Valparaiso (10-5, 2-1 Horizon)
Game #16: Friday, Jan. 7 - 6 p.m. CST
Youngstown State (6-7, 1-3 Horizon)
Athletics-Recreation Center (5,000) - Valparaiso, Ind.
Next Up in Crusader Basketball: Valparaiso welcomes its first Horizon League foe to the ARC this season as the Crusaders host Youngstown State on Friday evening. The game between Valpo and YSU is available exclusively live nationwide at ESPN3.com.
Last Time Out: Led by 14 second-half points from freshman Jay Harris, Valparaiso cut a 19-point deficit with 16 minutes to play to just five points with eight minutes remaining at Butler Saturday afternoon, but the Bulldogs eventually handed the Crusaders their first Horizon League defeat of the season, 76-59. Cory Johnson tied Harris for team-high honors with 14 points.
Following the Crusaders: Every game this season will be available on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, with Friday's game broadcast live on WAKE (1500 AM, Valparaiso) and WEFM (95.9 FM, Michigan City). Todd Ickow is back for his 19th season on play-by-play, while Adam Amin will handle the color commentary Friday. The live audio will also be available at www.valpoathletics.com, with live stats available through the official Crusader website as well. The game can be watched exclusively live online at ESPN3.com, with Greg Rakestraw and Joel Cornette on the call.
Head Coach Homer Drew: One of only a handful of coaches at the Division I level coaching on a floor named in his honor, head coach Homer Drew is the seventh-winningest active coach in D-I men’s basketball. Drew enters Saturday's game with a 358-298 record in 21 seasons at the helm of the Crusader program and a 627-420 record in 32 years overall as a head coach.
Series Notes: The Crusaders have dominated the all-time series with the Penguins, owning a 22-7 advantage over YSU. Valpo has won the last 10 matchups, including all six since joining the Horizon League. Most recently, the Crusaders trailed by as much as 11 and were down five with two minutes left before rallying for a 77-75 win in Youngstown on Feb. 13, 2010. Brandon Wood paced the Crusaders with 22 points, while Matt Kenney posted 15 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five steals.
The Road Ahead: Valpo closes out its first weekend of home league action by hosting league leader Cleveland State at the ARC Sunday afternoon at 1:35 p.m. A return to the road then awaits the Crusaders, as they make the trek next weekend to Wright State (Friday) and Detroit (Sunday).
Scouting YSU: The Penguins enter Friday 6-7 overall, but are just 2-6 since starting the season with four wins in their first five games. YSU is also 1-3 in HL play, most recently defeating UIC and losing to Loyola. They average 67.1 ppg, led by senior Vytas Sulskis’ 15.5 ppg, and lead the league in 3-pointers, connecting on 7.6 trifectas per contest.
Returning Home: Friday’s game marks the first home game in the 2010-2011 Horizon League slate for the Crusaders. Valpo is the last team to open home league action, but enters this weekend tied for second in the HL standings despite playing solely on the road so far.
Home Court Advantage: Friday’s game also is the first of two consecutive games at the Athletics-Recreation Center for Valpo, the first time this season they will play back-to-back home games. Valpo is currently 4-1 at the ARC this year and is now 229-101 (.694) all-time at the ARC, including a 183-42 (.813) mark over the last 17-plus years at home. Valpo has also finished above .500 in each of the last 17 seasons at home.
4 Wins x 2: Valpo’s win over Ball State Dec. 28 gave the Crusaders their second four-game winning streak of the 2010-2011 campaign, something that has only happened one other time for the Crusaders in the last seven years. The 2007-2008 Valpo squad featured an eight-game winning streak during November-December and then won six in a row spanning late February and early March.
10 Wins Before the New Year: The Crusaders’ win over the Cardinals assured Valpo of heading into the 2011 calendar year with a 10-4 record, matching a program record for most wins prior to January 1. The 2001-2002 team also posted a 10-4 mark prior to New Year’s Day 2002, while the 2007-2008 Crusaders went 10-3 in the 2007 portion of the schedule.
Winning With Defense: Valpo has improved its defensive efficiency from 109.4 points per 100 possessions (304th nationally) a year ago to 99.4/100 possessions (135th nationally) this year, a big key to their 10 early-season wins. Three times this year, the Crusaders have held a D-I opponent under 60 points and they are a perfect 9-0 on the year when holding opponents under 70 points.
Dominating Defensively: While defense has keyed most of the Crusaders' victories this season, Dec. 11's win over IPFW was easily the most dominant performance on the defensive end of the court by Valpo this year. The Crusaders held the Mastodons to just 13 field goals on 26% shooting and limited IPFW to just 47 points overall. In addition, Valpo held IPFW to just three 3-pointers on the evening and limited the Mastodons to just three assists, the fewest by a Valpo opponent since Dec. 30, 1999.
A Look at RPI: The NCAA’s first official RPI release of the season came out early this week, and Valpo is one of three Horizon League schools within the RPI’s top-75. The Crusaders are rated 71st in the Jan. 4 RPI release, joining Cleveland State and Butler within the top-75.
103-102: The antithesis of most of the Crusaders’ games this season was the 103-102 win in regulation at Oakland Dec. 21 to capture the Lou Henson Award Tournament. Some notes regarding that victory can be found on page six of this release.
There Was Defense Too?: Talking about defense in a 103-102 game might seem counter-intuitive, but the Crusaders completely shut down last year's Mid-Major Player of the Year and Naismith Award nominee Keith Benson in the win over Oakland. Valpo held Benson to just 1-of-2 shooting, five points, one rebound and no blocked shots. The five points was his fewest since Nov. 29, 2008 and his one rebound his fewest since Nov. 23, 2008. Also, Benson's streak of 26 games with a blocked shot was also snapped.
Crusaders Match Attendance Record: Welcoming a top-20 team in Purdue to the ARC proved to be a formula for a packed house on Dec. 7. The game officially sold out four days in advance, and the attendance was announced at 5,432, matching the all-time attendance record at the ARC, first set on Feb. 5, 2008 when Valpo hosted a top-10 Butler squad.
Breaking Out the New Gear: The Crusaders unveiled their new uniform design Dec. 7 against Purdue, and also debuted gray uniforms in the nationally-televised contest. The grays will serve as alternate uniforms, mainly for use on special occasions, while Valpo will continue to wear white jerseys at home and gold uniforms on the road.
Early Start Beneficial This Year: All four years the Crusaders have been in the Horizon League, they have played an early December league weekend. This year’s road sweep at UIC and Loyola was the second time in four years Valpo has started 2-0 on the road in early play, joining the 2007-2008 squad, which won at Wright State and Detroit to start the league slate.
A Big Victory: Valpo easily handled Purdue North Central Nov. 18, limiting the Panthers to just 44 points in a 98-44 victory. The 54-point margin of victory ties for the sixth-highest differential in program history, matching the winning margin in a 66-12 win against Chicago Tech back in the 1920-1921 season.
Offensive Explosion...: The Crusaders lit up the scoreboard throughout their season opener against IU Northwest, scoring 59 first-half points and adding 52 second-half points. A short-range flip up and in by Cory Johnson with 5:49 to play put Valpo over the century mark as it utilized the third digit on the scoreboard for the first time since a 105-73 win over Longwood on Jan. 7, 2006. The 111 points matched the most the Crusaders have scored in the last 15 seasons as well.
Valpo Tabbed Fourth in Preseason Poll: Valparaiso was picked to finish in fourth place in the Horizon League preseason poll conducted of the league’s coaches, sports information directors, and media members. The Crusaders tallied 312 points in the polling. Butler, the reigning national runner-up and last season's regular season and tournament champions, was a unanimous selection atop the league standings. Detroit edged out Cleveland State as the second pick, while Milwaukee and Wright State were picked fifth and sixth, respectively. Green Bay, Loyola, UIC and Youngstown State rounded out the polling.
A Look Back at 2009-2010: Valparaiso improved throughout the 2009-2010 season, closing the year with 15 wins. The Crusaders went 10-8 in league play, finishing in a tie for fourth place in the Horizon League regular season standings. It marked the second time in Valpo’s first three seasons as a Horizon League institution that it had finished in the top half of the standings.
A Lot of Production Returns: Having lost just one regular and three players in all from last year’s squad, Valparaiso returns the vast majority of its production from last season. The 10 letterwinners, including four starters, who return for the Crusaders in 2010-2011 comprised 82.8% of the team’s scoring and 91.2% of the team’s rebounding from a year ago.
Wood Named Preseason First Team All-League: Redshirt junior guard Brandon Wood was one of five players named to the preseason Horizon League First Team All-League squad as announced in mid-October. Wood, the league’s Newcomer of the Year and a Second Team All-League honoree in 2009-2010, led the circuit in scoring at 17.7 ppg a year ago, while his 565 total points tied for ninth-most in a single season in Valpo history. Also an NABC All-District 12 Second Team choice, he ranked among the league's best as well in 3-pointers per game (1.8, 6th) and free throw percentage (.813, 7th).
Johnson a Second Team Honoree: Fifth-year senior forward Cory Johnson also earned a spot on the preseason All-League Second Team after receiving Second Team and All-Newcomer Team honors last year in his first year with the Crusaders. Johnson averaged 15.6 ppg and 5.8 rpg a year ago, good for fourth and eighth among Horizon League players, respectively. He connected at a 55.6% clip from the floor, second-best in the league and 20th nationally, and hit better than half of his three-point attempts as well.
Oh Captain My Captain: The Crusaders will have a pair of captains for the 2010-2011 season. Cory Johnson and Howard Little will serve in the role, each for the second straight year.
Sun, Fun and Basketball: This year’s Crusader squad got the chance to bond as a team with a preseason foreign trip to Cancun in August, the first time Valpo has taken advantage of the chance to take a preseason trip. The Crusaders got 10 days of practice in Valpo before taking off for Cancun with all 13 players, including newcomers Jay Harris and Kevin Van Wijk. While down in Cancun, Valpo won all four games, including a come-from-behind 102-84 win over Pioneros de Quintana Roo, which finished third in the 20-team LNBP last year.
Johnson Earns MVP Honors: Fifth-year senior forward Cory Johnson was named the MVP of the Lou Henson Award Tournament following his career-best 33-point performance on 12-of-13 shooting in the title game against Oakland. Johnson, who also chipped in six rebounds against the Grizzlies, added 12 points and five rebounds in the first game against Eastern Michigan. Despite missing a game earlier this year, Johnson has scored in double figures in a team-best 12 games this season, including six straight after efforts of 16 points against Ball State and 14 at Butler. The senior currently ranks seventh in the league in both scoring (15.8 ppg) and field goal percentage (.510).
Wood Leads the Way: Redshirt junior guard Brandon Wood has led Valpo in scoring in three of its last four games, starting with a then season high of 21 points, going 7-of-11 from the floor in the Lou Henson Award Tournament opener against Eastern Michigan. But that was just a precursor to his performance against Oakland, where he went for 35 points on 12-of-20 shooting and also posted a season-best seven rebounds. Wood, an All-Tournament selection, added a team-best 17 points, including 15 in the first half, in the Dec. 28 win over Ball State and again tied his season high with seven boards. Despite scoring just nine points against Butler, Wood continues to pace the Crusaders and ranks sixth in the league with 15.8 ppg. The junior also sits fifth among league players in both assists (3.9) and assist/turnover ratio (1.74).
Harris’ Breakout Game: Freshman guard Jay Harris entered Saturday’s game at Butler with just one double-figure scoring effort on the season and averaging just 4.5 ppg. But Harris, who averaged better than 28 ppg as a high school senior, showcased that scoring punch in a spurt while nearly single-handedly bringing the Crusaders back into the ballgame. The rookie scored 14 points in a stretch of just 5:32, helping to erase what had been as much as a 19-point deficit and getting Valpo to as close as five points. Harris hit 4-of-5 from the floor during the run, including 3-of-4 from behind the arc, and also drained a trio of free throws.
Broekhoff Does It All: Sophomore guard Ryan Broekhoff showcased his 3-point shooting ability as a freshman and it has carried over into his second season, as he currently ranks third in the league with a .441 3-point percentage, helping him to average 11.0 ppg so far this year. But Broekhoff ranks among the league’s best in a number of other categories as well, including assist/turnover ratio (1.93, 3rd), field goal percentage (.542, 4th) and blocked shots (1.4, 6th). Most notably, despite averaging nearly 29 minutes/game so far this season, the sophomore has turned the ball over just 14 times in 15 games.
Buggs With the Boards: Redshirt sophomore guard Erik Buggs is often the shortest player on the court at 5’10”, such as he was Dec. 28 against Ball State. But that didn’t stop Buggs from grabbing a game-high and new career best eight rebounds in the win over the Cardinals. The sophomore also played a season-high 31 minutes while matching his season-best with seven points and also handing out four assists.
Doing the Little Things: Senior guard Howard Little showcased his ability to contribute in a number of ways with a career-high seven assists in the win over Ball State Tuesday while also scoring 11 points and grabbing five rebounds. While Little was held scoreless against Butler and played just 23 minutes due to foul trouble, he continues to rank second in the Horizon League in field goal percentage (.554) and leads the Crusaders in both rebounding (4.9) and steals (1.5).
Cracking the Career Charts: A number of Crusaders have already cracked Valpo’s career charts in different categories or are on pace to do so very soon. Little needs four more steals to reach 130 for his career, which would move him into the top-10 in the category, while the senior continues to be on pace to set the program record for career games played, barring injury. Broekhoff’s career 3-point percentage of .392 is tenth-best in Valpo history. Wood is just three games shy of the minimum 50 needed to qualify for the career points per game chart, where he would currently rank ninth at 17.1 ppg, while Johnson is four games shy and would be 11th at 15.7 ppg. Johnson is also just 21 field goal attempts shy of the 500 needed to rank in field goal percentage, where his .541 clip would currently place him in fourth position.
Quickly: Valpo hit 10 3-pointers Saturday at Butler, reaching the mark for the second time in the last three games after hitting it just once in the season’s first 12 games ... the Crusaders had a season-low 11 free throw attempts and went a season-worst .455 from the line Saturday ... Valpo’s 21 rebounds against the Bulldogs was also a season low ... the Crusaders continue to lead the Horizon League in field goal percentage (.476), assists (16.1) and assist/turnover ratio (1.13).