The Matchup: Valparaiso concludes its three-game road swing Saturday afternoon with a matinee showdown at Detroit. The Crusaders sit just one game outside of sixth place in the league standings, which is the last spot that grants a home league tournament game.
Series History: Valparaiso has swept all three meetings with Detroit since the Crusaders joined the Horizon League last year, but the Titans still hold an 8-6 edge in the all-time series. Earlier this year at the ARC, Valpo held Detroit scoreless for a near-ten minute stretch in the first half and allowed the Titans to hit just 14 field goals for the game en route to an easy 64-41 victory. Senior guard Jake Diebler got the Crusader offense going in the first half while the defense was shutting Detroit down, scoring all of his game-high 15 points in the opening stanza. Senior forward Urule Igbavboa, who was held scoreless in the first half, picked up the slack in the second period, going for 14 points over the final 20 minutes, including his 1,000th career point.
Last Time Out: Valparaiso took a six-point lead just over one minute into the second half Thursday evening in Dayton, Ohio, but Wright State responded with a 17-4 run to take the lead for good, going on to a 68-58 victory over the Crusaders. Urule Igbavboa led the Crusaders with 21 points and 14 rebounds, his second double-double of the campaign. Howard Little added 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting before fouling out with 5:58 to play. Erik Buggs chipped in eight points and a team-best four assists, while De’Andre Haskins matched a career-high with seven rebounds in just 14 minutes off the bench.
Following the Crusaders: Today’s game can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, a three-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; and WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso. 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 through the Horizon League Network.
Showing Improvement: Valparaiso has concluded its season series against three opponents already this year and has shown improvement in the scoring margin against all three after making strides in the scoring margin against just three of nine league opponents last season. The Crusaders have already improved by 26 points against Milwaukee from the first to the second meeting, improved by five points against Butler between the two games against the nationally-ranked Bulldogs and most recently gained six points on Wright State.
Facing a Tough Slate: The Crusaders have taken on one of the toughest schedules in the country as measured by a pair of rating systems. The Sagarin ratings, as published in USA Today, rank Valpo’s schedule as the nation’s 12th-toughest to date. Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, as published at kenpom.com, come to a similar conclusion, ranking the Crusader slate 15th to date, including 11 games against teams ranked in the top-100. Pomeroy also rates the defenses that Valpo has faced cumulatively as the fourth-toughest nationally.
Back to the Dramatics: Two of Valpo’s last three league games (losses vs. Green Bay and at Butler) have been decided by single digits, a rare sight this year for Crusader fans. Prior to the Green Bay contest, this year’s Valpo team had only had two games decided by nine points or fewer, and both such affairs (San Diego, La Salle) occurred within a four-day span in the Virgin Islands. This lack of close contests comes off the heels of last season, when 21 of the Crusaders’ 36 matchups were decided by single digits.
A Difficult Task: Valparaiso has found winning away from the friendly confines of the Athletics-Recreation Center a challenge this season. The Crusaders own a 5-4 record at the ARC, but are just 1-13 in road/neutral games, with the only victory coming back on Dec. 4 at Youngstown State.
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 Jan. 22. Drew would become just the 33rd Division I head coach to reach the 600-win milestone.
National Audience Watches Valpo: After appearing on national television seven times during the 2007-08 campaign, Valparaiso has made three national TV appearances this year. Valpo was featured in a showdown with top-ranked North Carolina on ESPNU on Dec. 20. The Crusaders’ contest at Purdue Dec. 28 was broadcast on the Big Ten Network, while their game last Friday evening at Butler was shown live on ESPNU as well.
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.
Igbavboa Doubles Up: Senior forward Urule Igbavboa posted his second double-double of the season last time out, going for 21 points and 14 rebounds at Wright State. This came off the heels of the Butler game, where the senior became the first Valpo player in over a decade to lead the Crusaders outright in points, rebounds, assists and blocked shots in the same game. The team leader in scoring (11.8 ppg) and rebounding (5.7 rpg), Igbavboa moved into ninth on Valpo’s all-time rebounding chart last game and now has 656 career caroms. He is also just five points shy of Valpo’s all-time top-20 in scoring.
200 and Counting...: Senior guard Jake Diebler, who has started 90 straight games for the Crusaders, has not come off the floor in Valpo’s last five games. Diebler has had two of the most productive offensive games of his career during that stretch, as he put up a career-best 19 in the win over Milwaukee and scored another 17 against Green Bay. The senior, who knocked down five 3-pointers in both contests, currently is third in the league in 3-point percentage in league-only games (.473) and is fifth overall in the category (.381).
Little Continues Hitting Buckets: Sophomore guard Howard Little reached double figures in scoring for the fifth time in the last six games on Thursday at Wright State. Little connected on 6-of-9 shot attempts en route to 14 points, and is averaging 14.3 ppg over Valpo’s last six outings. The team’s second-leading scorer (9.3 ppg) and rebounder (4.9 rpg), he has hit at a .413 clip from behind the arc this season, good for fourth in the Horizon League.
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.