#-/RV Valparaiso (20-8, 11-4 Horizon)
Game #30: Thursday, Feb. 24 - 7:05 p.m.
Loyola (15-13, 6-10 Horizon)
Athletics-Recreation Center (5,000) - Valparaiso, Ind.
Next Up in Crusader Basketball: Valparaiso starts the final weekend of regular season play at the ARC Thursday evening as the Crusaders host the Ramblers of Loyola. Valpo enters the final two games of league play still in the fight for one of the top two seeds and a double bye into the tournament semifinals.
Last Time Out: Despite trailing by 16 points in the first half and by as many as 11 in the second half, Valparaiso forced the game into overtime and led by two points with under 30 seconds to play, but Green Bay scored the final three points within the last 20 seconds to close out the game, as the Phoenix defeated the Crusaders 81-80 Monday night in Green Bay, Wis. Brandon Wood led Valpo with 24 points, while Ryan Broekhoff added 20.
Following the Crusaders: Every game this season will be available on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, with Thursday's game broadcast live on WAKE (1500 AM, Valparaiso), WEFM (95.9 FM, Michigan City) and WJOB (1230 AM, Hammond). Todd Ickow is back for his 19th season on play-by-play, while Adam Amin will handle the color commentary Thursday. The live audio will also be available at www.valpoathletics.com, as well as live video through the Horizon League Network, as well as live stats.
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 Sunday's game with a 368-302 record in 21 seasons at the helm of the Crusader program and a 637-424 record in 32 years overall as a head coach.
Series Notes: Loyola owns a 32-11 advantage in the all-time series over the Crusaders, but Valpo is 4-3 against the Ramblers since joining the Horizon League and has won four straight matchups. The Crusaders earned a 66-56 victory over Loyola earlier this season up in Chicago, a game that saw Howard Little lead the way with 16 points and seven rebounds. Cory Johnson added 14 points and eight rebounds in the winning effort.
The Road Ahead: Valpo concludes the regular season Saturday evening at the ARC as the Crusaders host UIC on Senior Night. Seniors Cory Johnson, Howard Little and Michael Rogers will be recognized prior to the game. The game will be televised locally on Comcast SportsNet Chicago.
Scouting Loyola: The Ramblers enter Thursday’s game at 15-13 overall, but are just 6-10 in Horizon League play. Loyola averages an even 70.0 points per game and has four regulars averaging in double figures, led by 14.6 ppg from Geoff McCammon, who shoots 44.1% from behind the 3-point line. Ben Averkamp adds 12.0 ppg, as well as 5.3 rpg.
The Horizon League Race: With no more than two games remaining for any of the Horizon League schools, the race at the top of the league standings is as close as it has ever been. Four teams are currently within one game of the top spot, with Valpo sitting in the tie for third place, one game back. Any of the top four teams can still earn the #1 overall seed, which gives the team home court advantage and a double bye, which is also granted to the #2 seed. Scenarios exist which would place the Crusaders in any of the seeds from 1 through 4.
Best League Finish: While the Crusaders are still in a fight near the top of the league standings, they have already guaranteed themselves their best seed for the Horizon League Championship since joining the league. Valpo can finish no lower than the #4 seed, surpassing the #6 seed it has been on two occasions. The Crusaders also have already won 11 Horizon League contests this year, surpassing the 10 they won a season ago for their most wins in league play since joining the league.
National Poll Watch: For the first time in almost nine years, the Crusaders are receiving votes in one of the two major national polls. Valpo picked up three points in this week’s edition of the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll to be listed among the others receiving votes for the fourth consecutive week. Prior to this season, Valpo last made an appearance in one of the national polls in March of 2002, accumulating five points in the last poll prior to the NCAA Tournament that year.
BracketBuster: Valparaiso earned its second televised appearance in seven years as part of the Sears BracketBusters series this year, and made the most of it with Saturday’s win over Missouri State on ESPN2. The commentary was provided by Dave O’Brien and Dick Vitale, with the latter doing his first BracketBusters game ever for ESPN. The ARC also marked the smallest venue Vitale has broadcast from in his 32 years at ESPN, but he was definitely impressed, remarking near the end of the broadcast, “These fans have been on fire from the moment we sat here...they gave them an edge today, a great home-court feel. This is truly home court.”
On the Worldwide Leader: Saturday marked the Crusaders’ 11th appearance on the ESPN family of networks over the last four seasons, and is the third time in that time span that ESPN2 has carried a game live from the ARC (2/5/08 - Butler; 3/1/08 - Wright State). Earlier this season, Valpo hosted Purdue on ESPNU from the ARC, while the Crusaders have also made three appearances this year in games broadcast exclusively on ESPN3.com.
20 Wins, 10 Times: Saturday’s win over Missouri State gave Valpo its 20th win of the season, the tenth time the Crusaders have reached the 20-win milestone under Homer Drew. However, it marks just the second time in the last eight years that Valpo has won at least 20 games, joining the 2007-2008 squad which came out ahead on 22 occasions.
Winning With Defense: Valpo has improved its defensive efficiency from 109.4 points per 100 possessions (304th nationally) a year ago to 96.5/100 possessions (77th nationally) this year, a big key to their 20 wins so far this year. Eight times this year, the Crusaders have held a D-I opponent to 60 points or fewer, while they are 16-1 on the season when holding their opposition under 70 points.
How Improved It Is: Last year, the Crusaders surrendered a league-worst 74.3 points per game and gave up 71.8 ppg in league play only, which ranked ninth among the ten Horizon League squads. So far this year, it has been a 180 in terms of the defensive output, as Valpo is giving up just 67.0 ppg overall and just 66.8 ppg in league action.
Offense On a Roll: While the defense has been the impetus for many of the Crusaders’ victories this year, the offense has been the catalyst recently. In six of the last eight games, Valpo has scored better than a point per possession, highlighted by Saturday’s win, in which the Crusaders scored 80 points on just 62 possessions. The offensive efficiency of 128.7 was Valpo’s second-best of the year, trailing just the 133.9 figure from the Oakland game.
Higher Numbers on Both Sides: If it seems like the Crusaders’ scores on both sides of the scoreboard have been higher lately, it’s because they have been. Over the season’s first 21 games, Valpo scored 72.2 ppg and surrendered just 64.4 ppg. But over the last eight games, the Crusaders have averaged 76.5 ppg and given up 73.8 ppg.
A Look at RPI: The Crusaders enter this weekend as one of three Horizon League teams in the top-60 in the nation in RPI. According to the latest figures from WarrenNolan.com, Valpo sits at #55 heading into the Loyola game, joining Cleveland State (#37) and Butler (#47) among the nation's best.
Who Needs Rally Caps?: Valparaiso has flipped a number of games in its favor this season after trailing by double digits. In fact, the Crusaders are just below .500 this year in games where they have trailed by 10 or more points at any juncture, going 6-7 in such contests, and have actually led after trailing by 10+ points in three of the losses. On the flip side, they are 17-3 in games where they have led by 10 or more points. In addition, Valpo has overcome nine-point deficits in a pair of games in the last month as well.
Sharp Shooters From Inside: Valpo has cemented itself as one of the best shooting teams in the nation this year, entering this weekend tied for 14th nationally with a .482 field goal percentage. The Crusaders have been especially proficient inside the arc, hitting at a .558 clip from two-point range, good for fourth nationally. Valpo has hit at least half of their two-point attempts in 15 of its last 19 games. Among Valpo’s nine-man rotation, seven players are hitting at least 50% from inside the arc this season.
Stop, Thief!: The Crusaders lead the league and rank 43rd nationally with an average of 8.1 steals/game this season, and have proven very consistent as pickpockets throughout the year. In 28 of 29 games, Valpo has tallied at least five steals, the only exception being when the Crusaders registered just four at Kansas. Valpo had a nation’s-best streak of 25 straight games with at least six steals snapped against Missouri State last Saturday.
Working Extra Time: Three of Valpo’s last seven league games have required an overtime session to decide, with the Crusaders now 3-1 in overtime games this year within league play and 3-2 overall this season when playing extra time. Valpo’s five overtime games this year are the most in a single season by a Crusader squad since the 1992-1993 team played eight overtime games, tied for the NCAA single-season record.
4 Wins x 3: Valpo’s win over Detroit Jan. 16 gave the Crusaders their third four-game winning streak of the 2010-2011 campaign, something that has not happened for Valpo since the 2001-2002 season. That year’s Crusader squad won seven straight between November and December, captured nine straight wins in the heart of Mid-Con play and then won five consecutive games entering the NCAA Tournament.
10 Wins Before the New Year: The Crusaders’ win over Ball State Dec. 28 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.
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 high-scoring victory can be found on page six of this release.
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.
Crusaders Match Attendance Record: Valparaiso has sold out three games this year - Dec. 7 against Purdue, Jan. 29 against Butler and Feb. 19 against Missouri State - and matched the ARC all-time attendance record in the first two contests. The attendance of 5,432 for both games tied the mark set on Feb. 5, 2008 when the Crusaders welcomed a sellout crowd for 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.
Valpo Tabbed Fourth in Preseason Poll: Valparaiso was picked to finish in fourth place in the Horizon League preseason poll, tallying 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.
Pair of Crusaders on Preseason All-League Squads: Valpo was represented by a pair of players on the Horizon League’s preseason All-League teams. Redshirt junior Brandon Wood was named to the First Team, while fifth-year senior Cory Johnson earned a spot on the Second Team.
Oh Captain My Captain: The Crusaders have a pair of captains on their squad for the 2010-2011 season. Cory Johnson and Howard Little are serving 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.
Players of the Week: Valparaiso has claimed three Player of the Week honors from the Horizon League already this season. Brandon Wood earned the Crusaders’ first honor of the year, sharing Player of the Week accolades after he averaged 28.0 ppg en route to All-Tournament honors at the Lou Henson Award Tournament. Cory Johnson was tabbed as the league’s Player of the Week Jan. 10 after averaging 23.0 ppg in two league victories for the Crusaders, while Wood was again honored the next week after tallying 21.5 ppg in a pair of league road wins.
Wood Leads the Way: Redshirt junior guard Brandon Wood has scored in double figures in 21 of his 27 games this season and ranks fourth in the league, averaging 16.9 points per game. Wood has scored at least 20 points in three straight games and nine times overall this year. Most recently, Wood tallied 24 points at Green Bay, 17 of which came in the second half and overtime. The junior currently leads the team in scoring, assists (3.4 apg) and steals (1.9 spg) and ranks third in rebounding (4.4 rpg). Wood finds himself among the league leaders in a number of categories outside scoring as well, ranking second in steals and seventh in assists.
Hitting 1,000: With a 3-pointer with 4:24 to play in the first half at Green Bay Monday, Wood became the 30th player in Valpo history to score 1,000 career points. Wood is also just the fourth Crusader in program history to reach the 1K milestone in just their second season of play, and has already matched Dick Jones (1965-1967) with 1,020 points through two seasons. John Meyne (1,013 pts, 1982-1984) and Dave Redmon (1,005 pts, 1992-1994) are the other two Crusaders to reach 1,000 in their first two seasons.
Little Quietly Produces: Senior Howard Little has quietly been a solid presence on both ends of the floor for the Crusaders recently, scoring nine or more points in each of Valpo’s last 11 contests. Over that stretch, he has scored in double figures seven times, including 11 points Monday at Green Bay. The senior, who averages 9.9 points and is tied for team-high honors with 4.8 rebounds per game, continues to rank among the league’s most accurate shooters, currently ranking third with a .556 field goal percentage, and hits at a .649 clip inside the arc.
Broekhoff Bombs Away: Sophomore Ryan Broekhoff has been huge from behind the arc for the Crusaders recently, going 27-of-46 from 3-point range in Valpo's last nine games. Last time out, Broekhoff dropped 20 points at Green Bay, including a 5-for-6 effort from behind the arc, the second time this season he has been 5-for-6 from downtown against the Phoenix. He currently ranks third on the team in scoring (11.0 ppg), is tied for the team lead in rebounding (4.8 rpg) and leads the way in blocks (1.3 bpg). From behind the arc this year, he has hit at an even .500 clip, a mark which has improved to .574 in Horizon League play.
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 has tallied 143 career steals, good for eighth in Valpo history and just seven thefts shy of Jamie Sykes in seventh place. Little also is now tied for second in career games played (127) and continues to be on pace to surpass the program record of 129, barring injury. Broekhoff’s career 3-point percentage of .436 ranks second in Crusader history, trailing just fellow international sharpshooter Samuel Haanpaa. Wood and Johnson are ranked ninth (17.3 ppg) and 11th (14.9 ppg) on the scoring average chart, while Johnson is also tied for sixth in career field goal percentage, shooting at a .522 clip.
...and the Single-Season Charts: Nearing the end of the season, a number of players are also threatening the single-season charts. Broekhoff’s current 3-point percentage of .500 would place him second in a season all-time, trailing just Lance Barker’s 1991-1992 clip of .521. Broekhoff is also just four blocked shots and 11 3-pointers outside the top-10s in those respective categories. Wood moved into a tie for ninth place for single-season steals last time out, and his total of 50 is just 13 shy of Valpo’s record of 63.. In addition, both Rogers/Little are less than 1% away from cracking the single-season field goal percentage chart, with tenth place currently at .565.