By Joel Alderman
Yale is not the only New England team going to the NCAA basketball tournament next week. But unlike the Bulldogs, who were expected in many quarters to make it, came out of nowhere.
It is of course Holy Cross, from Worcester, Mass., only about 80 miles from New Haven. The Crusaders will represent the Patriot League, where they finished ninth in the 10-team circuit with the embarrassing record of 5-13. They failed to win a single one of their nine league road games. Overall, they were five games under .500 (14-19).
But putting the regular season aside, they won the league tournament in amazing fashion, and are now going to the Big Dance, where Yale is also headed.
They punched their ticket Wednesday night with a 59-56 win over Lehigh on the losers’ floor, a game which went right down to the final shots- all by Lehigh. In the tournament they won four games over Loyola, top-seeded Bucknell, Army and then Lehigh.
They went into the Patriot League tournament on a five game losing streak. But because of their remarkable run, they became just the 25th team in NCAA history to make the Tournament with a losing record.
Just two years ago Holy Cross and Yale hooked up in the College Insider Tournament, where the Bulldogs got to the finals. Now they are once again in the same tournament, this time the Big Dance, far removed from the CIT. Chances of a return game, however, are remote.
Just like the fictitious Cinderella, who unexpectedly went to the ball, the Crusaders will be going to another Big Dance. Although there won’t be a Prince Charming to greet them, this is no fairy tale either.
Its first year coach Bill Carmody, is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, and he is certainly no stranger to Yale fans who can go back several years. He started at Princeton as an assistant coach to legendary Pete Carril. He became head coach of the Tigers in 1996 after Carril retired, then after four seasons had a 13 year stint at Northwestern.
In 1998 his Princeton team was ranked eighth nationally going into the NCAA tournament, where it was seeded fifth, the highest position ever given to an Ivy League team. He can still boast of the best winning percentage of any Ivy League coach.
Meanwhile, the success of his Crusaders points out what could happen in the Ivy League some year, now that it will be having a mini four team tournament to qualify for the NCAA. All it takes is for a team to have a hot steak at the right time.
So downtrodden Holy Cross, with a most unlikely record, will be dancing in the spotlight just like Cinderella did.
“They suffered through a lot and, at the end, they came through,” Coach Carmody said. Let’s hope they get back to Worcester before the clock strikes 12.