Game 1: Grace (2-0) at Valparaiso (0-0) - Monday, November 12 - 7:05 p.m.
The Matchup: Valparaiso hosts Grace (Ind.) in the Crusaders’ regular season opener. The game is also the first of four Valpo will play as part of the South Padre Island Invitational. The two squads have met just once previously during regular season play, with the Crusaders coming out victorious in that contest.
Last Time Out: Valparaiso jumped out to a 27-4 lead less than nine minutes into its exhibition game Nov. 3 against St. Joseph’s (Ind.) at the Athletics-Recreation Center and led the rest of the way, defeating the Pumas 82-59. Samuel Haanpää led Valpo in the scoring column with 21 points, knocking down six of his seven attempts from behind the 3-point line. Three other Crusaders posted double-figure scoring efforts, as Huff poured in 12 points, Loyd scored 11 points, and Urule Igbavboa (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan) added 10 points. Igbavboa also led the Crusaders in most other statistical categories, pulling down six rebounds, dishing out five assists and blocking four shots.
Last Meeting: Valparaiso used a dominant second half to defeat Grace, 75-51, at the Athletics-Recreation Center on Dec. 2, 1995. The Crusaders led the Lancers by just one point at the half and found themselves trailing, 29-28, after Grace scored the first bucket of the second half. But a 10-0 run, sparked by five points from Chris Ensminger, put Valpo up by nine, and the Lancers would not cut the lead below four the rest of the way. Ensminger paced the Crusaders with 19 points and 14 rebounds, while Anthony Allison added 14 points and 10 boards. Bryce Drew hit four triples on his way to 16 points, while also dishing out eight assists.
On the Air: Today’s game, like every game this season, can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, a three-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 and WAKE, 1500 AM in Valparaiso. 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 will also be broadcast online on the Horizon League Network (www.horizonleaguenetwork.tv).
Changing Leagues: Valparaiso moves to the Horizon League this season after a very successful 25-year run in the Mid-Continent Conference (now known as the Summit League). The Crusaders captured nine regular season championships and eight tournament championships during their quarter-century tenure in the Mid-Con, advancing to seven NCAA Tournaments. Valpo also holds conference records for overall wins (385), league wins (208), conference tournament wins (29) and conference tournament winning percentage (.707).
Bringing Experience With Them: The Crusaders make the step up to the Horizon League 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 are back for the 2007-08 campaign, the highest returning percentage in each category among Horizon League squads.
Been a Long Time: Never in Homer’s Drew tenure as Crusader head coach has Valpo returned such a high percentage of scoring, rebounding and minutes played from the previous year’s squad. 20 years ago, under Tom Smith, the 1987-88 team returned each of its top seven scorers (Harry Bell, Scott Anselm, Jim Ford, Mike Jones, David Morgan, Todd Smith, Mike Hanson) from the 1986-87 Crusader squad. The returnees accounted for 95.7% of the scoring, 90.6% of the rebounding and 90.7% of the minutes played the previous season.
Hitting a High Percentage: The Crusaders are looking to bring their success behind the 3-point arc and at the free throw stripe with them into the Horizon League. Last season, Valpo hit 38.8% of its 3-point attempts and 73.5% of its free throw attempts, both marks ranking among the top-40 nationally.
Crusader Alums Return to the Bench: Valpo head coach Homer Drew has always found places for former players as assistant coaches, and this year is no exception. Bryce Drew is back for his third year on the bench and his second as associate head coach. Tarrance Price, who played for Valpo from 1998-2000, is in his second season as director of basketball operations, while Chris Sparks, who donned the Crusader uniform from 1997-2000, returns this year as an assistant coach.
Valpo Tabbed Sixth in Horizon: The Crusaders have been projected to finish in sixth place in their inaugural season of Horizon League play in polling of the league’s head coaches, sports information directors and media representatives. Butler was picked to win the league, receiving 42 of 46 first-place votes. 2007 tournament champion Wright State was projected second, followed by Green Bay, Milwaukee and Loyola. Detroit was chosen seventh, with UIC, Cleveland State and Youngstown State rounding out the polling.
Haanpää Hits From Outside: Sophomore guard Samuel Haanpää proved to be one of the nation’s preeminent threats from beyond the 3-point arc as a freshman. Haanpää drained 75 triples in his first season, shooting at a 45.7% clip from downtown, 12th best in the nation. The 6’8” Finn became the first freshman to pace the Crusaders in scoring in nearly a decade, posting 12.0 points per game. In Valpo’s exhibition victory over St. Joseph’s, Haanpää showed he hasn’t lost his touch, nailing six of his seven 3-point attempts on his way to a team-high 21 points in just 19 minutes of action.
Urule In the Post: Junior Urule Igbavboa returns as Valpo’s most established post threat. The 6’9” forward finished second on the Crusaders last year in scoring (11.6 PPG) and led the team in rebounding (7.5 RPG) and blocked shots (21). He hit 56.3% of his shots from the field on his way to Second Team All Mid-Con honors. In the Crusaders’ exhibition win over the Pumas, Igbavboa scored 10 points on just five field goal attempts, and led Valpo in rebounds (6), assists (5) and blocked shots (4).
Huff Steps Up: Senior Shawn Huff was held scoreless in the first half against St. Joseph’s, but responded in the early stages of the second half, scoring 10 points over the first 4:05 of the second stanza on his way to 12 points and five rebounds for the game. Huff earned Honorable Mention All Mid-Con honors last season after averaging 11.4 points per game. He led the Crusaders in scoring on 10 occasions and paced Valpo from the free throw line, hitting at a 87.0% clip from the charity stripe on the season.
Diebler on the Floor: Junior guard Jake Diebler led the Crusaders in minutes played last season, and saw the most time on the court of any Valpo player during its exhibition game against St. Joseph’s, playing 32 minutes. Diebler hit three of his four shots to score nine points and added four assists, three rebounds and a team-best two steals. The junior is no stranger to leading Valpo in steals, as he paced the squad with 47 takeaways last season.
Freshmen Making an Impact: All four Crusader freshmen saw playing time during the exhibition victory over the Pumas. Guard Howard Little played 21 minutes, scoring four points, grabbing three rebounds and dishing out an assist, while forward Bryan Bouchie played 16 minutes, scoring eight points and registering four rebounds and two blocked shots. Guard Michael Rogers saw 12 minutes of action, hitting two of his three shots from the floor to score five points. Forward Benjamin Fumey rounded out the quarter of newcomers with eight minutes played.
NOTES ON GRACE
Lancers Look for Repeat Success: Grace enters this season looking to win 20 games in back-to-back seasons, as it is coming off of a 23-12 season last year. The NAIA institution, which competes in the Mid-Central Conference, returns 10 letterwinners from last year’s squad, including four starters.
A Fixture on the Sidelines: It is not often that Homer Drew coaches against a colleague who has been at the same institution for longer than he has been at Valpo, but that will be the case Monday. Lancer head coach Jim Kessler is in his 31st season at the helm at Grace, with a 545-444 overall record in his first 30 seasons.
Good Start: Grace has won its first two games of the season, defeating Madonna (Mich.), 90-88 in overtime, and Illinois Tech, 83-64. Eric Gaff led the Lancers against Madonna with 23 points and 10 boards, while Marcus Moore led five Grace players in double figures with 21 points versus Illinois Tech.