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Seton Hall: Will Sterling Gibbs take the next step?

The last time we saw Sterling Gibbs, he hit the game winning shot to upset top-seeded Villanova at Madison Square Garden that sent Seton Hall to their first Big East semifinal since 2001. For this year, “Step Back Sterling” will need play a much bigger role for the Pirates to succeed.

Maddie Meyer

Before March 13, 2014, not many people outside of South Orange, New Jersey had ever heard of Sterling Gibbs. He was just a guard who played minutes for the Seton Hall Pirates and had not made a huge impact on The Hall’s season. That is, until that faithful afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

Gibbs’ step back jumper at the buzzer beat the Villanova Wildcats and cost the Big East Conference’s best team a No. 1 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. It made an otherwise forgettable season worth remembering for Pirates’ fans. More importantly, he gave the blue and white faithful hope.

This upcoming season is going to be a telling one for Gibbs, who has so much to live up to after that classic shot. The Scotch Plains, New Jersey native is going into his second season of play with the Pirates after sitting out last season because of NCAA transfer regulations. At his previous school, Texas, Gibbs played 30 of the team’s 34 games, but failed to make much of an difference as he average just 2.6 points per game.

With the Pirates last season, Gibbs averaged 13.2 points per game and looked like The Hall’s best player at last year’s Coaches vs. Cancer Classic against the likes of Oklahoma and Virginia Tech. During those two games, the Pirates’ offense ran through Gibbs. He was able to use the part of his game that allows him to make the largest impact, getting inside the paint.

He has the unique ability to beat his defenders off the dribble and drive to basket for an easy score. Another part of this skill that he takes advantage of is the free throw line as he is one of the best guards in the conference at drawing contact inside. At the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York against the Sooners and Hokies, the majority of Gibbs' points we scored at the free throw line.

After the tournament, the Pirate big men really started to take control of the offense. This, coupled with the fact that Gibbs started coming off of the bench because of issues at practice, took away from his ability to help the team.

For the 2014-15 campaign, the Pirates have a highly thought of recruiting class coming in and they are predominately guards. Gibbs has to be the player who can step up his play and not only lead these players, but set the right example for the freshmen to follow.

To do this, he will have to improve some parts of his game, with free throw percentage being a priority. Gibbs was able to get to the free throw line 232 times last year, but only converted on 72 percent of his attempts. That must improve if Seton Hall wants to see the best of their talent guard. In general, the Pirates need to shoot better from the charity stripe, but it all starts with the player who gets there the most.

Next is defense. If Gibbs can improve his on-ball defending while keeping players in front of him there will be less pressure placed on the new big men that Seton Hall will be depending on for interior defense. This is going to be a young and inexperienced team so doing the little things can really go a long way.

The last and most important aspect that must be elevated is maturity factor. Gibbs has probably forgotten about the discipline brought down on him by head coach Kevin Willard after he hit that shot, but he must realize that practice is just as vital if not more important than the game.

Sorry Allen Iverson.

Another year in Coach Willard’s offense and the fact that guard play will be vital for the Hall to be successful, Gibbs should thrive during this upcoming season.

If he can improve in these areas and maintain that flair for the dramatic that we saw last March, Seton Hall basketball could firmly plant themselves back on the college basketball map.