Valparaiso enters the 2013-14 season coming off of a 2012-13 campaign which saw the Crusaders return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine seasons. Head coach Bryce Drew guided the Crusaders to their second straight Horizon League regular season crown and then led Valpo as it captured its first league tournament title since the move to the Horizon League. Along the way, the Crusaders won a school-record 26 games, the program’s 13th 20-win season in the last 20 years.
But the Crusaders will have to reload to make a run at a third consecutive Horizon League regular season title in 2013-14, as Valpo lost all five starters and six seniors in all from last year’s squad. In all, only 22.8% of the scoring, 27.3% of the rebounding and 24.2% of the minutes played from last year’s squad return in 2013-14.
This isn't the first time Drew has had to replace a lot of production, as entering his first season at the helm in 2011-12, the Crusaders returned just 50% of their minutes played and less then 40% of their scoring. That season saw a lot of returnees step up into greater roles, something this year's team will look to replicate.
Valpo returns four players who have taken the court in a Crusader uniform, including 2012-13 Horizon League Sixth Man of the Year LaVonte Dority. The senior, who became eligible at the semester break last season, made four starts among his 25 appearances, averaging 8.6 points per game, third-most on the team.
Also returning for the Crusaders in 2013-2014 are fifth-year senior Bobby Capobianco, senior Jordan Coleman and junior Vashil Fernandez. Capobianco averaged 5.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in his first year at Valpo last season, shooting better than 55% from the floor. Coleman posted 4.4 points and 2.5 rebounds per game, while Fernandez scored 30 points and grabbed 38 rebounds in limited action.
Blending In the New Faces
At the Horizon League's annual Media Day in Chicago earlier this month, Drew joked about the large group of newcomers on this year's squad, saying "I wish we could have names on the back of our practice jerseys because we have so many new guys this year...we've had to do a lot of introductions." Eight newcomers in all are eligible for the Crusaders this season.
Eligible this year after sitting out the entirety of last season is redshirt junior forward David Chadwick, a transfer from Rice. Also eligible this season under the graduate transfer rule is center Moussa Gueye, a fifth-year player who spent the last two years at Alabama and was one of the SEC's top shot-blockers within league play last year. Meanwhile, sophomore guard Keith Carter, who was runner-up for Illinois Mr. Basketball in 2012, will be eligible at the semester break after transferring from Saint Louis last January.
A talented group of five freshmen join the Valpo program this year as well. Alec Peters finished fifth in Illinois Mr. Basketball voting in 2013, while Clay Yeo was a member of the Indiana All-Star Team. Jubril Adekoya was a Third Team All-State selection in Illinois, Nick Davidson was tabbed the Area Player of the Year by both the NWI Times and Post-Tribune as a senior and Lexus Williams earned All-Conference honors as a senior.
A Challenging Slate
The Crusaders will face plenty of challenging opponents throughout the 2013-14 season, as a non-league slate which includes nine games against 20-win teams from last season prepares Valpo for the always-demanding Horizon League schedule.
Valpo opens the regular season Friday, Nov. 8 against Murray State, which won 21 games a season ago. Also coming to the ARC are James Madison, UCF, Mercer and Saint Louis, all of which won at least 20 games last year and three of which played in the postseason. Loyola Marymount, North Park and Cincinnati Christian are all on the home non-league slate as well.
Meanwhile, the Crusaders test themselves early on the road, with a seven-day road trip comprised of games at Illinois, Ohio and Evansville, all of which participated in postseason play and won at least 20 games last year as well. Valpo will make a trip to the UCF Holiday Classic right before Christmas, taking on Southeastern in addition to the host knights, while the non-league schedule also has road games at Ball State and East Tennessee State.
Once the calendar turns to 2014, Valpo begins defense of its back-to-back Horizon League regular season championships. Seven of the league's nine teams played in the postseason last year, while the league finished the season ranked 12th nationally out of 32 conferences in RPI. The double-round robin slate is highlighted by home ESPNU games against Wright State (Jan. 10) and Detroit (Feb. 7).