Nov. 9, 2008
By Charles Bare
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Heading into the 2008-2009 season, the Holy Cross men's basketball team looks to return to its place as one of the top teams in the Patriot League. The Crusaders are coming off an injury-plagued campaign, in which three of the team's top seven scorers all missed significant action. But Holy Cross does return three starters, and 10 out of 12 players who saw action in at least 10 games last season. With the addition of two talented freshmen, the Crusaders have the ingredients necessary to return to the upper echelon of the conference.
During the 2007-2008 campaign, Holy Cross posted an overall mark of 15-14, good for its seventh winning record in the last eight years. But after jumping out to a 7-1 start with victories over St. Joseph's, Ohio and Hofstra, injuries caught up to the Crusaders in the second half of the season, and the team finished with a losing record in the Patriot League (5-9) for the first time since 1999-2000.
Holy Cross did continue to impress with its defensive play last year, ranking 16th in the nation in scoring defense (60.5 points per game), 26th in rebound margin (+5.6 rebounds per game) and 47th in field goal percentage defense (41.0 percent). The Crusaders also led the Patriot League in scoring defense, rebounding margin, field goal percentage defense and blocked shots (3.9 blocks per game).
If Holy Cross can avoid key injuries this season, expect the Crusaders to be among the Patriot League's best, and in contention for a postseason tournament bid in March.
|Alex Vander Baan|
At the low post positions, Holy Cross will be led by senior forward Alex Vander Baan. Entering his fourth year as a starter, Vander Baan led the team with an average of 5.7 rebounds per game last season, while ranking second on the squad in scoring at 8.5 points per game. But after playing in all 66 of the team's games during his first two seasons, including 64 starts, he was limited to just 19 appearances and 14 starts in 2007-2008 due to injury. If Vander Baan can stay healthy this season, he should be one of the top big men in the Patriot League.
Junior forward Eric Meister looks to win the other starting spot for the Crusaders down low. Meister also missed time due to injury last season, playing in 18 games with eight starts. But he did show promise when healthy, ranking third on the team with an average of 4.7 rebounds per game. Meister should also become more of a factor on the offensive end of the court, after averaging 4.8 points per contest last season.
Senior center Greg McCarthy could contend for a starting spot or play a key role off the bench. Last season, he averaged 3.3 points and 2.0 rebounds per contest for the Crusaders, while making 24 appearances with five starts. McCarthy has the ability to become one of the team's top offensive options in the low post, after hitting 52.2 percent of his field goal attempts in 2007-2008.
Sophomore forward Andrew Keister should also become more of a factor this year. After receiving a medical redshirt in 2006-2007, Keister worked his way into the rotation during the second half of last season, averaging 1.7 points and 2.2 rebounds per game. Sophomore forward Josh Jones will also look to earn increased playing time off the bench for Holy Cross. Jones totaled six points and two rebounds in 10 appearances last year.
Holy Cross returns five perimeter players this season, who will look to develop into one of the Patriot League's top backcourts. Leading the way is senior guard Pat Doherty, who will return to the starting lineup at point guard. The 2005 Patriot League Rookie of the Year, Doherty has battled through injuries in each of the last three seasons to become a key contributor for the Crusaders. Last year, he led the team and ranked second in the Patriot League with an average of 4.3 assists per game, in addition to posting 7.4 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals per contest.
Returning as a starter at one of the wing positions will be senior forward Colin Cunningham. As a starter in 28 out of 29 games last season, Cunningham averaged 8.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per contest, while shooting 36.8 percent from three-point range and 72.3 percent at the foul line. He scored in double figures in three straight games to end the 2007-2008 season, including a career-best 20 points at American in the Patriot League quarterfinals.
Sophomore guard Andrew Beinert will contend for the other starting spot on the wing, in addition to serving as Doherty's backup at the point. Last season, Beinert was named to the Patriot League All-Rookie team, after playing in all 29 games with 12 starts. He finished the 2007-2008 campaign averaging 3.9 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per contest.
Junior forward Adam May will also compete for the final starting spot or play a key role off the bench, after seeing action in 23 contests with one start last season. May led all Holy Cross reserves in scoring last year at 5.2 points per game, in addition to averaging 2.0 rebounds.
Senior guard Lawrence Dixon, another player who has missed significant time due to injury, looks to earn key minutes at the wing positions. Dixon was limited to just 21 appearances a year ago, averaging 2.6 points and 1.7 rebounds per game.
Freshman guard Devin Brown and freshman guard R.J. Evans will also look to earn playing time in the backcourt. Either player could see action on the wing, or play back-up minutes at point guard. Brown comes to Holy Cross after spending one postgraduate year at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Fitchburg, Mass. He previously graduated from Baltimore City High School, where he earned All-Metro and All-City honors. Evans attended Norwich Free Academy in Norwich, Conn., where he was a two-time All-State selection. He also set a school record with 2,030 career points scored.
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 four 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.
The home portion of the non-conference schedule includes seven games at the Hart Center, including visits by 2008 NCAA Tournament participants Siena and St. Joseph's. Holy Cross will also play host to a Western Michigan team which won 20 games last year, and a Brown squad which took part in the 2008 Collegiate Basketball Invitational. Road games out of the league include a visit to 2008 NIT runner-up Massachusetts, 2008 Collegiate Basketball Invitational participant Ohio, and Conference USA member Central Florida.
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 American, the team which
eliminated the Crusaders from last year's Patriot League Tournament
and won the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.