By Charles Bare
Special to GoHolyCross.com
During the 2012-2013 season, the Holy Cross men's basketball team looks to once again be among the top teams in the Patriot League. The Crusaders are coming off a 2011-2012 campaign in which they posted an overall record of 15-14, to go along with a 9-5 mark in conference play. Holy Cross returns three starters from that squad, and nine out of 13 letterwinners. With the addition of four talented freshmen, the Crusaders have the ingredients necessary to be in the upper echelon of the league.
Last year, Holy Cross defeated every other school in the Patriot League at least once, while posting a winning record in conference play for the 14th time in its 22 seasons in the league. The Crusaders also won six consecutive games during the month of February, good for their longest winning streak since the 2007-2008 season.
Holy Cross was one of the top defensive teams in the Patriot League a year ago, when it led the conference in three-point field goal percentage defense (30.5 percent) and blocked shots (4.4 blocks per game). The Crusaders also ranked third in the Patriot League in both rebounds (34.6 rebounds per game) and rebounding margin (+0.3 rebounds per game) last season, and will look to build upon that strong defensive play in 2012-2013.
If Holy Cross can continue to improve the same way it did last year, expect the Crusaders to be among the Patriot League's best, and in contention for a postseason tournament bid in March.
"The biggest key for us this year will be having consistent performances, both individually and as a team," said head coach Milan Brown. "We have talked at length to our guys about being able to do whatever job they are supposed to do. Greatness happens because you do all the little things right all the time. If we pay attention to all of the details and execute to the best of our abilities, great plays can happen and a great season can happen."
The Holy Cross backcourt will be led by sophomore point guard Justin Burrell, who was named the 2012 Patriot League Rookie of the Year. Burrell also earned a spot on last year's College Insider Mid-Major Freshman All-America team, after averaging 7.4 points, a team-best 3.7 assists, 2.0 rebounds and 0.8 steals per game, while hitting 77.4 percent of his free throws (65 of 84). He finished the 2011-2012 season ranked second in the Patriot League in assists, third in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.7-to-1), ninth in free throw percentage and 27th in scoring. In addition, Burrell scored in double-figures 10 times last year, and led the team in assists 19 times.
"We are expecting big things from Justin Burrell, and we look for him to continue to get better," said Brown. "He has worked hard on his mid-range game, and we expect him to shoot the ball much better this year. His leadership ability has improved as well, and we will need that for our team to be successful."
Senior guard Dee Goens gives the Crusaders another experienced point guard, after serving as the team's back-up in each of the last two seasons. Goens totaled 54 points and 36 assists for Holy Cross in 2011-2012, with a 1.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and also has the ability to play some at shooting guard.
"Dee Goens has made great strides," said Brown. "He is probably in the best shape that he has ever been in, and his game is in great shape as well. He has the ability to shoot with great accuracy, and can provide a more physical presence at point guard on the defensive end."
Senior guard Jordan Stevens will look to earn a starting spot on the wing, after serving as a key player off the bench in each of the last two seasons. A year ago, Stevens averaged 5.1 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists per contest, while leading the team by hitting 44.0 percent of his three-point field goal attempts (22 of 50).
"Jordan Stevens can really stretch the defense because of his ability to shoot the ball," said Brown. "He also has good size for a wing, so we are going to be able to use him in the post when he is matched up with a smaller opponent. He is also a very crafty defender, who understands angles and how to deny the ball."
Sophomore forward Malcolm Miller should also contend for a starting role at one of the wing positions, after gaining valuable experience during his freshman year. Miller totaled 51 points, 45 rebounds, 13 assists, 10 blocked shots and seven steals during the 2011-2012 season.
"Malcolm Miller is going to have the opportunity to play a lot of minutes," said Brown. "He should be one of our better defenders, and we expect him to be in the passing lane and get a lot of deflections. He has really improved his jump shot on the offensive end, and he will have the opportunity to make plays because of his athletic ability."
Freshman guard Cullen Hamilton will also look to earn key playing time for the Crusaders at the wing spots. Hamilton averaged 25.0 points per game during his senior season at the Potomac School in McLean, Va., while leading the Panthers to the Mid-Atlantic Conference title.
"Cullen Hamilton can really shoot the ball, and he also has the ability to create off the dribble," said Brown. "He was very well coached in high school, which will help him to be a solid defender for us right away."
Freshman guard Eric Green, who earned Independent School League Defensive Player of the Year honors as a senior at St. Mark's School in Southborough, Mass., will be sitting out the 2012-2013 season. He helped lead St. Mark's to an overall record of 28-2 and the New England Prep School championship in 2011-2012.
"Eric Green is a very good defender, and one of our most athletic players," said Brown. "He has also improved his jump shot, so we expect him to be a very good player for us in the future."
Sophomore walk-ons Chris Jayne and De'Vaughn Reid will provide added depth in the backcourt.
Junior forward Dave Dudzinski looks to return to the starting lineup in the low post, after developing into one of the Patriot League's better big men last season. Dudzinski averaged 9.4 points, a team-high 6.0 rebounds and 1.1 blocked shots per contest a year ago, while hitting 48.7 percent of his field goal attempts (97 of 199) and 83.1 percent of his free throws (69 of 83). He finished the 2011-2012 campaign ranked fourth in the Patriot League in rebounding, fourth in field goal percentage, fourth in free throw percentage, fourth in blocked shots and 20th in scoring.
"Dave Dudzinski has the ability to be one of the best post players in our league," said Brown. "He can score inside and out, and rarely makes a mistake on either end of the floor. He has really worked hard to improve his game, and we expect him to become an all-conference player."
Senior center Phil Beans looks to once again join Dudzinski in the starting lineup, after becoming a solid contributor last year. Beans averaged 6.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 0.5 blocked shots per contest in 2011-2012, and also developed into a threat from behind the arc by hitting 36.8 percent of his three-point field goal attempts (21 of 57).
"Phil Beans might be our best three-point shooter," said Brown. "He has also improved his moves in the post, and gives us a physical presence down low on both ends of the court. He is also one of the hardest workers on the team, and his biggest asset might be his leadership ability."
Senior forward Eric Obeysekere could also play a key role in the low post, after playing key minutes off the bench last season. One of the Patriot League's top shot blockers, he ranked second in the conference and 73rd in the nation with an average of 1.7 blocks per game in 2011-2012. Obeysekere also put up 3.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game a year ago, and placed eighth in the Patriot League in rebounding. His status for the 2012-2013 campaign is currently uncertain, due to an injury suffered in preseason practice.
"Eric is one of the more athletic players in the league," said Brown. "He is one of the best shot blockers in the conference, and has improved his game on the offensive end. If he becomes more consistent, then he should be a tremendous player for us."
Sophomore forward Taylor Abt is another player who will look to earn increased playing time along the front line. Abt totaled 55 points, 51 rebounds and 10 blocked shots during his freshman year, and connected on 42.9 percent of his three-point field goal attempts (nine of 21).
"Taylor Abt is our best post defender," said Brown. "He is also a strong outside shooter, and has developed his offensive game in the post. We are excited about his ability to make a lot of plays for this year on both offense and defense."
Freshman forwards Isaiah Baker and Christopher Morgan will also look to break into the rotation in the frontcourt. Baker averaged 10.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game during his senior season at the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pa., and helped lead his team to the Friends School League semifinals. Morgan, who could also see action on the wing, earned second team All-District honors as a senior at Gloucester High School in Gloucester, Va.
"Isaiah Baker is a strong physical kid, who does not mind banging in the post," said Brown. "He will add some toughness, and also has the ability to run the floor well. Christopher Morgan is an athletic post player, who will provide us with some versatility. He has a great motor, and should provide a good presence on both ends of the court."
Sophomore walk-on forward Patrick Kerrigan will provide added depth for the Crusaders in the low post.
Once again this season, the Crusaders will face one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the Patriot League. The home portion of the non-league slate includes games against Columbia, Dartmouth, Maine, New Hampshire and Yale. Holy Cross will face some tough road tests at Boston College, Harvard, Providence and St. John's, in addition to traveling to Hartford, Sacred Heart and San Francisco. The Crusaders are also scheduled to open the season with the Liberty Tax Classic at Old Dominion, which includes Morgan State and Texas-San Antonio.
"I think our schedule is very competitive, and will prepare us for Patriot League play," said Brown. "We are always going to play a number of tough non-conference games, but we look forward to the challenge of stepping up against top competition."
The Patriot League looks to be well balanced this season, with Holy Cross playing home-and-home series against each of the seven other teams in the league. The conference schedule will be highlighted by contests against 2012 Patriot League tournament champion Lehigh (which defeated Duke in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament) and 2012 Patriot League regular season champion Bucknell (which downed Arizona in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament).
"The Patriot League is going to be tough," said Brown. "Obviously, Bucknell and Lehigh are going to be the teams everyone else will be chasing, and rightfully so. But the rest of the conference has improved as well, so you can get beat on any night if you do not play well. Winning the league will not be easy, but we are ready for the fight and will work our hardest to be the best team in March."