The Matchup: Valparaiso begins Horizon League play on Tuesday evening with a meeting against preseason league favorite Cleveland State. The Crusaders will look to snap a three-game losing streak, while Cleveland State enters the contest on a three-game winning streak.
Last Time Out: Valparaiso fought back from a nine-point halftime deficit Monday, Nov. 24 against La Salle and sent the game to overtime on a free throw by Benjamin Fumey, but the Explorers never trailed in the extra session, downing the Crusaders 75-70 in both teams’ final game at the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam. The Crusaders never led after the half, but fought back multiple times from double-digit deficits before finally tying the contest in the waning seconds of regulation. The Explorers quickly controlled the overtime session, however, scoring six points on their first three possessions to pull ahead for good. De’Andre Haskins led the Crusaders in scoring for the second straight game, connecting on five of his six 3-point attempts en route to 20 points. Fumey poured in a career-best 17 points and also added seven rebounds. Urule Igbavboa chipped in nine points and a game-high nine rebounds.
Series History: Valpo is just 7-24 all-time against Cleveland State, including losses in all three of the teams’ meetings last year. The Vikings earned a 78-73 victory in the last meeting on March 8, 2008 in the Horizon League semifinals. Jarryd Loyd scored a career-best 25 points, including 18 in the game’s final 7:11, to help Valpo rally from a 15-point second-half deficit to briefly tie the game before the Vikings earned the win.
Following the Crusaders: Today’s game can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, a four-station entity carrying Crusader athletics all over Northwest Indiana. Originiating from WVUR, 95.1 FM in Valparaiso, the VSRN also includes WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso; and WWLO, 89.1 FM, Lowell. Veteran broadcaster Todd Ickow returns for his 18th season on play-by-play for the Crusaders, while WVUR’s David Schroeder will handle the color commentary. The audio is also available online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links for live stats and video.
Early Start to League Play: Beginning league play on December 2nd matches the earliest start to the league campaign in Crusader basketball history. Valpo previously started Mid-Con action on Dec. 2, 1999 at Oral Roberts. Nationally, the Valpo-Cleveland State tilt will be just the second Division I league game to be contested, as only UNC Asheville and Liberty of the Big South have played a conference contest to date.
Spreading Out the Scoring: The Crusaders have had a variety of different players contribute in the scoring column during the early stages of the season. Six different players are averaging between 7.8 and 11.0 points per game for Valpo. In addition, six players have also scored in double figures at least once in Valpo’s first five games, including four players (Buggs, Fumey, Haskins, Witt) who are in their first season on the court.
Mostly Underclassmen: In the first five games of this season, Valpo’s underclassmen, which comprise nine roster spots, have played 73.7% of the team’s minutes and scored 80.7% of the Crusaders’ points. Senior guard Brandon McPherson has not taken the court yet this year for the Crusaders as he recovers from injury, leaving just two upperclassmen, senior guard Jake Diebler and senior forward Urule Igbavboa, as part of the regular rotation. Also this year, two freshmen started the season opener, guards Erik Buggs and De’Andre Haskins, becoming the first true freshmen to start their first career game since Raitis Grafs on Nov. 21, 1999.
Postseason Trips: Valparaiso’s trip to the inaugural College Basketball Invitational last season was its first postseason berth since the 2003-2004 campaign and extended an impressive streak. 16 consecutive classes of Crusader basketball players have experienced at least one postseason tournament.
Drew Closing In on 600: In his 32nd season as a collegiate head coach and his 20th year at Valpo, Crusader head coach Homer Drew is just five wins shy of his 600th career win. Drew would become just the seventh active coach in Division I with at least 600 wins and just the 33rd coach in NCAA Division I history to reach the milestone.
Tabbed Seventh: The Crusader men’s basketball team has been picked to finish seventh in the Horizon League for the 2008-09 season, according to polling of the league’s head coaches, sports information directors and media members. Cleveland State has been tabbed the preseason favorite with 40 of the possible 49 first-place votes. Wright State was picked second with UIC third and Green Bay fourth. 2007-08 league champion Butler was selected fifth, while Milwaukee was picked just ahead of the Crusaders in sixth. Loyola, Detroit and Youngstown State rounded out the polling.
Which Line Are We Using?: The men’s college 3-point line has been moved back a foot this year, from the previous distance of 19’9” to the current distance of 20’9”. Many courts, such as the ARC, now have multiple 3-point lines on the hardwood, as the women’s 3-point distance remained the same, but the relevant line on the ARC court for the men’s games is the more distant, light brown line.
Haskins Provides Spark Off the Bench: Freshman guard De’Andre Haskins seems to have found a home coming off the bench for Valpo. After starting the first three games of the season, Haskins came off the bench against Iona, against which he scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds, and La Salle, pouring in 20 points, including five 3-pointers. Haskins currently leads the Crusaders in scoring with 11.0 points per game and led Valpo in scoring in each of its last two games.
Fumey Breaks Out: Sophomore forward Benjamin Fumey enjoyed a breakout game in Valpo’s finale at the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam, connecting on seven of his 11 shots off the bench for 17 points while also pulling down seven rebounds versus La Salle. Fumey is third on the team with 9.0 points per game and currently leads the Horizon League with a .606 field goal percentage.
Where’s the Masked Man?: Playing without his trademark mask this season, senior guard Jake Diebler has continued to play his trademark style of basketball in his final year. Diebler is currently second on the team with 12 assists and is tied for the team lead with eight steals. The senior, who finished second in the league in assist/turnover ratio last season, now has had an assist/turnover ratio of 1 or better in each of his last 26 and 40 of his last 41 games and currently holds a 2.4 assist/turnover ratio on the year.
Igbavboa Earns Preseason Honor: Valpo senior forward Urule Igbavboa was placed on the preseason All-Horizon League Second Team after his stellar junior campaign. The 6’8” Minnesota native led the Crusaders in rebounding (7.3 rpg) and field goal percentage (55.0%) last year, placing second and fourth, respectively, in the league in those categories while also contributing 11.0 ppg. Through five games, Igbavboa is averaging 8.2 ppg and 5.8 rebounds per game.
Little on the Boards: Crusader sophomore guard Howard Little is leading Valpo in rebounding through five games, averaging 6.0 boards per contest. A big part of his early-season rebounding prowess was his effort against Iona, a game in which he doubled his previous career high in the category, pulling down 14 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end.
B-Mac Recovering: Valpo senior guard Brandon McPherson is the only Crusader not to see playing time yet this season as he continues to recuperate from offseason surgery. McPherson averaged double figures in scoring for the second straight year last season, putting up 10.1 points per game, and currently ranks ninth in Valpo history in 3-point percentage and 17th in assists.