By Charles Bare
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Under the direction of new head coach Sean Kearney, the Holy Cross men’s basketball program looks to once again put one of the top teams in the Patriot League on the court in 2009-2010. Kearney, who came to Worcester after spending nine seasons as the associate head coach at Notre Dame, takes over a team which placed second in the league last season and finished as the runner-up in the conference tournament. The Crusaders return four out of five starters off that squad, along with five other letterwinners. With the addition of a transfer and four talented freshmen, the Crusaders have the ingredients necessary to remain in the upper echelon of the conference.
Holy Cross is coming off a 2008-2009 campaign in which it posted an overall mark of 18-14, good for its eighth winning record in the last nine years. The Crusaders were particularly impressive during the second half of the season, as they posted an 11-3 mark in the Patriot League, reaching double-figures in conference wins for a league-record eighth time.
Holy Cross will look to remain strong on the defensive end of the court, after ranking 13th in the nation in rebound margin (+6.7 rebounds per game), 29th in steals (8.5 steals per game) and 45th in scoring defense (62.3 points per game) last season. The Crusaders also led the Patriot League in rebounding margin, steals and assists (14.1 assists per game) a year ago.
“Based on the previous experience of our players and the fact that they were in the Patriot League championship game last year, we expect to contend for the Patriot League regular season title, and to be in position to get back to the championship game,” said Kearney. “One of our goals will be to win the league title and advance to the NCAA Tournament. In order to get there, we have to be very good defensively, rebound well, and take good shots on the offensive end of the court.”
Expect the Crusaders to once again be among the Patriot
League’s best, and in contention for a postseason tournament
bid in March.
Holy Cross returns three of its top perimeter players this season, in what will be one of the Patriot League’s top backcourts. Leading the way is sophomore guard R.J. Evans, who earned Patriot League Rookie of the Year honors last season. Evans led the team in scoring during the 2008-2009 campaign, with an average of 13.4 points per contest. His 429 total points scored on the season were the second-most ever by a Holy Cross freshman, behind only Ronnie Perry’s 574 points in 1976-1977. In addition, Evans ranked second on the squad with an average of 5.2 rebounds per game, despite standing just 6-3.
Joining Evans in the backcourt is junior guard Andrew Beinert, who should see action both at point guard and on the wing. Beinert ranked third on the team with an average of 8.5 points per game a year ago, while his 68 total assists ranked second on the squad. He also led the Patriot League by hitting 45.4 percent (49 of 108) of his three-point field goal attempts in 2008-2009.
Sophomore guard Devin Brown looks to compete for a starting spot or play a key role off the bench, after seeing action in all 32 contests with one start last season. Brown averaged 5.8 points per game a year ago, and showed flashes of his potential by scoring in double-figures six times with two 20-point games.
Sophomore guard Mike Cavataio will also be a key factor in the backcourt, either as a starter or off the bench. A transfer from St. John’s University who sat out during the 2008-2009 campaign, Cavataio looks to be a versatile scorer for the Crusaders this season, after averaging 25.0 points per game during his senior year in high school.
Freshman guard Dee Goens and freshman guard Jordan Stevens will also look to earn playing time in the backcourt. Goens, who will compete for the point guard spot, averaged 14.5 points and 5.0 assists as a senior at the Marist School in Atlanta, Ga. Stevens, who looks to be a factor on the wing, scored 1,799 career points at Saratoga Springs (N.Y.) High School.
“I think we should have a great combination of guys who
can do all the things we need to do to be successful,” said
Kearney. “The one area where we need to improve is finding
consistent three-point shooting. I expect our guards to take good
care of the ball and take high-percentage shots, and if we do that
we are going to be good on the offensive end of the
At the low post positions, Holy Cross returns a pair of starters who are as imposing as any duo in the Patriot League. Leading the way is junior forward Andrew Keister, who was a first team All-Conference selection in 2008-2009. After seeing limited action early in the season, Keister came on strong to lead the team in rebounding (6.3 rebounds per game) and rank second in scoring (8.5 points per game). He was particularly strong in league play, averaging 12.5 points and 8.8 boards against conference opponents. In addition, Keister hit a Patriot League-best 58.8 percent (104 of 177) of his field goal attempts last year.
Joining Keister in the starting lineup is senior center Eric Meister. Last season, Meister averaged 6.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest, in addition to leading the team with 27 blocked shots. He played particularly well late in the season and earned All-Patriot League Tournament honors, after averaging 12.7 points and 9.0 boards in three conference tournament games.
Senior forward Adam May should be a key factor along the front line this season. He averaged 4.3 points and 2.5 rebounds in 2008-2009, while scoring in double-figures three times. May could also see action at the wing positions, where he would present a match-up problem for opponents at 6-8.
Junior forward Josh Jones also looks to play a more prominent role down low this year. Although he has seen limited action in his first two years with the Crusaders, Jones has the ability to be a solid rebounder and low-post player in the Patriot League.
Freshman forward Phil Beans and freshman forward Eric Obeysekere will also look to earn minutes along the Holy Cross front line this season. Beans was the Toledo Area Athletic Conference Co-Player of the Year in 2009 for Ottawa Hills High School in Toledo, Ohio, where he scored over 1,000 career points. Obeysekere was named the Most Valuable Player of the Diablo Foothill Athletic League as a senior and led the San Francisco Bay Area with an average of 6.1 blocks per game during his junior season, while playing for Miramonte High School in Orinda, Calif.
“In the Patriot League, it will be an absolute luxury to have some skilled big men,” said Kearney. “One of the keys to our team having success will be rebounding on the defensive end, and being in a position to win the battle of the backboards. It is easier said than done, but with the players we have in the frontcourt, I think we should have the ability to do that most every night.”
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 four of the last five 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 five games at the Hart Center, as George Washington, Harvard, Loyola (Ill.), Marist and Sacred Heart will all visit Worcester. Road games out of the league include visits to Nevada-Las Vegas, North Carolina State, Rhode Island and St. Joseph’s. In addition, the Crusaders will play a pair of neutral court games, facing Massachusetts at the DCU Center in Worcester and Central Connecticut State at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
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 each of the last two Patriot League Tournaments and earned the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in 2008 and 2009.
“This looks to be the most competitive schedule Holy Cross has faced in years,” said Kearney. “We look at it as a great challenge, and believe that our non-conference schedule can help us have a great Patriot League regular season, leading on into the conference tournament.”