Preview: Sacred Heart Pioneers

Sacred Heart Pioneers

2012-13: 9-20 (7-11 NEC)
In-conference offense: 1.06 points per possession (8th)
In-conference defense: 1.08 points per possession (10th)

A new era begins at Sacred Heart this season. Longtime assistant Anthony Latina will take over for Dave Bike, who spent 35 seasons on the bench at SHU and shepherded the Pioneers from Division II to Division I. Bike's final season, however, was marred by injuries and ended with the Pioneers just missing the NEC tournament.

Latina's biggest challenge will be figuring out how to replace another all-time SHU great. Shane Gibson scored 2,079 points in his career and was the focal point of everything the Pioneers did offensively during the past three seasons. Just six Division I players took a higher percentage of their team's shots when they were on the court last season.

Projected starting lineup

Still, the cupboard isn't bare for Latina. After injuries robbed SHU of its backcourt depth last season, the Pioneers get Chris Evans and Evan Kelley back. The two players combined to appear in just two games last season after playing in 57 in 2011-12. Their return should help ease some of the blow of losing Gibson.

The injuries to Evans and Kelley also helped spur the development of two players who will be key to Sacred Heart's 2013-14 campaign. Phil Gaetano blossomed as a point guard last season, averaging 7.9 assists per game, second nationally behind conference rival Jason Brickman of LIU Brooklyn. While not much of a threat to score, Gaetano should continue to provide a steady hand on offense. Also, swingman Louis Montes had a strong season as the Robin to Gibson's Batman. Now Montes is the man, and the senior will have to take on more of the offensive burden.

If Kelley and Evans come back strong and Montes is able to shoulder a larger load, the Pioneers could be one of the NEC's biggest surprises. Otherwise it'll be a long season in Fairfield, Conn.

Projected 2013-14 finish (in conference): 8th