The Matchup: Valparaiso returns home to the ARC Thursday night after a brief two-game road swing, hosting the Vikings of Cleveland State. It will be Bryce Drew bobblehead night, as the first 1,000 fans through the gates will receive a free bobblehead of one of the greatest players in Crusader history. The Crusaders and Vikings have met 29 times on the hardwood in a series that was renewed this season for the first time since 1993-94, with Cleveland State holding a 22-7 advantage in the series. The last time the two squads faced off at the ARC was on Jan. 22, 1994, in a game that the Crusaders won 87-74.
Last Meeting: Valparaiso cut Cleveland State’s lead to as few as four points on multiple occasions in the second half Jan. 19 in Cleveland, Ohio, but the Vikings would not let the Crusaders get any closer and went on to win by a 69-63 count. Cleveland State’s last successful field goal came on a triple with 6:34 remaining, making it a 58-48 ballgame. Brandon McPherson countered immediately with a 3-pointer of his own, and after the Vikings split a pair of free throws, the junior converted a tip-in on the offensive end to slice the lead back down to six points. But the Vikings got to the free throw line down the stretch, hitting 10 free throws over the final six minutes to keep Valpo at bay. Shawn Huff paced the Crusaders with 14 points, knocking down four of his seven attempts from behind the arc, while also adding a team-best six rebounds.
Last Time Out: UIC hit nine of its first 10 shots in the second half, including six 3-pointers, as the Flames pulled away for a 77-53 victory over Valparaiso Monday night at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago, Ill. Shawn Huff led Valpo with 19 points, 14 of which came in the opening 20 minutes. Jarryd Loyd was the only other Crusader to reach double figures, pouring in 14 points to go along with five assists. Urule Igbavboa paced Valpo on the boards with seven rebounds.
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. Ickow and Amin’s call will also be broadcast live across North America on Sirius Satellite Radio channel 122. The game can also be seen throughout Chicagoland on Lakeshore Public Television.
Back Home Again: While Valparaiso has dropped its last two games and three of its last five games at home, the Crusaders still enjoy a great home-court advantage at the Athletics-Recreation Center. Valpo is 8-3 at the ARC this year, the 15th straight season that the Crusaders have won at least eight games at home. They are 211-95 (.690) all-time at home, including a 157-30 (.840) mark in the last 15 seasons. The schedule sets up kindly down the stretch for the Crusaders in Horizon League play, as four of their final six league games will be at home.
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.
Close Games the Norm: Fans who have seen Valpo’s Horizon League games this year have been almost guaranteed a battle down to the wire. 10 of the Crusaders’ 12 league contests have been decided by single digits, while eight of the 12 games have been within one possession at some point in the final two minutes. The Crusaders’ close games mirror the league’s parity as a whole, as 24 of the first 66 league games have been decided by five or fewer points, with 24 others featuring a six-to-10 point margin of victory.
All About the Ratings: Valparaiso’s move to the Horizon League has proven to be a win-win for both parties in a number of rating systems so far this year. Valpo is currently 98th in the RPI, one of five HL squads among the nation’s top 106 teams, and the league is ranked 11th. In the Sagarin ratings, the Crusaders sit 99th, while the Horizon ranks tenth among the 31 Division I leagues.
Moving Up the Charts: A number of current Crusader players are moving up various career record charts this year. Senior guard Jarryd Loyd moved into a tie for seventh place on Valpo’s career assist chart last time out, and is just two helpers shy of the fifth position. Meanwhile, four Crusaders currently rank among Valpo’s all-time top-10 in 3-point field goal percentage. Two of those players, senior forward Shawn Huff and sophomore guard Samuel Haanpää, are neck-and-neck on the program’s career 3-pointers made list as well. Huff moved into 9th on that chart last time out with 136 career triples, while Haanpää currently has 131 3-pointers, 11th all-time at Valpo.
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 40.1% 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 ninth 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 42% of their attempts from downtown.
Defense to the Forefront: Valparaiso’s defense carried the team to its victory over UIC on Jan. 24. The Crusaders held the Flames scoreless for the first 7:27 of the second half and allowed them to hit just one of their first 20 shots of the half. UIC ended up connecting on just 17.1% (6-of-35) of its shots in the final 20 minutes and scored just 16 second-half points, Valpo’s second-best defensive half of the season.
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.
Half of Dominance: Valparaiso put together one of its most dominating halves of basketball in recent history against Indiana Wesleyan on Jan. 2. The Crusaders outscored the Wildcats by a 58-15 margin in the second half, hitting 61.3% of their shots for the half and allowing IWU to hit just 21.2%. Five different Valpo players had at least eight points in the second 20 minutes, and the Crusaders put together runs of 13-0, 10-0, 14-0 and 17-0 during the half.