The Matchup: The postseason starts today for Valparaiso, as the Crusaders travel to Dayton, Ohio to take on the Wright State Raiders in the first round of the Horizon League Championship.
Series History: Wright State leads the all-time series with Valpo, 7-5, and while the Crusaders are 3-2 against the Raiders since joining the Horizon League, WSU has won both meetings this season, including a 68-58 win over the Crusaders in Dayton on February 5. Valpo led by six early in the second half of that contest, but the Raiders went on a 17-4 run to take the lead for good. 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 pulled down seven rebounds in just 14 minutes off the bench.
Last Time Out: Valparaiso men’s basketball seniors Jake Diebler and Urule Igbavboa went out winners at the Athletics-Recreation Center one last time on Saturday evening, as the Crusaders rallied from nine points down to defeat Youngstown State, 67-59. The Penguins pulled ahead 21-12 with 5:44 to go in the opening half, but the Crusaders rallied to within 24-20 at the break and eventually took the lead for good with 14:59 to play. Diebler posted six points and two assists in his home finale, including a triple which jump-started a key second-half run for Valpo. Igbavboa tallied 12 points and also added team-high totals of nine rebounds and six assists. Howard Little led a balanced Crusader attack with 13 points, while Michael Rogers and Cameron Witt joined Igbavboa with 12 points apiece.
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.
Horizon League Championship History: The Crusaders have just one year of league tournament play under their belts, but it was a memorable run last year. Valpo was the sixth seed in the tournament last year and defeated Green Bay in the first round of the tournament, 75-67. Valpo then advanced to Indianapolis, where it knocked off third-seeded Wright State 72-67 after trailing with under four minutes to play. The Crusaders followed the next night with a battle against second-seeded Cleveland State, rallying from double-digit deficits in both halves and tying the game with under three minutes to play before the Vikings pulled out a 78-73 win.
Spreading the Offense Around: The Crusaders’ last two wins have showcased a hallmark of this year’s team. Against Akron two Saturdays ago, Valpo placed six players in double figures in scoring, and most recently against Youngstown State, the Crusaders had five players in double figures, with nobody scoring more than 13 points. Seven different players are averaging at least five points per game for Valpo this year, while ten different players have scored in double figures at least once for the Crusaders.
Comeback Kids: Valpo’s win on Saturday marked the fourth time this season that the Crusaders have rallied from at least a nine-point deficit to come out with a victory. At Youngstown State on Dec. 4, Valpo trailed by 14 with five minutes to play in the first half, rallied to within three at the break and won by 11. Versus Milwaukee on Jan. 22, the Crusaders were down 12 with 7:43 to go in the opening half and came back to go up by three at halftime, eventually winning by 12. Against Akron two Saturdays ago, Valpo was down 18 late in the first half before rallying for an eight-point win.
Homer Reaches 600: Crusader head coach Homer Drew reached a rare milestone Feb. 13 with Valpo’s win over Loyola, winning as head coach for the 600th time in his career. Drew became the eighth current Division I head coach (at least five years DI experience) to reach the 600-win milestone, and is just the 32nd Division I coach all-time (at least ten years D1 experience) to reach the plateau. Drew is in his 32nd year as a collegiate coach and his 20th overall at Valparaiso. He earned 252 wins during an 11-year stint to open his head coaching career at Bethel [Ind.], won 17 games in one season at the helm of IU-South Bend, and has won 331 contests to date at Valpo.
A Home/Road Split: If the Crusaders are going to make a run in the Horizon League Championship, they will have to buck a season-long trend. Valpo finished the home season 8-6 at the ARC, the 16th straight year with at least eight home wins for the Crusaders. But Valpo was just 1-15 away from the ARC during the regular season, as the Crusader offense has been much more successful at home this year than when it steps away from the Athletics-Recreation Center. Valpo is scoring 67.5 ppg at home vs. 55.9 ppg away from home, and is shooting over five percent better both from the field and from behind the 3-point arc at home.
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 Earns All-League Honor: Senior forward Urule Igbavboa earned Second Team All-Horizon League accolades this year after a season in which he led the Crusaders in scoring (12.1 ppg) and rebounding (5.9 rpg). Igbavboa posted a typical line in the Crusader win Saturday over Youngstown State, going for 12 points and team-high totals on nine rebounds and six assists. In Horizon League games, the senior posted averages of 13.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, all of which ranked sixth among league players. He was the only player to rank among the top-ten in the league in league-only games in all three categories.
Rogers Shows Consistency: Sophomore guard Michael Rogers has been Valpo’s most consistent scoring threat recently, putting up double figures in each of the Crusaders’ last seven games. Last time out in the win over Youngstown State, Rogers posted 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting to go with eight rebounds. The sophomore, who is second on the team in scoring (9.8 ppg) and rebounding (4.9 rpg), has had two of the biggest games of his career against first-round opponent Wright State. On March 1 last year, he went for 21 points and 12 rebounds, and on January 10 this year, he posted 12 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.
Little Leads the Way: After an off night against Cleveland State on Thursday, sophomore guard Howard Little bounced back with a team-leading 13 points in the win over Youngstown State Saturday. It was the eighth time this year that Little, who is tied for second on the team in scoring (9.8 ppg), has paced the Crusaders in the scoring column. Little has been one of the league’s top threats from behind the arc this year, connecting on 42.4% of his 3-point attempts, good for fourth in the league.
Buggs is Back: After playing just 17 minutes combined in the Crusaders’ previous two games, freshman guard Erik Buggs played 20 huge minutes off the bench Saturday in Valpo’s win over Youngstown State. Buggs sparked the Crusader comeback with tenacious defense and ended the game with ten points, three assists and three steals. On the season, the freshman is tied for the team lead with 73 assists.
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.