Nov. 10, 2005
Heading into the 2005-2006 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 losing three starters due to graduation, the Crusaders return their top two scorers and six of the nine players who saw action in the regular rotation. With the addition of some 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 2004-2005 season in which they posted an overall record of 25-7, totaling the sixth-most victories in school history. Holy Cross also dominated Patriot League regular season play, recording a 13-1 mark to tie the conference single season record for victories. In addition, the Crusaders became the first team in Patriot League history to receive an at-large berth in a postseason tournament, and posted the conference's first-ever postseason victory with a 78-73 win at Notre Dame in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
The 2005-2006 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 fifth in the nation in scoring defense (56.8 points per game), sixth in steals (10.3 steals per game) and seventh in field goal percentage defense (38.9 percent). The Crusaders also led the Patriot League in each of those categories, in addition to having the conference's best marks in scoring margin (+10.1 points per game), blocked shots (5.0 blocks per game), assists (14.0 assists per game) and turnover margin (+3.6 turnovers per game).
"We take great pride in our defense, and our team believes that by playing great defense it gives us an opportunity to win every game," said head coach Ralph Willard. "I believe we have the strength, the length and the quickness to be a very good defensive team once again this season."
Holy Cross will also look to become one of the top offensive teams in the league during the 2005-2006 campaign. Last year, the Crusaders shot 44.0 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from three-point range while averaging 66.9 points per game.
"We graduated three starters from last year's team, and any time you lose that kind of experience, there is going to be an adjustment period offensively," said Willard. "But we should be a better perimeter shooting team than we were a year ago, even though we need to establish a low post presence. I believe our freshmen and our returning players are all good shooters, so we should be able to become a good shooting basketball team."
Here is a breakdown of how the Crusaders should look in 2005-2006.
"We are looking for Kevin Hamilton to have an outstanding year," said Willard. "He is one of the few players who can change the game at both ends of the floor. He is a very explosive scorer on offense, he is a very good defensive rebounder, and he ranked eighth in the nation in steals last season. He also added a lot of muscle in the offseason, and should be even better than he was last year."
Joining Hamilton at the other wing position will be junior Keith Simmons. Last year, Simmons earned first team All-Patriot League honors, after ranking second on the team and 13th in the conference with an average of 12.1 points per game. An outstanding outside shooter, Simmons led the team in three-point accuracy, hitting 50 of 119 attempts from beyond the arc. He also showed great versatility by totaling 130 rebounds, 50 steals, 36 assists and 17 blocked shots as the Crusaders' sixth man.
The third starter in the Holy Cross backcourt looks to be junior point guard Torey Thomas. An outstanding playmaker, Thomas led the team with 114 assists last season, while committing only 56 turnovers for a an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than two-to-one. He also averaged 7.7 points per game, totaled 56 steals, and ranked fourth on the team with an average of 4.1 rebounds per contest (despite standing just 5-11).
Pushing Thomas for the starting point guard spot will be sophomore Pat Doherty. The 2004-2005 Patriot League Rookie of the Year, Doherty started nine games for the Crusaders as a true freshman and totaled 69 assists and 29 steals. He played particularly well in conference regular season games, averaging 6.8 points per contest while hitting 41.9 percent from three-point range (18 of 43) and 83.3 percent at the free throw line (15 of 18).
Three other young players will compete for playing time as backups to Hamilton and Simmons at the wing spots. Sophomore Kyle Cruze, an excellent outside shooter, saw limited action during his freshman season, but did hit three of five field goal attempts. Freshmen Lawrence Dixon and Colin Cunningham also have the ability to help the Crusaders immediately. Dixon earned first team All-County and All-League honors at Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn, Md., while Cunningham was an honorable mention All-State selection at White Station High School in Memphis, Tenn. Sophomore walk-on Victor Vival will supply added depth for the Crusaders at guard.
"Overall, we should be very strong in the backcourt this season," said Willard. "We have a number of experienced players coming back in Kevin Hamilton, Keith Simmons, Torey Thomas and Pat Doherty, who are all strong on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. We also expect Kyle Cruze, Colin Cunningham and Lawrence Dixon to contribute, which will make us very deep in the backcourt."
At center, sophomore Tim Clifford looks to win a starting spot for the Crusaders. Despite playing just nine minutes per game as a freshman, Clifford recorded 31 blocked shots, a total which ranked second on the team and fifth in the Patriot League. He also showed the ability to be a strong all-around player, averaging 10.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.7 blocks in the three games Lufkin missed due to injury.
Two true freshmen, Alex Vander Baan and Greg McCarthy, will look to compete for starting spots with Hyland and Clifford, or play key minutes off the bench. Vander Baan led Whitinsville Christian School to the 2005 Massachusetts Division III state championship, while McCarthy, a graduate of Xaverian Brothers High School, led his AAU team to the 2004 Boston Shootout title.
"Both Kevin Hyland and Tim Clifford give us strength and size, which is important to have in your front court positions" said Willard. "Hyland is in great shape and has gotten stronger, so we are looking for him to have an outstanding senior year. Clifford showed last year that he has the ability to contribute, and we are looking for him to continue improving. Alex Vander Baan should also play a key role, as he has an uncanny ability to get offensive rebounds, and is really becoming a very good shooter from the perimeter. He can help extend defenses, to open up the inside for our post players, and create driving lanes for our guards. And Greg McCarthy has a great attitude and solid work ethic, and we hope that he can be contributing by the time league play rolls around. In addition, we might use someone like Lawrence Dixon as our power forward at times, since he is so strong and athletic."
Holy Cross will play road games against Cincinnati (NCAA), Vermont (NCAA) and Northeastern (NIT), while taking on Boston College (NCAA) at the DCU Center and Boston University (NIT) at the Hart Center. The Crusaders will also face Tennessee-Chattanooga (NCAA) in the opening round of the San Juan Shootout, and could also face Mississippi State (NCAA) and Clemson (NIT) later in that tournament.
"This is a challenging schedule, and we are going to have our work cut out for us with all of the quality opponents we face," said Willard. "We are also away from home a lot in the non-conference part of the schedule, so we are going to need to become a good road team. Last year we had a 13-4 mark in road games, and we hope to have similar success away from home this season."
The Patriot League also looks to be strong this season, with Holy Cross playing home-and-home series against each of the seven other teams in the league. That includes a pair of games against 2005 NCAA participant Bucknell, giving the Crusaders as many as 10 contests against postseason tournament teams from a year ago.
"I expect the Patriot League to be as strong this year as it has been any time I have been in the league," said Willard. "Bucknell will be the preseason favorite, but there are a number of other teams which can contend for the league title. I expect to see big improvements from Navy and Colgate, and American and Lehigh both have strong teams and with a number of good players coming back."
"Our freshmen are going to have to contribute in order for us to have a successful season," said Willard. "We usually do not look for freshmen to do much, but with only seven players coming back, the freshmen are going to have to step up. How much they can do will be a big factor in our ability to compete for the Patriot League title.
"Because we are so young, the upperclassmen understand that they will have to take a huge leadership role for us this season. The juniors and seniors can really help our freshmen develop, so that we will have the opportunity to have a good year."
Once the experienced veterans and the talented freshmen have a chance to come together, expect Holy Cross to be among the Patriot League's best, and in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid in March.