Valparaiso (23-10, 12-6 Horizon)
Game #34: Saturday, Mar. 5 - 7:30 p.m.
at Milwaukee (18-12, 13-5 Horizon)
U.S. Cellular Arena (10,783) - Milwaukee, Wis.
Next Up in Crusader Basketball: Valparaiso makes the quick turnaround to Horizon League Championship semifinal action on Saturday evening as the fourth-seeded Crusaders take on host and top-seeded Milwaukee at 7:30 p.m. Valpo is looking to advance to the title game for the first time since joining the league.
Last Time Out: Valparaiso connected on a Horizon League Championship record 15 3-pointers, seven of which came in the final 20 minutes from Brandon Wood, who scored 30 points in all as the Crusaders downed Detroit in quarterfinal action Friday night in Milwaukee, Wis., 88-78. Wood started the game 0-for-7 from the floor before connecting on 11 of his final 15 shot attempts, including the seven trifectas.
Following the Crusaders: Every game this season will be available on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, with Saturday's game broadcast live on WAKE (1500 AM, Valparaiso). WEFM (95.9 FM, Michigan City) will carry the game on tape-delay beginning at 9 p.m. Todd Ickow is back for his 19th season on play-by-play, while Aaron Leavitt will handle the color commentary Saturday and Adam Amin will report live from the sidelines. The live audio will also be available at www.valpoathletics.com, as well as live stats. The game can also be seen live on ESPNU and online on ESPN3.com, with Jim Barbar and David Kaplan 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 ranks sixth in career victories among active coaches in D-I men’s basketball. Drew enters Saturday's game with a 371-303 record in 21 seasons at the helm of the Crusader program and a 640-425 record in 32 years overall as a head coach.
Series Notes: Valpo holds an 11-9 advantage in the all-time series against the Panthers, but Milwaukee is 6-3 all-time against Valpo in its home arena. The two teams have split the series, 4-4, since the Crusaders joined the Horizon League, with each squad winning on its home court each of the last three years. The most recent matchup saw a pair of inside go-ahead attempts in the final 10 seconds rim out as Milwaukee earned a 79-76 win on Feb. 16. Wood scored 23 and Ryan Broekhoff 21 in that matchup.
The Road Ahead: A win in Saturday night’s game would put the Crusaders in Tuesday night’s Horizon League title game, live on ESPN. Valpo would be playing either at Butler or at Cleveland State.
Scouting Milwaukee: The Panthers won their final nine league games of the regular season to claim a share of the league title, earning the top seed and hosting rights via tiebreaker. First Team All-League selection Anthony Hill leads UWM with 15.3 ppg and 6.4 rpg, while Tone Boyle adds 13.3 ppg and Tony Meier 11.8 ppg.
Crusaders All-Time in the HL Championship: With Friday’s win over Detroit, the Crusaders now own a 4-3 record in their fourth season in the Horizon League in the league’s postseason tournament. Saturday’s game marks just Valpo’s second road game in league postseason action, as the Crusaders dropped a first-round matchup at Wright State in 2008-2009, 68-56. It also marks the first time the Crusaders and Panthers have faced off in the league tournament.
Best League Finish: Valparaiso concluded the 2010-2011 Horizon League regular season at 12-6, its best finish in league action since making the move prior to the 2007-2008 season. The Crusaders’ fourth seed for the league championship also marks their best seed for the league’s postseason tournament.
Finishing Near the Top: Valpo also finished just one game back of a three-way tie atop the league standings, the closest its been to the top spot since winning the Mid-Con title in 2003-2004. The Crusaders were also the only squad in the league to have beaten all three of the teams that tied for the title.
20 Wins, 10 Times: The Crusaders’ Feb. 19 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.
Championship Record: Valpo set a new Horizon League Championship record on Friday by draining 15 shots from beyond the arc. The Crusaders went 6-of-13 in the first half before deep before going 9-of-14 in the final 20 minutes to close the game 15-of-27. Brandon Wood finished two off the individual tournament record, connecting on seven triples, all in the second half.
More Deep Thoughts: The team’s total of 15 trifectas and Wood’s individual effort of seven 3-pointers both were Valpo bests dating back over three years. The last time both efforts were surpassed was on Dec. 15, 2007 when the Crusaders downed Chicago State, 90-61. In that game, Valpo went 16-of-28 from behind the arc, led by Samuel Haanpaa, who set a new program record with 10 triples.
Playing Back-to-Back: The Crusaders have played twice this season on back-to-back days, winning both ends of both back-to-backs. Valpo defeated Northern Colorado and Texas A&M-CC Nov. 26-27 in Las Vegas, and beat Eastern Michigan and Oakland Dec. 20-21 in Rochester, Mich. However, in both cases, Valpo’s second-day opponent has also played the day before as well.
Winning With Defense: Valpo has improved its defensive efficiency from 109.4 points per 100 possessions (304th nationally) a year ago to 97.7/100 possessions (96th nationally) this year, a big key to their 23 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 17-2 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 67.4 ppg overall and just 66.7 ppg in league action.
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 11 games, the Crusaders have averaged 75.6 ppg and given up 72.7 ppg.
A Look at RPI: The Crusaders enter the semifinals of the league tournament as one of four Horizon League teams in the top-100 in the nation in RPI. According to the latest figures from WarrenNolan.com, Valpo sits at #72 heading into the Milwaukee game, joining Cleveland State (#40), Butler (#45) and Milwaukee (#99) among the nation's top-100 squads.
Who Needs Rally Caps?: Valparaiso has flipped a number of games in its favor this season after trailing by double digits, doing it again last time out against Youngstown State. 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 7-8 in such contests, and have actually led after trailing by 10+ points in three of the losses. On the flip side, they are 20-3 in games where they have led by 10 or more points. In addition, Valpo has overcome nine-point deficits in a pair of games this season as well, and rallied from eight down Friday against Detroit.
Sharp Shooters From Inside: Friday’s game against Detroit, in which Valpo shot 55.6% from behind the arc and just 42.9% inside the arc, was a complete aberration from most Crusader games this year. Valpo has cemented itself as one of the best shooting teams in the nation this year, entering Saturday tied for 16th nationally with a .477 field goal percentage. The Crusaders have normally been especially proficient inside the arc, hitting at a .552 clip from two-point range, good for fifth nationally. Among Valpo’s nine-man rotation, seven players are hitting at least 50% from inside the arc this season.
Working Extra Time: Three of Valpo’s league games in the second half of Horizon League action 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.
National Poll Watch: For the first time in almost nine years, the Crusaders have received votes in one of the two major national polls. Valpo did not receive votes this week in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, the first time the Crusaders have not been listed among the others receiving votes in the last five polls. 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 its win over Missouri State Feb. 19 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: The win over the Bears 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.
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.
Crusaders Finish Where They Were Picked: Valpo closed the regular season in fourth place, matching its placement in the Horizon League preseason poll. Butler topped the preseason rankings and ended the regular season in a tie for first with Cleveland State (picked third) and Milwaukee (picked fifth).
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.
All-League Honoree: Redshirt junior guard Brandon Wood represented the Crusaders as a First Team All-League selection as the league’s postseason awards were announced Monday. Wood, who also was on the preseason First Team, becomes the first Valpo player to earn a First Team nod since the Crrusaders moved to the Horizon League.
Wood Leads the Way: Wood has come up biggest in the Horizon League Championship, picking up his first career double-double (20 pts, 13 reb) in the first-round win over Youngstown State. He then poured in 30 points, including a career-high seven 3-pointers, in the quarterfinal win over Detroit, his fifth 20+ point effort in the last seven games. Wood leads the team and ranks third in the HL in scoring (16.8 ppg) and also leads the Crusaders in steals (1.7 spg, 2nd in HL) and assists (3.3, 8th in HL).
Hitting 1,000: With a 3-pointer with 4:24 to play in the first half at Green Bay Feb. 21, 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 enters Saturday’s game with 1,085 career points, a Valpo record through two seasons. Dick Jones (1,020 pts, 1965-1967), John Meyne (1,013 pts, 1982-1984) and Dave Redmon (1,005 pts, 1992-1994) are the only other Crusaders to reach 1,000 in their first two seasons.
Broekhoff From Distance: The league’s most accurate 3-point shooter, sophomore Ryan Broekhoff had gone three straight games without hitting a triple prior to Friday’s win over Detroit. Broekhoff canned a trio of trifectas in the win over the Titans in a 13-point, nine-rebound effort. The sophomore now is hitting at a .470 clip on the year from downtown and ranks fifth in the league with 1.9 3-pointers/game.
Johnson in the Post: Fifth-year senior Cory Johnson scored in double figures for his team-leading 25th time on Friday evening, putting up 11 points in the quarterfinal win over the Titans. Johnson currently ranks second on the team with 14.1 ppg and hits at a .563 clip inside the arc on the season.
Cracking the Career Charts...: A number of Crusaders have already cracked Valpo’s career charts in different categories. Little broke Brandon McPherson’s career games played record against YSU Mar. 1 and has now played in 131 games. Michael Rogers is also moving up the same list, currently sitting in a tie for third with 127 career games. Little has also tallied 145 career steals, good for eighth in Valpo history and just five thefts shy of Jamie Sykes in seventh place. Ryan Broekhoff’s career 3-point percentage of .423 is tied for sixth in Crusader history. Wood and Johnson are ranked ninth (17.2 ppg) and 11th (14.9 ppg) on the scoring average chart, while Johnson is also seventh in career field goal percentage, shooting at a .519 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 .470 would place him fifth in a season all-time. Broekhoff is also just three blocked shots and eight 3-pointers outside the top-10s in those respective categories. Wood moved into a tie for seventh place for single-season steals last time out, and his total of 52 is just 11 shy of Valpo’s record of 63. In addition, Rogers is less than 1% away from Valpo’s single-season field goal percentage chart, with tenth place on that list at .565.