Nov. 7, 2007
By Charles Bare
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Heading into the 2007-2008 season, the Holy Cross men's basketball team looks to remain in its place as one of the top teams in the Patriot League. Despite the graduation of Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas, the Crusaders return an all-conference selection, three starters and seven of the nine players who saw action in the regular rotation. With the addition of two talented freshmen, Holy Cross has the ingredients necessary to contend for the league championship and another postseason tournament bid.
The Crusaders are coming off a 2006-2007 campaign in which they posted an overall record of 25-9, good for their fifth 20-win season in the last seven years. Holy Cross won the Patriot League regular season title with a 13-1 mark in conference games, then went on to claim the Patriot League tournament championship for the fourth time in the last seven seasons. The Crusaders also made their 12th all-time appearance in the NCAA Tournament, while advancing to the postseason for the fifth time in seven years.
The 2007-2008 Crusaders will look to follow in the footsteps of last year's squad, and once again be among the top defensive teams in the country. Last year, Holy Cross ranked eighth in the nation in scoring defense (57.5 points per game), 11th in steals (9.5 steals per game) and 47th in rebound margin (+4.3 boards per game). The Crusaders also led the Patriot League in scoring defense, steals, blocked shots (3.6 blocks per game), scoring margin (+6.4 points per game) and turnover margin (+1.6 turnovers per game).
With 12 letterwinners returning, expect Holy Cross to be among the Patriot League's best, and in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid in March.
The low post positions should be a huge strength for Holy Cross this season, with the return of two talented starters and all five big men off last year's roster. Senior center Tim Clifford will be in his third year as a starter for the Crusaders, and could content for Patriot League Player of the Year honors. Last year, he averaged 11.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and a Patriot League-best 1.9 blocked shots per contest, while earning second team all-conference honors. His numbers were even better against Patriot League foes, as he posted 12.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game against conference opponents. Clifford also has the ability to hurt the opposition at the foul line, as he hit 82.2 percent of his free throw attempts last season.
Junior forward Alex Vander Baan, who will also be in his third year as a starter, should become another force down low. A selection to the Patriot League All-Rookie team in 2006, Vander Baan ranked sixth in the conference with an average of 5.3 rebounds per game last year, in addition to totaling 57 assists, 23 steals and 10 blocks. He also looks to become one of the top options on the offensive end of the court in 2007-2008, after averaging 6.4 points per game last season.
Sophomore forward Eric Meister should once again be the top big man off the bench, after earning Patriot League All-Rookie honors a year ago. Meister averaged 3.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game during his freshman year, including a 14-point, eight-rebound performance against Southern Illinois in the NCAA Tournament. Junior center Greg McCarthy should also continue to see action as a key player off the bench. Last season, McCarthy averaged 2.4 points and 1.1 rebounds per contest for the Crusaders.
Redshirt freshman forward Andrew Keister should also become a factor this year, after missing the majority of last season due to injury and receiving a medical redshirt. Keister saw action in just four contests early in the 2006-2007 season, totaling four points and four rebounds in 19 minutes of action. Freshman forward Josh Jones will also look to win playing time off the bench for Holy Cross. Jones comes to the Crusaders from Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala, Fla., where he led the Celtics to a 26-3 record last season.
Holy Cross returns six perimeter players this season, who will look to develop into one of the Patriot League's top backcourts. Leading the way is junior guard Pat Doherty, who looks to move into the starting lineup after serving as the team's sixth man last year. The 2005 Patriot League Rookie of the Year, Doherty has battled through injuries the last two seasons to become a key contributor for the Crusaders. In 2006-2007, he averaged 5.3 points, 2.2 assists and 1.7 rebounds per contest, while showing the ability to play at both point guard and shooting guard.
Senior guard Kyle Cruze should join Doherty in the backcourt, after starting the final 25 games last season. Although he may not have put up big numbers a year ago, averaging 2.1 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game, Cruze played key minutes as a role player on a roster which was depleted due to injuries.
A pair of juniors will be in the competition for the other starting wing spot, in Colin Cunningham and Lawrence Dixon. Cunningham has shown flashes of brilliance during his first two seasons, and will look to develop into a more consistent player in 2007-2008. Last year, he averaged 1.9 points and 1.2 rebounds per game. Dixon also looks to become more of a factor this season, after missing time last year due to injury. He played in just 15 games a year ago, averaging 0.9 points and 0.3 rebounds per contest.
Sophomores Adam May and Zach Paterick will also compete for the final starting spot or play key roles off the bench. Both players saw limited action as freshmen, with May totaling 29 points and eight rebounds in 18 games, while Paterick recorded five points and three rebounds in 11 appearances.
Freshman guard Andrew Beinert also looks to play a prominent role for the Crusaders, at either point guard or shooting guard. Beinert comes to Holy Cross from Chaminade High School in Mineola, N.Y., where he earned third team All-State honors.
The Crusaders have played challenging non-league schedules over the last several years, with Holy Cross' non-conference strength of schedule ranking in or near the top 100 in the nation during each of the last three seasons. This year will be no different, as the Crusaders are scheduled to once again play one of the Patriot League's best non-conference slates.
Early in the season, Holy Cross will play home games against Hofstra, Ohio University and Dayton, while hitting the road to face St. Joseph's. Another highlight of the non-league schedule comes with a trip to Maryland, which posted a 24-8 record last year. The Crusaders are also scheduled to take part in the O'Reilly ESPNU BracketBusters for the second straight season, where they will likely face another highly-regarded opponent.
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 two contests against Bucknell, the team which the Crusaders have faced in the Patriot League championship game during each of the last three seasons.
Conference tournament action will feature games played on the
home court of the higher seed through all three rounds.
Quarterfinal games will take place on March 5, followed by the
semifinal round on March 9 and the championship game on March 14.