The Matchup: Coming off of a big home win over Milwaukee on Thursday evening, the Crusaders welcome Green Bay to the ARC for a Horizon League contest Saturday. Valpo head coach Homer Drew will be gunning for his 600th career victory after reaching 599 with Thursday’s victory.
Series History: The Phoenix lead the all-time series with the Crusaders by a 20-14 count, but it was Valpo which emerged victorious in two of the three matchups last season, most recently winning in the first round of the Horizon League Championship, 75-67 on March 4, 2008 at the ARC. Five Crusaders finished in double figures in scoring, led by 16 points from Shawn Huff, while Urule Igbavboa posted 14 points and ten rebounds. Jake Diebler was named the U.S. Army Horizon League Player of the Game after going for 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
Last Time Out: Trailing by 11 with four minutes remaining in the first half, Valparaiso went on one of its biggest runs in recent history, scoring 26 consecutive points while holding Milwaukee scoreless over a 12-minute span, completely turning the tide of the game. The Crusaders would go on to a 63-51 victory over the Panthers Thursday evening at the Athletics-Recreation Center. Jake Diebler, who poured in a career-best 19 points, got plenty of help on the offensive end, as two other Crusaders finished in double figures. Erik Buggs, in his return to the lineup after missing two games due to injury, finished just two points off his career high, scoring 14 points. The 6’0” guard also ripped down a career-best seven rebounds. Howard Little added 11 points of his own and came up with a career-high five steals on the defensive end.
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. Live audio will also be available online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links for live stats and video.
Getting Healthy: Looking down his bench on Thursday, Crusader head coach Homer Drew had a veritable smorgasbord of options to choose from as compared to the previous weekend. Senior forward Urule Igbavboa and freshman guard Erik Buggs both made their return to the lineup against the Panthers, giving Valpo eight dressed scholarship players for the first time since Wright State on Jan. 10. The Crusaders played with just seven scholarship players last Thursday at UIC and had just six Saturday at Loyola.
Runnin’ On Full: Valpo utilized both its offense and defense to put together its 26-0 run spanning both halves on Thursday. The run started with 14 points in a span of 3:03 to close the first half, and the Crusaders proceeded to hold Milwaukee scoreless for the first 7:52 of the second stanza. All told, Valpo kept the Panthers off the scoreboard for 12:02, holding them to 0-of-15 shooting as well as seven turnovers during the run, while the Crusader offense connected on 10-of-18 attempts from the floor.
Filling Up the Box: The quality of the Crusader win Thursday can be seen in some of the game’s speciality statistics. Valpo set season bests against D-I opposition in points in the paint (34), fast break points (17) and second-chance points (16). In addition, the Valpo defense did its job in the paint, allowing Milwaukee just eight points within the confines of the lane.
No Drama Here: Very rarely this season have Valpo’s games gone down to the wire. Last year, 21 of the Crusaders’ 36 contests were decided by single digits, but so far this year, only two of their 20 games have been nine-point spreads or less. Valpo has not played a single-digit game since its 75-70 overtime loss to La Salle in the Virgin Islands.
Drew Nears Milestone: Crusader head coach Homer Drew is now just one win shy of 600 for his career after Valpo’s victory over Milwaukee on Thursday evening. Drew would become just the 33rd Division I head coach to reach the 600-win milestone.
National Audience Awaits Valpo: After appearing on national television seven times during the 2007-08 campaign, Valparaiso will make at least three nationally televised appearances during the 2008-09 season. On Dec. 20, Valpo was featured on ESPNU in a showdown with top-ranked North Carolina. The Crusaders’ contest at Purdue Dec. 28 was broadcast on the Big Ten Network, while their Jan. 30 league tilt at Butler will be carried on ESPNU.
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.
Iron Man to the Rescue: Senior guard Jake Diebler, who has started 87 straight games for the Crusaders, has not come off the floor in Valpo’s last two games and put together the best offensive performance of his career against Milwaukee. Diebler connected on five 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 19 points, surpassing his previous career high of 16. The senior is one of just six players in the Horizon League averaging at least two triples per league game and leads the way in 3-point percentage in league-only contests (52.8%).
Big Boards From Buggs: After sitting out the last two games due to injury, freshman guard Erik Buggs made a statement in his return to the Crusader lineup Thursday. Buggs hit 6-of-10 shots from the floor en route to 14 points, just two off of his career high. The 6’0” freshman also came up big on the glass, setting a new career best with seven rebounds, including two on the offensive end that he converted into second-chance baskets.
The Little Things: Sophomore guard Howard Little also got two offensive rebounds for putbacks Thursday, accounting of four of his 11 points, his third straight game with double figures in the scoring column. But the sophomore came up biggest on the defensive end against the Panthers, coming up with a Crusader season-high five steals.
Next Year’s Newcomers: Valparaiso will have six new players on the roster next year, four of whom are freshmen, one junior college transfer and one transfer. The six newcomers are:
- Ryan Broekhoff, a 6’6” guard from Frankston, Victoria, Australia. Broekhoff was named Australian Junior National Male Player of the Year earlier this year and was the MVP of the U20 Australian national championship.
- Chris Halvorsen, a 6’8” forward out of Henry Sibley [Minn.] H.S. Halvorsen helped lead the Warriors to a state championship appearance last year and was selected to the All-Tournament Team. He also has twice earned All-Conference honors.
- Beas Hamga, a 7’0” center who transferred to Valpo from UNLV. Hamga started classes in the spring semester, making him eligible to play at the end of the fall semester next year. The native of Cameroon was ranked 26th in the country in his high school class by Rivals.com, where he was rated a five-star recruit.
- Matt Kenney, a 6’3” guard out of Mooresville [Ind.] H.S. Kenney was an honorable mention All-State honoree last year, while also earning All-Indianapolis Metro West First Team accolades and All-Conference honors.
- Tommy Kurth, a 6’1” guard out of Penn [Ind.] H.S. Kurth was also an honorable mention All-State honoree last year and has been ranked as the #54 point guard in the Class of 2009 by ESPN.com. He has been among the top-25 scorers in the area the last two years.
- Brandon Wood, a 6’3” guard from Kokomo, Ind. Wood is playing this year at Highland [Ill.] C.C. after playing just six games last year at Southern Illinois. Wood took part in the Indiana North/South All-Star Classic following his senior year and is projected as the top incoming point guard in the Horizon League next year by Rivals.com.