All eyes on 'Saders

Only one game on tap for Patriot Leaguers tonight, Holy Cross at Cincinnati.

Follow the action with the scoreboards and the links below the game capsule. We will check in later this morning after we get back from a Black Friday quest for a discount laptop.

Patriot League scoreboards
ESPN | CBS Sportsline | | Yahoo!

HOLY CROSS at Cincinnati, 8 p.m.: Don't be too quick to write this one off for Holy Cross. Cincinnati has never beaten HC, although the last game in the series was played in 1980 and a lot has happened to Bearcats basketball since then. The most recent development, of course, was the departure of Bob Huggins, who arrived in Cincinnati in 1989 and went on to win 74 percent of his games before being forced out by the school's new president. Under Huggins, the Bearcats played in 14 consecutive NCAA tournaments.

His replacement, Andy Kennedy, was a Huggins assistant and has the Bearcats off to a 2-0 start, with wins over Murray State and Illinois State. Cincinnati needed overtime to get past Murray State, the team picked to win the Ohio Valley Conference. The Racers are ranked 21 in the preseason Mid-Majors poll, so they are no slouch. But if they could play with Cinci on the Bearcats floor, who is to say a team that plays defense like Holy Cross usually does cannot hang, too?

Of course that means HC needs to guard better than it did against Harvard the other night. But what are the odds of a Ralph Willard team letting somebody shoot like that two games in a row? And Cincinnati, while certainly likely to be way more athletic than the Crimson, is not as big up front. Their tallest starter is 6-8. They go 6-6 at both the two and three and 5-11 at the point.

The guy Holy Cross needs to neutralize is the two-man, James White, who is very big (6-7) for a two and presents a real matchup problem for Holy Cross. White is averaging 19.5 points through the Bearcats' first two games.

The Crusaders matchup zone ought to be able to keep a guy like White in check, though. White is a penetrator, more scorer than shooter. He is shooting just 3-11 from three-point range, but has scored 10 of his 39 points thus far from the foul line -- a sign of a guy who likes to go to the hole.

Holy Cross' guards should be quick enough to keep White in front of them and out of the lane. Especially if he can't make them respect his perimeter abilities. The Crusaders also are big enough to force White to dish if he does find a seam off the dribble, especially when Tim Clifford is on the floor.

The big question, though, is, even if they can keep Cincinnati in check, can HC score enough to turn that defensive effort into a W? That might be tough given the size of Holy Cross' guards. Certainly they won't be able to shoot over them. The Crusaders will need to get looks the old fashioned ways with ball movement and screening, working hard every possession. They will need to battle on the boards, especially at their defensive end. They cannot give the Bearcats multiple shots every possession.

All that stuff is hard work. Hard work, especially against bigger, stronger and faster athletes, is tiring. Between injuries and inexperience, Willard cannot count on his bench for a ton of minutes, at least not yet. Mid-majors are always at risk of simply being worn down when they play majors like Cinci.

It will be important for Holy Cross to start strong, and to be within single digits the whole first half. Fall behind early and the fatigue will set in quick. Stay close, or even lead, and adrenaline can do a lot for tired legs.

Willard's teams rarely play poorly back to back. It is possible Holy Cross is not as good as they were expected to be this season. Maybe that Harvard game shows that. The more likely scenario, though, would seem to be that game was a fluke, a simple off night by a banged up basketball team. The Crusaders might not win against Cincinnati, but it will be a shock if they don't play the Bearcats tough.
HC notes | Cincinnati notes | USA Today matchup | Cincinnati Enquirer Bearcats page | Gametracker | HC radio

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