Nov. 10 couldn’t come soon enough.
As we slide through the final weeks before college basketball returns, we’ll look at one storyline about the upcoming season that lines up with the number of days until opening day. Keep coming back to see if we have the creativity and dedication to pull this off. No promises.
It’s Sept. 24 and we’re just 47 days from opening day.
You can count the mid-majors that have won the NCAA Tournament on two hands. Holy Cross occupies one of those fingers, as Bob Cousy and the Crusaders beat Oklahoma for the championship in 1947.
That would be the first of back-to-back Final Four appearances. Tournament success from that era may come with an asterisk, but Holy Cross has appeared in the NCAA Tournament at least once in every decade since (besides the 1960s). This includes five bids since 2001.
So the Crusaders have always had a solid program, and are entering year three with an incredibly intriguing coach.
Bill Carmody came oh-so-close to leading Northwestern to the moment in the sun it finally had last March. With four straight NIT trips from 2008-2012, he recruited well and raised expectations in Evanston, even if it took a patient administration to get there. Letting him go after a 13-19 season in 2012-13 was certainly understandable, and is further validated now that Chris Collins has proven to be a great hire.
Carmody landed at Holy Cross, a seemingly perfect fit: an established coach with a clear identity landing at a mid-major used to basketball success. And Carmody had won big before at that level, going 92-25 with two NCAA appearances over four seasons at Princeton in the late 90s.
Three years in, has Carmody gotten Holy Cross going?
His first year was as intriguing as the hire itself. After a 5-13 regular season left Holy Cross ninth in the Patriot League, the Crusaders went and won the conference tournament, giving Carmody his first NCAA berth since 1998. While the novelty factor was high, Holy Cross followed it up in 2016-17 with a serviceable season (15-16, 9-9) that included non-conference road wins at Harvard and Albany.
We led the Patriot League in numerous statistical categories last season! #WeWill pic.twitter.com/HEAfDHRFAk— Holy Cross MBB (@HCrossMBB) September 22, 2017
A senior core largely responsible for the surprise NCAA run is gone. These were former coach Milan Brown’s players, but the early returns on the guys signed by Carmody have been positive. The Crusaders will have a solid junior duo in combo guard Patrick Benzan (7.6 PPG, 2.4 APG) and versatile wing Karl Charles (9.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.6 APG).
Carmody didn’t get much from last year’s freshman class, but didn’t really need to with four seniors in his rotation. They’ll now be pressed into bigger roles. This year, Carmody is bringing in a massive class with six freshmen on scholarship. This includes wing Connor Niego, who according to Verbal Commits drew interest from a pair of mid-majors with recent success in Green Bay and Winthrop.
Here’s what Carmody said about the class in a release last November (Jacob Grandison would eventually become the sixth member in April):
“We have added five outstanding young men to our program in the Class of 2021,” said Carmody. “They are a group of very competitive guys, who have the versatility to play multiple positions. I am also extremely impressed by their ability to shoot the ball. They should make an immediate impact on our program next season.”
The Patriot League seemingly belongs to Bucknell this season, with Navy and BU nipping at its heels. With a young team, Holy Cross shouldn’t have expected to contend anyway. But if Carmody gets as much patience as he did at Northwestern, the Crusaders could be special a few years down the road.