In anticipation of the game against the Sacred Heart Pioneers, we reached out to the talented Ryan Peters, a Sacred Heart alum who writes now for NYC Buckets. You can find him on Twitter as Pioneer_Pride and in the nationally-read Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.
Now, for more detail on the Sacred Heart Pioneers - including what they are trying to do defensively, their issues with roster turnover, and more, see below.
Thanks to Ryan for responding and giving the Rumble more insight into what makes the Pioneers tick.
Q: So just how many players for Sacred Heart lose in the offseason, and to whom?
A: Anthony Latina is an excellent recruiter, but that hasn't helped maintain stability on the roster. They haven't had a mass exodus leave Fairfield, yet arguably the two greatest recruiting gets in Sacred Heart history are no longer on campus.
Cane Broome, only the second sophomore in NEC history to win (and rightfully so) POY honors, and Quincy McKnight, the do everything guard, have up-transferred over the past two seasons.
Broome is now in Cincy, while McKnight is sitting out a season as per NCAA rules at Seton Hall. Ok, now I want to cry.
Q: Given the roster turnover - which seems to be a staple of any decent NEC team - how has the team changed from being the squad of McKnight to being more focused on Lopez and others? Has the style/ pace changed?
A: One negative with McKnight on the roster was that he was a selfish player. (I said so on Twitter and then he promptly unfollowed me :-*) I am right though, he had a bloated 33% possession rate, and was a turnover machine. As a result Sacred Heart was way too reliant on one player.
Now, Latina is pushing for a more balanced approach with Joe Lopez, Sean Hoehn and Mario Matasovic leading what should be a balanced scoring attack. The Pioneers collection of guards are still somewhat unproven, yet Latina wants to push the pace as he has in past seasons.
The team is good in transition and their bigs are athletic and quick enough to finish in the open floor.
Q: Why does Sacred Heart have such a high turnover rate? (And why does this happen every season?)
A: For this season, PG play is a major issue for Sacred Heart, perhaps the number one problem Latina is desperately trying to figure out before conference play begins.
Senior Cha Cha Tucker has woefully underwhelmed - this season he has 15 assists versus 21 turnovers in six Division I games, a putrid ratio for a player who was recruited as a selfless, heady floor general.
Freshman Jaecee Martin probably isn't ready to run the offense; therefore Latina may have to get by with Hoehn handling the ball much of the time. That's not ideal against the Johnnies, especially with their insane 27.2% turnover rate. If Sacred Heart has fewer than 17 turnovers in the game, I'd consider that a victory.
Q: Which newcomers (or players with expanding roles) should St. John's watch out for?
A: Mario Matasovic has had a nice start to the season. He's a threat in the paint, behind the arc and as a passer out of the post. While he's not technically a newcomer, he flew under the radar in NEC circles because of an injury plagued junior season.
Also the athletic 6'5 De'von Barnett is a threat on the wing - Saturday will only be his 2nd game back after suffering a Charlie Horse back in October.
Q: Defensively, what are the Pioneers trying to do on the floor?
A: I wish I knew the answer. Latina is an offensive coach, and can't think of a time when the Pioneers were defensively stout under his reign. I think their mindset is to use their size to make opponents shoot over them, rather than take chances accumulating turnovers. They've never been a good defensive team, like ever, even going back before Latina.
Q: Hey, Kinnon LaRose! How is he doing?
A: LaRose was a nice addition for Sacred Heart. He'll be an average to above average regular in his 3 seasons. He can stroke it from deep and has a decent amount of size to play both the two, three and maybe the four (but not often) defensively.
He doesn't project as a star, but if you surround him with playmakers who can dribble drive and find the open man in transition, he'll be a solid double digits scorer.