If you're a fan of good timing, there's probably none better than tonight's opponent for a Boston University team struggling to find itself. After a fairly impressive/encouraging start to the season, the Terriers have hit a low point through 11 games, losing their most recent contest to defending Ivy League champion Cornell in embarrassing fashion (89-59). Following the game, BU coach Dennis Wolff challenged his team to start playing and practicing better or be exposed as a phony squad. A win against Holy Cross in BU's first game of the new year would go a long way to getting the team picked to win America East at the start of the season on the right track.
While, historically, the Terriers have had more trouble against the Crusaders than any other team in their history, Holy Cross is experiencing a rough season thus far. The series between the intrastate teams dates back to 1903, with Holy Cross holding a 50-12 advantage, having won the last five meetings -- though BU has lost the previous two games by a total of six points. This year, despite all of BU's troubles, the Crusaders may be floundering even more, especially on the road where they're 0-6. Even more encouraging for BU is that Holy Cross has lost to three team's the Terriers have defeated -- Harvard, Northeastern and Yale.
Statistically, the Crusaders rank 340th in the nation in free-throw percentage (57.3) and 339th in steal percentage (14.2). [Sidenote: In a bit of an oddity, Holy Cross' Devin Brown is third in the nation in free-throw percentage at 94.6 percent]. The Terriers are fairly good at creating turnovers, so that -- coupled with the fact that Holy Cross can't -- means that if BU isn't careless with the ball, they should get more possessions than the Crusaders. That would be a good thing given the historically mediocre shooting performances the team has at Agganis arena. That said, BU's last outing at Agganis produced 80 points on the strength of a career-high 36 by Corey Lowe, so the "Agganis Curse" (as it's come to be known this season) shouldn't be an issue. The atmosphere, however, might as the students are still off and the arena will most likely feel very empty.
One cause for concern is Holy Cross' ability to rebound offensively. Their 40.5 offensive rebounding efficiency ranks 20th in the nation, so if the Crusaders are able to dominate the interior, BU could once again be overwhelmed by a talented group of big men like it was against Cornell. If, however, Jeff Pelage receives significant minutes for the second-straight game, the freshman forward could help immensely in establishing a physical presence in the low post. If the Terriers can hold their own and limit Holy Cross' inside buckets, the Crusaders don't have many shooters on the perimeter as only 27.1 percent of their shots are taken from beyond the arc (compared to 45.9 percent for BU). Holy Cross also has just one player averaging double figures in scoring -- freshman guard R.J. Evans (13.5 points per game) -- as its offensive is one of the worst in the country. The Crusaders have started nine different players through 13 games this year, but still haven't found the right combination.
By no means is this game a must-win in regard to the standings, but in regard to the mentality of the team before entering conference play, it's pretty close. With a difficult test against the University at Albany looming as the first conference battle for BU, turning around the negative aura surrounding the current three-game losing streak prior to that matchup would be extremely beneficial for the Terriers.
It has been confirmed by Wolff that John Holland has earned his starting spot back for tonight's game and will be one of the first five on the floor for BU tonight, pushing Carlos Strong back into his natural role of sixth man.
Projected starting lineups: