College basketball fans expect change each season. Players arrive. Players leave. The competition experiences the same. The cast of heroes and villains will turnover completely every four to five years - and much more quickly than that, outside the Other 24. Below the red line, the change is generally easily anticipated from season to season. There are no one-and-dones below the red line and there are few early entries like Stephen Curry and Gordon Hayward. Most players enter as freshmen and finish their careers four or five years later.
An off season injury may change the opening day line up but you, spend the off season in chat rooms, on message boards, and alumni events talking about improvement you hope to see in young players and anticipate the promise of incoming Freshmen. And that is one of the great joys about being a fan below the red line - actually, watching players on your team develop and cheering for your guys for four and sometimes five years. Entering the 2011 season, changes for the Holy Cross Crusaders include the graduation of two seniors, the transfer of two of last year's freshmen and the arrival of three new freshmen in Worcester. It feels good to not have too much change. You see, for the first time in three seasons, Holy Cross has the same coach in November as it did in March. After averaging almost twenty wins a season for the prior ten seasons, the seventeen total wins over the past two years has been a painful change for players and fans. Changing coaches in June 2009 and then again in April 2010 certainly contributed to some of that decline, so the Crusader faithful are interested to see what change not changing coaches will bring this season. Harvard, on the other hand, has not changed much since March. They won their first ever Ivy League title - they raised a banner in Levites Pavilion in October - but because they finished the season tied with Princeton, a loss in a one game playoff sent Harvard to the NIT this past March instead of their first NCAA Tournament.
No, not much has changed for Harvard going into 2011 - 2012 season. No one from that championship team graduated. All five starters return. The key reserves return. A few freshmen from 2010 left the team and a few freshmen joined. And, Tommy Amaker is entering his fifth season coaching in Cambridge. The Crusaders' game against Harvard in Cambridge last year was bad. It was quite possibly their worst performance of the year. Holy Cross lost by 23, but trailed by 33 more than once in the second half. Playing your home opener, against a good team that blew your doors off last year, which experienced few changes, should provide a good barometer to see if things might be different this year. Harvard opened the game strong getting out to a quick 6 - 1 lead, but Holy Cross kept its cool and eventually opened a 6 point lead with about two and half minutes left in the half. Harvard closed the gap and the teams went to the locker room tied at 34. Six Holy Cross players had at least 4 points in the half, but the bad news was Holy Cross' four big men had a combined eight personal fouls. Harvard was pounding the ball inside to Kyle Casey and Keith Wright and the refs were more than happy to call any contact. The second half started like the first, a 12 - 4 Harvard run, but Holy Cross hung tough and kept the deficit between 3 to 6 points. Junior Eric Obeysekere, who injured his knee in the season opener at the College Of Charleston, appeared to re-injure it with about 18 minutes left in the game. He did not return, but the fouls on the Crusader bigs did. Junior Phil Beans was the first Crusader to 5 with about 12 minutes left, followed by Freshman Taylor Abt with just under 10 minutes, and finally sophomore Dave Dudzinski got tagged with fouls 4 & 5 at the 9 and 8 minute marks. The made free throws following the Dudzinski disqualification made the score 56 - 50 Harvard. Forced to a five guard lineup with 6'5" Jordan Stevens and 6'3" R.J. Evans patrolling the post, Harvard opened a lead to as much as15 that the Crusaders whittled to 9 for the final score, Harvard 73 - Holy Cross 64. There are no moral victories former Crusader coach Ralph Willard used to say following near red line upsets his teams nearly completed in the NCAA tournament in the beginning of this century. There were certainly lapses on defense, missed opportunities on offense, and, yes, fouls. Lots of fouls. But, this team did some nice things too. They shot 51% for the game, 46% from beyond the arc, outrebounded Harvard, and blocked 8 shots.
The Crusaders played a pretty good Harvard team tough and at this early point of the season, this edition of the Crusaders seems changed. They looked like and played like a team. Then next three and a half months will tell the full story but for the first time in three seasons, I walked out of the Hart Center encouraged that this season things had changed, changed for the better.
HARVARD 73, at HOLY CROSS 64 11/15/2011
HARVARD 2-0 (0-0) -- B. Curry 3-6 4-5 10; O. McNally 3-9 7-7 14; K. Casey 6-10 2-4 16; L. Rivard 1-2 0-0 2; K. Wright 6-13 3-4 15; C. Webster 0-2 0-0 0; W. Saunders 4-4 2-3 10; S. Moundou-Missi 3-4 0-2 6; C. Miller 0-0 0-0 0; J. Travis 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-51 18-25 73. HOLY CROSS 0-2 (0-0) -- R. Evans 5-11 2-2 13; D. Brown 7-12 1-2 17; J. Burrell 2-6 2-2 6; D. Dudzinski 3-6 0-0 6; D. Goens 2-2 3-4 8; J. Stevens 1-3 0-0 2; E. Obeysekere 1-2 0-0 2; M. Miller 0-0 0-0 0; P. Beans 2-5 0-2 5; T. Abt 2-2 0-0 5. Totals 25-49 8-12 64.
Three-point goals: HARV 3-9 (O. McNally 1-4; K. Casey 2-2; B. Curry 0-1; C. Webster 0-1; L. Rivard 0-1), HC 6-13 (D. Brown 2-4; R. Evans 1-2; D. Goens 1-1; J. Stevens 0-1; E. Obeysekere 0-1; P. Beans 1-1; D. Dudzinski 0-1; J. Burrell 0-1; T. Abt 1-1); Rebounds: HARV 22 (K. Wright 10), HC 25 (D. Dudzinski 8); Assists: HARV 12 (B. Curry 5), HC 12 (R. Evans 3); Total Fouls -- HARV 15, HC 26; Fouled Out: HARV-None; HC-D. Dudzinski.