Holy Cross coach Bill Carmody said his team’s run to the Patriot League tournament title ranks among the most surprising feats he has been a part of during his 18-year tenure as a head coach.
He can’t say it was completely unexpected, though.
The Crusaders (14-19) ended the regular season with 10 wins and on a five-game losing streak, but came up through the Patriot League tournament as the No. 9 seed to give Carmody an NCAA tournament appearance in his first season with the team.
Holy Cross, the only team in the field with a losing record, plays Southern (22-12) in the NCAA First Four on Wednesday at UD Arena.
“It definitely was a surprise, but as I told the team, three or four games before we got to the tournament, we lost those games, but they were all pretty close, and I thought we played pretty well,” Carmody said. “They seemed to be coming together pretty nicely. And I don’t look for silver linings ever, just about, but then I said, ‘Listen fellas, we lost, but there’s something there.’ And they started believing a little bit, I think.”
The reward of the team’s first NCAA berth since 2007 is pretty satisfying, some of the players said.
“It was just really gratifying to see the way we came together at the end of the season, just because it was so rough during our regular season,” junior forward Malachi Alexander said. “Our guys really came together well and gained a lot of confidence as we made our run through the playoffs. And it’s really gratifying to be where we are now.”
Shifting defenses: A big key to Holy Cross’ postseason success was a shift to the 1-3-1 zone, but Tulsa is another team in the First Four with a tendency to change things up on defense.
Golden Hurricane coach Frank Haith said he is constantly switching defenses to keep people off balance, and that will be important against a great perimeter-shooting Michigan team.
“Whatever I think we have to do to take advantage — we feel we have an advantage — I’m not going to talk about it in here,” Haith said. “But their team is so good offensively, whatever we do … whether it be zone, man, three-quarter press or whatever we do, we’ve got to know where the shooters are at.”
Southern coach Roman Banks plans to attack Holy Cross’s 1-3-1 defense, which he called “amoeba style.”
“We do have guys that I think are able to get in the gaps of that 1-3-1, and I don’t want to be a team that just sits out and shoots a lot of 3-point shots against it,” he said.
Quick hits: Southern nearly pulled off upsetting a No. 1 seed in the first round of the 2013 tournament and would get another chance (against Oregon) if it can beat Holy Cross in the First Four. Three years ago, the Jaguars were tied with top-seeded Gonzaga with less than four minutes to play but ended up losing 64-58. Senior guard Chris Hyder is the only current player who saw action in that game, coming off the bench for a few minutes. … KenPom.com ranks Tulsa as the most experienced team in the country with seven seniors among its eight-man rotation, but the Golden Hurricane face a team with the opposite makeup. Michigan has no seniors in the lineup since leading scorer Caris LeVert and point guard Spike Albrecht went down with season-ending injuries. “I think it’s a positive that we have an older group,” Haith said. “We’ll just see how it plays out tomorrow.”