Championship Week hits the Patriot League for Holy Cross-Bucknell battle

Bucknell's Abe Badmus

March 10, 2005

Bucknell notes
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Holy Cross notes
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The Patriot League's invitation to the 2005 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament will be handed out Friday night, and 40 minutes on the hardwood will determine whether No. 1 Holy Cross or No. 2 Bucknell will be dancing come March 17. ESPN2 will have live coverage from the Hart Center in Worcester, Mass., beginning at 4:30 p.m. These two teams, both ranked in the top 100 of the RPI, split a pair of contests during the regular season, and come into this one red-hot.

Neither game between the two was close. In the Patriot League opener on Jan. 8 at Sojka Pavilion in Lewisburg, Pa., the Bison took a 59-43 victory on CSTV. The contest represented the Crusaders' lone League setback, as HC went on to win its final 14 overall games - 13 in the PL - including a 69-54 triumph over Bucknell on Feb. 23 at the Hart Center.

When they were not playing League opponents in 2004-05, both Holy Cross and Bucknell enjoyed much success. The Crusaders (24-5, 13-1 PL) racked up a 9-5 record versus non-League foes, including wins over RPI top-100 teams, Boston U. and Northeastern. Perhaps HC's most impressive performance was a 63-60 overtime loss at then unbeaten Boston College on Dec. 9.

Bucknell's non-League success this year earned national recognition. BU, which was 9-4 out of the League, upset then-unbeaten and No. 10 Pittsburgh, 69-66 on Jan. 2. The Bison (21-9, 10-4) became the first non-Big East school to win at the Petersen Events Center in 49 games. In its two outings prior to Pitt, Bucknell defeated Atlantic-10 regular season champion Saint Joseph's on the road and MAAC winner Niagara at home.

As a result of their success, Holy Cross owns an RPI ranking of 46 heading into the championship, and Bucknell is ranked 58th. The Crusaders are chasing their fifth Patriot League title overall, and fourth of the Ralph Willard era. For Bucknell, the title would be its first, and would allow the Bison to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1989.

Holy Cross' performance come March Madness has been well-documented. In three consecutive years, from 2001-03, the Crusaders lost three first round games by a total of 19 points. Those losses came to second-seeded Kentucky, top-seeded Kansas and third-seeded Marquette, respectively.

The Crusaders, despite playing the entire Patriot League Tournament on their home floor, nearly did not make it to Friday's game. They survived against No. 4 Lehigh, 57-53 in overtime for their 16th straight win. Prior to the thriller over the Mountain Hawks, HC used a big second half to ease past No. 8 Army, 76-42.

Bucknell, on the other hand, has been on cruise control through the first two rounds thanks to a suffocating defense. The Bison allowed new Tournament-low 34 points in a 70-34 first round victory over No. 7 Lafayette, and followed up that performance with a 53-35 triumph versus No. 3 American. Overall, the Bison have won six of their last eight, and own a 9-8 record this season in games played on the road or at neutral sites.

Offensively, junior guard Charles Lee and sophomore guard Abe Badmus have led the way thus far for head coach Pat Flannery. Lee has produced a team-best 14.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game during the tourney, with Badmus chipping in 10.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per outing.

For Holy Cross, PL Player of the Year and junior guard Kevin Hamilton has been the top postseason offensive threat thus far with 16.0 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Keith Simmons has added 11.0 points per contest.

Lee and Simmons were first team All-League performers in the PL, while Badmus was named the League's Defensive Player of the Year.

As a team, Holy Cross leads the Patriot League in scoring defense, scoring margin, field goal percentage defense, rebounding defense, blocked shots, assists, turnover margin and assistant-to-turnover ratio. Bucknell was the League's top club in 3-point field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage defense.

Dave Revsine will call the play-by-play in his third straight Patriot League championship. Jay Williams will provide the color analysis. Fans will hope for the same type of excitement as last year, when Lehigh edged out American, 59-57 for the title. The winner will learn its NCAA Tournament fate during Sunday's selection show.