By Charles Bare
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Heading into the 2010-2011 campaign, the Holy Cross men's basketball team looks to return to its place as one of the top squads in the Patriot League. The Crusaders are coming off a disappointing season, but look to be re-energized under the direction of new head coach Milan Brown. Holy Cross returns four starters from last season, and 12 out of 14 letterwinners. With the addition of three talented freshmen, the Crusaders have the ingredients necessary to return to the upper echelon of the conference.
"We should have solid depth at every position," said Brown. "We have the bodies to come in and help us out at every spot, which is going to be big. We also have very good competitiveness. Our guys have been willing to compete, not only on the court but also in the film room and with their preparation. Mentally, they have been very receptive to our new system and understand how we want to play."
Holy Cross is coming off a 2009-2010 campaign in which it posted an overall mark of 9-22, for only its second losing record in the last 10 years. The Crusaders also placed seventh in the Patriot League with a 5-9 mark in conference games, before making a run to the semifinals of the Patriot League Tournament.
The Crusaders were an impressive rebounding team last season, leading the conference in rebounds (36.6 rebounds per game) and rebound margin (+4.1 rebounds per game). Holy Cross also developed into one of the top shooting teams in the Patriot League, finishing last year ranked second in the conference in three-point field goal percentage (38.1 percent) and third in overall field goal percentage (44.6 percent).
If Holy Cross can return to form this season, expect the Crusaders to be among the Patriot League's best, and in contention for a postseason tournament bid in March.
Holy Cross returns four of its top perimeter players this season, in what should be one of the Patriot League's top backcourts. Leading the way is junior guard R.J. Evans, the 2008-2009 Patriot League Rookie of the Year. Evans led the team in scoring last year, with an average of 13.4 points per contest. He also pulled down 5.1 rebounds per game, and ranked second on the team with 74 assists. Evans has totaled 803 career points over his first two seasons, and looks to become Holy Cross' 45th 1,000-point scorer this year.
"We are hoping that R.J. Evans can continue to score, and also help us a good deal when it comes to rebounding," said Brown. "He also brings a physical presence to our backcourt, and we think he can be one of our best defenders. He is very good at pursuing the basketball on both ends of the court."
The other wing spot sees the return of junior guard Mike Cavataio, who emerged into one of the team's top scorers a year ago. He averaged 11.3 points and 5.3 rebounds during the 2009-2010 campaign, while ranking among the team's leaders in field goal percentage (47.1, 131 of 278) and free throw percentage (82.1, 78 of 95). Cavataio was particularly strong down the stretch, scoring in double-figures in seven of the last eight games.
"Mike Cavataio brings speed and athleticism to the court, and that benefits us as a team," said Brown. "He has been working on his range, and I think his three-point percentage should improve this year. He can keep defenses honest since they have to respect his range, but he can also put the ball on the floor and get to the basket."
Joining Evans and Cavataio in the backcourt is senior point guard Andrew Beinert. Last season, he averaged 10.5 points, 3.5 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game, while hitting 43.3 percent (61 of 141) of his three-point attempts. Beinert enters the 2010-2011 season ranked sixth all-time at Holy Cross in career three-point field goal percentage (.419), seventh in career three-point field goals made (129) and ninth in career three-point field goal attempts (308).
"Andrew Beinert is probably our best three-point shooter, and has to be one of the best in the Patriot League," said Brown. "He is a veteran guy who has good size for the point guard spot, and we feel he has the ability to set the table for a lot of guys in our offense."
Sophomore guard Devin Brown also returns for the Crusaders as their sixth man. Last season, Brown ranked second on the team with an average of 12.5 points per game. He also developed into one of the team's top shooters, hitting 44.8 percent (64 of 143) of his shots from behind the three-point line.
"Devin Brown has proved that he can come off the bench and still be as productive as if he was starting," said Brown. "He is an outstanding three-point shooter, and is also the best athlete we have on the team. By the end of the season, we think he should become one of our best defenders."
Sophomore guard Dee Goens and sophomore guard Jordan Stevens will both look to earn increased playing time in the backcourt. Goens totaled 107 points and 24 assists for Holy Cross in 2009-2010, while Stevens recorded 18 points and 15 rebounds.
"Dee Goens has great speed with the basketball to push it up and down the court," said Brown. "He is going to be a tempo changer for us at point guard. Jordan Stevens continues to develop and can shoot the ball very well. He also has the ability to post up smaller wing players, which adds to our versatility."
Freshman guard Joe O'Shea also looks to break into the rotation at guard this year. Named the 2010 Gatorade Vermont Player of the Year, O'Shea led Burlington (Vt.) High School to an overall record of 89-5 over the last four seasons.
"Joe O'Shea has good size for a wing player and a great basketball IQ," said Brown. "He always competes hard, and can really shoot the ball."
Junior walk-on guards Jeff Harris and Charlie Mills will provide added depth in the Crusader backcourt.
At the low post positions, Holy Cross will be led by senior center Andrew Keister, a two-time All-Patriot League selection. During the 2009-2010 campaign, he averaged 10.2 points and a conference-best 8.9 rebounds per game, while hitting 51.6 percent (130 of 252) of his shots from the floor. Keister also led the Patriot League with 12 doubles-doubles on the season.
"Andrew Keister provides great veteran leadership, and has a good handle on what it takes to win," said Brown. "He has a great motor and always plays hard whenever he is on the court. He is an outstanding rebounder who provides a great physical presence, and he also has good skills on the offensive end of the court."
Several players look to battle for the other starting spot in the low post. Sophomore forward Phil Beans was a solid back-up for the Crusaders a year ago, totaling 32 points and 23 rebounds in 28 games off the bench. Sophomore forward Eric Obeysekere became a factor of the bench late last season, and finished the year with 27 points, 37 rebounds and 13 blocked shots.
"Phil Beans has really developed and worked to get his body in great shape," said Brown. "He can score with his back to the basket, and also has good range on his jump shot. Eric Obeysekere is our most athletic player at the post positions. He has great length and can force people to change their shots down low, and also has the ability to defend smaller players on the perimeter."
Senior forward Josh Jones also looks to be in the competition for a starting role. Although he has seen limited action in his first three years with the Crusaders, Jones has the ability to be a solid rebounder and low-post player in the Patriot League.
"Josh Jones can provide a physical presence for us in the frontcourt," said Brown. "He has not received a lot of opportunities in the past, but he is a solid low post defender who we expect to contribute for us this season."
Freshman forward Steve Carver and freshman forward Dave Dudzinski will also look to earn minutes along the front line. Carver was a first team All-Sunflower League selection last year for Shawnee (Kan.) Mission Northwest. Dudzinski earned All-Area honors during each of the last three seasons for Kaneland (Ill.) High School.
"Dave Dudzinski has good footwork and back-to-the-basket moves, and can also step out and shoot the three-pointer," said Brown. "He always plays hard, and can wear down opposing players with the way he pursues the basketball on both ends of the court. Steve Carver is another big man with ability to shoot from the perimeter. He has also developed some good moves in the low post, which gives him the ability to score against taller opponents."
Once again this season, the Crusaders will face one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the Patriot League. The home portion of the non-league slate includes games against the College of Charleston, Fairfield, St. Joseph's, Stony Brook and Yale at the Hart Center.
The non-conference road schedule will be highlighted by trips to Boston College, Wake Forest, Massachusetts and George Washington. Other non-league road dates include trips to Harvard, Hofstra, Marist, New Hampshire and Sacred Heart.
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 Lehigh, which won the 2010 Patriot League Tournament title and earned the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
"This is definitely going to be a challenging schedule for us," said Brown. "Because we play so many good teams out of conference, we are going to have to be ready to play at a high level every night. We expect that to prepare us for the battles we will face in Patriot League play, once we reach January and February."