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Holy Cross Crusaders

by Matthew Stevens | December 31st, 2006

After two straight seasons of first round victories, jersey flipping and overall dominance, the Patriot League has been all about the Bucknell Bison.

But, after two members of the Bison’s backcourt graduated, four straight losses to start the season followed. Suddenly, the conference seemed wide open.To find the team that may wave the league flag come March, one is well-served to turn back the clock. Bucknell’s two-year run started on Holy Cross’ home floor in its upset win at the 2004 Patriot League final.

Now that the Crusaders have a fully healthy rotation together on New Year’s Day, they may have the best chance to regain the top spot in the conference. Head coach Ralph Willard has led his alma mater to four postseason trips (3 NCAA’s, one NIT) in his seven seasons in Worcester, Mass.

”It’s disappointing and frustrating, but we have to find a way to find out who we are,” Willard told the Worcester Telegram and Gazette last week.

After starting the season 5-0, the Crusaders have dropped five of their last six games. Their two most recent losses, to Providence and George Mason, came with sophomores Pat Doherty (broken hand) and Lawrence Dixon (knee) out of the lineup.

Holy Cross has also had to play with a hobbled leader in Keith Simmons. The Crusaders’ leading scorer (16.7 ppg) hasn’t missed a game this season, but the MCL he strained Dec. 6 at Duke hasn’t completely healed.

While Holy Cross was never more excited to see the Christmas break come, the Crusaders have a tough stretch with five games away from home over the next two weeks. The LaSalle Tournament is a great opportunity to show that they can still compete with some of the East Coast’s top-tier programs.

Getting Doherty back healthy is a key, and it will be essential for the Crusaders to find a way to limit teams’ success from beyond the arc. Holy Cross’ opponents are shooting 37 percent from three-point range, with George Mason shooting seven of 13 in its most recent loss.

Patriot League play for the Crusaders starts tough with a trip to Boston University on 1/3/07, with a visit from Bucknell looming large on January 12th. Both games should provide a barometer as to HC’s competitiveness and chances to make a return trip to the NCAA’s.

–Matthew Stevens

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