Orange Prepare for Undefeated Crusaders

Syracuse puts its undefeated 6-0 record on the line tonight against the Holy Cross Crusaders in a 7 PM tilt in the Carrier Dome. Holy Cross also enters the game with an unblemished record, having won all 5 of its early season games. The Crusaders are expected to be among the elite teams in Patriot League this season.

Holy Cross Season to Date: The Crusaders enter the game with a 5-0 mark, having defeated Fairfield, Hampton, Siena, Harvard, and William & Mary. That's not exactly a "who's who" of college basketball powers, but the fact that Holy Cross has been able to put together enough consistency to win 5 games in a row is a good sign for fans of Ralph Willard's team. Syracuse fans will remember Willard as Ben Howland's predecessor at the University of Pittsburgh. Holy Cross finished last season with a respectable 20-13 record.

Holy Cross Starters:The top four players in Willard's rotation are 6-10 JR C Tim Clifford, 6-5 SR G Keith Simmons, 6-8 SO F Alex VanderBaan, and 5-11 SR G Torey Thomas. Sophomore Colin Cunningham (6-6 F) and Pat Doherty (5-11 F) have split time in the final starting slot, but look for Cunningham to get the starting nod tonight due to his advantage in height.

The Crusaders' leading scorer and rebounder is Keith Simmons, who is averaging about 18 ppg thus far. He has a well developed mid-range shot and can also connect from three point range if left unguarded. He is widely regarded as the team's best athlete.

Simmons will team up with Torey Thomas in the backcourt. Thomas leads the team in assists at 4.6 per game, but he is also very turnover prone and will cough up the ball if pressured. He does a good job breaking down defenses and drawing fouls on his way to the basket; he is attempting over 8 free throws per game this year.

Clifford is the main man up front – he scores in double digits but is not a dominating rebounder for a 6-10 C. He has a beautiful touch at the free throw line (94%) and is fairly adept at blocking shots too. Clifford is not exactly a barnburner of an athlete, but he has the size and fundamentals to give SU problems.

Crusader Bench: Willard will bring some size off his bench in 6-8 FR Eric Meister and 6-11 SO Greg McCarthy. Neither player offers much scoring, but Meister is a very good rebounder. Guards Lawrence Dixon and Pat Doherty (from Scranton, PA) are expected to bring perimeter shooting off the bench. Dixon has hit on 4 of 7 threes this year, but Doherty is a bit of a slump at 2-13. Doherty is primarily the back-up point guard.

Game Outlook: Holy Cross a very fundamentally sound and well coached team. Like most Patriot League teams, they tend to favor a controlled tempo over hectic transition play. They average about 68 points per game and are not particularly gifted on the offensive end. The true strength of the Crusaders is their ability to play positional defense.

Surprisingly, the Crusaders are posting a +10 rebounding margin through five games. This is again a testament to their emphasis on fundamentals. This is the type of team that has given SU fits because they use positioning and box-outs rather than shear athleticism when it comes to rebounding. Given Syracuse's struggles on the glass against Canisius, rebounding will be a point of emphasis tonight.

Besides superior athleticism, the major advantage that Syracuse will have is that Holy Cross is often sloppy with the ball. SU was able to turn Canisius miscues into transition offense on Saturday, and they will need to do that again tonight. Look for Boeheim to try to force the issue by employing an aggressive man to man defense. If Holy Cross figures out how to beat that defense with its passing game, Boeheim will surely go to the zone. The Crusaders have not shot the ball well from the perimeter this year, so this defense may work well.

The ‘Cuse cannot afford to get out to a slow start against Holy Cross. If the Orange continue to play with fire, they will eventually be burned. A big early deficit tonight would be tough to overcome because the Crusaders play at a determined, plodding pace. Perhaps tonight's game is the right time to insert Paul Harris into the starting lineup to give SU an edge in intensity from the opening tip.

Prediction: Holy Cross provides another stern test for the Orange, staying in the game using patience and guile. Eventually the superior athleticism of SU comes to the forefront. Syracuse scores a season low 71 points but still manages a 9 point victory.


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