and Brice Brooks, but at least Joey Henley is back for a sixth season after missing last season with a knee injury. The NEC looks to be a wide-open race this season, and the Pioneers have a good shot at winning the league.
2007-08 Record: 18-13 (13-5 NEC; 3rd)
Head coach: Dave Bike (446-400 in thirty seasons)
Assistant coaches: Johnny Kidd, Anthony Latina
Home Court: William H. Pitt Center
PPG: Chauncey Hardy (10.2)
RPG: Ryon Howard (5.5)
APG: Hardy (3.0)
FG%: Howard (52.0%)
3PT%: Ryan Litke (38.0%)
FT%: Hardy (78.2%)
Assist/TO ratio: Hardy/Howard (1.4)
The backcourt should be in decent shape even with the loss of guys like Shubik, Luke Granato and Eugene Pettway. And that's due to the return of junior Chauncey Hardy, who averaged ten points per game and started all thirty-one games last season. Hardy will have to develop into more of a go-to guy this season, and another key will be the growth of Ryan Litke. Litke, a capable shooter from the perimeter last season, attempted just seventy-four shots inside the arc. It should be interesting to see how much the extra foot in distance affects his offensive game. Junior Corey Hassan had alternating moments of excellence and rust last season, as expected when you sit out a season as a transfer. He should be improved and ready to contribute more this season after averaging 8.3 points per game in 07-08.
Sophomores Josh Marshall and Jerrell Thompson, neither of whom saw much action last season, will also look to throw their hat into the ring this season. But it would probably be more realistic to expect something from the newcomers in regards to backcourt depth. Freshmen Steve Zazuri (Monroe, CT) and Shane Gibson (Killingly, CT) are a pair of Connecticut natives who will figure into the rotation this season. They both possess the talent needed to earn the right to start immediately, and don't be surprised if they do just that. The backcourt will be younger than in seasons past, but do not mistake that for a lack of talent. These guys are capable of getting the job done.
Henley will be the focal point up front for the Pioneers, but how effective he is this season will depend upon his health. Henley, who averaged eleven points per game two seasons ago, has missed two full years in his career due to injury. If he remains healthy Sacred Heart will be a player in the NEC. But should he go down, the pressure becomes greater for guys such as Ryon Howard and Mehmet Sahan. Howard is the team's leading returning rebounder, but like a famous first baseman with the same name (spelled Ryan of course), too many of his opportunities ended in either a home run or strikeout. Consistency is the key for Ryon this season.
Sahan played just eight minutes per game last year, but that number should increase with the departure of Brice Brooks. At 6-9, 245 Sahan has the size to be a factor in the NEC; it's just a matter of how his skill set has progressed. Seven-footer Liam Potter has the height to make a difference inside, but he didn't see much playing time last season and doesn't stand to play a whole lot this year. Freshmen Nick Greenbacker (Manchester, CT) and Stan Dulaire (Bloomfield, CT) will be in the running for minutes, with Dulaire being an undersized forward willing to do the little things needed to win games.
Can the Pioneers take that final step and get to the NCAA Tournament? That's going to depend on the progression of guys such as Hardy, Hassan and Litke in regards to their development into primary options on offense. Also, who will help out Henley up front? Howard and Sahan must be ready to step up once conference play begins, and at least one of the two freshmen up front will have to contribute as well. The NEC is a balanced league at the top, even with Mount St. Mary's the favorite in most circles, which means that Sacred Heart could very well find themselves back in the conference title game. This time around, they'd like a better result.
Team Stats (conference ranking in parentheses)
PPG: 71.9 (4th)
PPG allowed: 71.5 (7th)
FG%: 44.1% (6th)
FG% defense: 44.6% (5th)
3PT%: 34.2% (6th)
3PT% defense: 34.2% (6th)
FT%: 73.4 (1st)
Rebound margin: -3.9 (9th)
Assist/TO ratio: 1.02 (3rd)