The Matchup: Valparaiso looks to earn its second straight Horizon League victory on Wednesday evening as the Crusaders take the trip across the state line into Chicago to face Loyola. Both the Crusaders and Ramblers are trying to move up in the Horizon League standings into one of the top six seeds, in order to host a first-round tournament game. This will be the 30th all-time matchup between Valpo and Loyola, with the Ramblers enjoying a 25-4 advantage in the all-time series.
Last Meeting: J.R. Blount hit a layup with under five seconds to play to complete an 8-0 Loyola run over the game’s final 1:30 as the Ramblers came from behind to defeat Valparaiso Saturday night, 65-63, at the Athletics-Recreation Center. The late run by the Ramblers negated a valiant comeback effort on the Crusaders’ part, as Valpo looked to earn its largest come-from-behind victory of the season. The Crusaders came from 13 down with 16 minutes to play and seven down with 7:40 remaining to go up six with 1:43 left, but Loyola’s final run gave the Ramblers the ballgame. Brandon McPherson led Valpo with 13 points, while Samuel Haanpää added 11 and Jarryd Loyd 10 off the bench.
Last Time Out: Valpo ended a five-game losing streak in a big way last Saturday, going on a 29-9 run spanning the two halves to easily handle Youngstown State by a 77-58 count. The Crusaders and Penguins were tied at 20 late in the first half, but Valpo closed the opening stanza on a 10-0 spurt, and after YSU closed the margin to six points early in the second half, ripped off 14 straight points to secure the victory. Jarryd Loyd led the Crusaders with 18 points on the night, and also added three assists to move into fourth place on Valpo’s all-time assist chart with 369 career helpers. Jake Diebler showcased his shooting ability, hitting four 3-pointers on the night to tie a career high on his way to a season-best 14 points.
On the Air: Tonight’s game, like every game this season, can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, a four-station entity carrying Crusader athletics all over Northwest Indiana, and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics. Originating from WVUR, 95.1 FM in Valparaiso, the Valpo Sports Radio Network also includes WEFM, 95.9 FM in Michigan City; WAKE, 1500 AM in Valparaiso; and WWLO, 89.1 FM in Lowell. Veteran broadcaster Todd Ickow returns for his 17th season on play-by-play, while WVUR’s Adam Amin will handle the color commentary. The game can also be seen live throughout Chicagoland on Lakeshore Public Television.
Fight for the Top Six: With the change in conference affiliation this season for the Crusaders comes a new post-season tournament format. In the Horizon League, the top two seeds earn a double bye to the tournament semifinals. In the first round, the 3 through 6 seeds host games against the 7 through 10 seeds. Valpo is currently seventh in the league standings, but is just one-half game out of the sixth seed (Green Bay) and is also within striking distance of fifth (UIC) and fourth (Milwaukee) place. The last time Valpo hosted a league tournament game was the 1994-95 championship game, when the Crusaders defeated Western Illinois in a triple-overtime thriller.
Crusaders Go Bracket Busting: Valparaiso earned a televised contest for the first time in its four years as a part of the O’Reilly ESPNU BracketBusters pool of teams, getting paired against Miami (Ohio) for a game at the ARC on February 23. The Crusaders and RedHawks will face off at 5 p.m. CST on ESPN Classic, the first ever BracketBusters game to be shown live on the network. Valpo had previously drawn Butler, Niagara and Western Michigan in their first three years as a part of the BracketBusters pool.
Back on the Deuce: The Crusaders won’t be done with ESPN games after February 23, however. It was announced earlier this week that Valpo’s regular-season finale at the ARC against Wright State on March 1 will be broadcast live at 11 a.m. CST on ESPN2 as part of ESPN’s Judgement Week. It will be the third Crusader home game in a month’s time broadcast on either ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPN Classic. Valpo is one of just six schools to host three home games over that time span on one of the three ESPN networks, joining Indiana, Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Villanova.
National Exposure: The three games on ESPN platforms in under a month’s time means the Crusaders will have at least five of their games broadcast nationwide this season. Valpo’s December 22 tilt at Wisconsin was shown on the Big Ten Network, while its December 30 game at North Carolina was carried on Fox Sports Net.
Bringing Experience With Them: The Crusaders made the step up to the Horizon League this season with a core group of experienced players. Valpo returns eight of 11 players who took the court last season, including each of its top seven scorers. 93.6% of last year’s scoring, 86.6% of last year’s rebounding and 90.4% of last year’s minutes played returned for the 2007-08 campaign, the highest returning percentage in each category among Horizon League squads.
Best Start: Nine conference championships. Seven NCAA Tournament appearances. A magical run to the Sweet 16. 302 wins. These are just some of the accomplishments that Crusader head coach Homer Drew and his players had piled up during Drew’s first 18 seasons at the helm of the Valpo men’s basketball program. But none of Drew’s teams had accomplished what this year’s squad did: winning ten of the season’s first 11 games. The previous best start under Drew came from the 1996-1997 team, which started 9-2 in its first 11 contests.
Shooting From 19’9”: Valparaiso has proven to be one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting teams so far this season. The Crusaders are connecting on 40.3% of their attempts from behind the arc, 17th best among the 341 Division I teams. The team average of 9.4 made 3-pointers per game is good for eighth nationally as well. It’s not just one player that has been a threat for Valpo from behind the arc either, as the team’s top four 3-point shooters are all averaging better than one make per game and are all connecting on at least 41.6% of their attempts from downtown.
Handing Out the Assists: Crusader senior guard Jarryd Loyd moved upanother notch on Valpo’s all-time assist chart against Youngstown State, hitting Shawn Huff for a 3-pointer late in the game to move into fourth place with 369 career helpers. The senior is dishing out 4.7 assists per game in league play, third-best in the Horizon League, and owns the best assist-to-turnover ratio in league play at 1.89.
Shakeup in the Starting Lineup: Entering last week’s action, Valparaiso had used the same starting lineup for each of the season’s first 23 games. But last week saw the Crusaders use three different lineups in the three games. Valpo’s season-long starting five of Igbavboa, Huff, Haanpää, Diebler and McPherson started against Cleveland State on Thursday. At UIC on Monday evening, Haanpää and McPherson were replaced with seniors Jarryd Loyd and Calum MacLeod, both making their first start in over a calendar year. Against Youngstown State Saturday, Haanpää was sidelined due to illness, giving freshman Bryan Bouchie an opportunity to make his first career start.
Ending the First Half Strong: Three of the last four games have seen Valpo put together strong runs to end the opening half of play. Last time out against Youngstown State, Valpo scored 10 unanswered points over the last four minutes of the half to go up 32-22 at the break. Thursday against Cleveland State, the Crusaders went on a 16-4 spurt over the final 5:25 to turn an 11-point deficit into a one-point lead. At Green Bay the prior Thursday, Valpo outscored the Phoenix 18-6 over the final 8:10 of the first half to earn a 13-point halftime advantage.
3-Point Charts Full of Current Players: The Crusaders’ prolific 3-point shooting this season has resulted in a number of players on this year’s squad making their marks on career charts in the category. Four of the top-ten most accurate shooters from behind the arc in Crusader history are on this year’s team, led by sophomore guard Samuel Haanpää, who is the Crusaders’ most accurate shooter all-time from downtown at 44.5%. Senior forward Shawn Huff ranks ninth all-time at Valpo with 141 made 3-pointers, just three triples shy of the eighth spot, while Haanpää is just one make shy of a tie for tenth with 134 3-pointers.
Handling the Basketball: The Crusaders got a shot at the basket on almost every possession Jan. 12 against Green Bay, dishing out 17 assists and committing just five turnovers. Valpo point guards Jarryd Loyd and Brandon McPherson combined for 11 assists and did not commit a turnover. For Valpo, it was the fewest number of turnovers in a game since it committed just five miscues Dec. 9, 1991 against Notre Dame.
Haanpää’s Magical Night: Sophomore guard Samuel Haanpää enjoyed one of the best performances in Crusader history Dec. 15 against Chicago State, breaking current associate head coach Bryce Drew’s team record for 3-pointers in a game. Haanpää knocked down 10 triples in the contest, needing just 11 attempts. He also set a new career high with 32 points in the 90-61 victory.