Valpo Kicks Off HL Home Slate With New Year's Eve Contest
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Valpo Kicks Off HL Home Slate With New Year's Eve Contest
Matt Kenney boasts a team-best 4.14 assist/turnover ratio on the season. (Sabrina Short)

Milwaukee at Valparaiso - Thursday, December 30, 2009 - 7:05 p.m.

The Matchup: Valparaiso returns home to the ARC for just its fourth home game of the 2009-2010 campaign as the Crusaders hit the heart of Horizon League play with a New Year’s Eve matchup against Milwaukee Thursday night. 

Last Time Out: Valparaiso trailed by just nine with the ball in the early stages of the second half Sunday afternoon at Akron, but the Zips scored the next 14 points to take control as the Crusaders fell by a 77-57 count.  Brandon Wood led the Crusaders with 18 points, while Cory Johnson added 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting.  Wood also paced Valpo in the rebounding department with five boards and the Crusaders connected on 45% of their shots from the floor.

Series History: Valpo owns a 9-7 edge in the all-time series over the Panthers and the two squads have split four meetings since the Crusaders joined the Horizon League.  In the most recent meeting, Valpo put up a monster 26-0 run spanning both halves to erase an 11-point deficit and went on to a 63-51 victory at the ARC on Jan. 22, 2009.  By the time Milwaukee’s Deonte Roberts connected on a pair of free throws with 12:08 to play, the Panthers had gone 12:02 without scoring a point and Valpo went from trailing by double digits to leading by double digits.  During the 26-0 run, the Crusaders went 10-of-18 from the floor, while their defense held Milwaukee to 0-of-15 shooting as well as seven turnovers, including five straight at one point in the second half.   Jake Diebler posted a career-high 19 points, including five 3-pointers, while the Crusaders held the Panthers to 29.4% shooting from the field.

Following the Crusaders:  As always, Tuesday’s game can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network (WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso; WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; WLPR, 89.1 FM, Merrillville).  Veteran broadcaster Todd Ickow returns for his 19th season on play-by-play for the Crusaders, while Valpo alumnus Andy Viano will handle the color commentary.  The game can also be seen liveonline on the Horizon League Network.  Links for the VSRN audio and HLN Video, as well as live statistics, can be found at

Good to Be Home Again: Valpo will look to continue their home dominance tonight in only its fourth home game of the season.  The Crusaders have cruised to double-digit victories over IU-South Bend, Toledo and Concordia (Wis.) in each of their first three home outings this year, extending their home winning streak to four games.  With this year’s three wins, Valpo has improved to 173-37 (.824) at the ARC over the past 17 seasons, a stretch in which it has finished above .500 at home every year.

Knocking Down Shots: Starting with their game against Arkansas-Fort Smith, the Crusaders have been on a relatively hot stretch shooting the basketball.  While Valpo connected on just 45% (18-of-40) of its shots from the field last time out at Akron, it has hit at least half its shots from the floor in five of its last seven games after reaching the 50% mark in just two of its first six games.  With their recent success hitting from the field, the Crusaders now lead the Horizon League in field goal percentage at .474.

Multiple-Threat Offense: The Crusader offense, which leads the Horizon League with an average of 74.0 points/game, features three players averaging at least 11.4 PPG, and four times this season Valpo has had two of those three guys score 20 or more in the same game.  Brandon Wood, who leads the league with 20.3 PPG, went for 25 in the season opener at Ball State and was joined by Cory Johnson, who is fourth in the league in scoring at 15.9 PPG, with 21 points.  Wood then dropped 30 on #6/4 North Carolina while Brandon McPherson, averaging 11.4 PPG, scored 20 as well versus the Tar Heels.  Most recently, Wood tallied 21 points and Johnson 20 against Concordia, and the duo went for 23 and 22 points, respectively, at IPFW.

The Tough Slate: Valparaiso heads into the heart of Horizon League play having played one of the nation’s most difficult schedules.  The Crusaders have faced off against four teams ranked in the nation’s top-25, three of which were picked to win their league (North Carolina, Michigan State, Butler) and one picked to finish second (Purdue).    In addition, Akron was picked to win the MAC and Troy was selected second in their division of the Sun Belt.  Making it more difficult was the fact Valpo played all six of the above foes away from home, taking on five on their home courts and one at a neutral site.  The Crusaders’ strength of schedule is currently rated 28th among the nation’s 347 Division I schools according to the Sagarin ratings.

Division I Scoring Record: Since Valparaiso made its move to the Division I ranks in the late 1970’s, the Crusaders have had a number of players who could fill up the scoring column.  Names like Lubos Barton, David Redmon, Casey Schmidt, Tracy Gipson, Raitis Grafs, Dan Oppland and of course Bryce Drew reside atop the Crusaders’ career points and points per game charts.  None of them, however, have scored as many points in a single game as Brandon Wood did Nov. 27 at Georgia Southern.  Wood connected on 13-of-18 from the floor, including three 3-pointers, and 10-of-12 from the foul line to score a Valpo Division I record 39 points, also setting a new Legends Classic single-game scoring mark.

Tri-Captains: Head coach Homer Drew has appointed a trio of Crusaders to serve as captains for the 2009-2010 season.  Fifth-year senior Brandon McPherson, redshirt-junior Cory Johnson and junior Howard Little will represent the Crusaders in that capacity this year.  For McPherson, it is the fourth straight season he has been tabbed a captain.

Wood Scores in Bunches...: Redshirt sophomore guard Brandon Wood has proven to be among the most prolific scorers the Crusaders have seen in their D-I history, scoring 30 or more points twice already to join Bryce Drew and Dan Oppland as the only players in the last 15 years to score 30 multiple times in a career.  Wood, who currently paces the Horizon League with 20.3 points/game and also ranks fifth in the league in field goal percentage, also has reached at least 20 points on five other occasions, and last time out paced Valpo with 18 points at Akron.

...and Fills Up the Stat Sheet: But the sophomore has showcased his ability to do more than just score recently.  Wood has been a force on the boards the past five games, ripping down at least five rebounds in each of the last five outings and averaging 6.2 rebounds/game over that stretch to increase his season average to 4.8 rebounds/game, second on the team.  Wood also registered a pair of six-assist games in victories over Toledo and Concordia.

Johnson Works Down Low:
Redshirt junior Cory Johnson has been a consistent force in the paint so far for the Crusaders, pacing Valpo on the glass in eight games and reaching double figures in scoring on 12 occasions.  Most recently, Johnson went 4-for-6 from the floor and 3-for-4 from the charity stripe en route to 11 points at Akron, his 11th straight game in double figures.  On the year, Johnson ranks second in the league in field goal percentage (.588), fifth in scoring (15.9 PPG) and fifth in rebounding (6.4 RPG).

If It Goes Up, It Goes In:
Redshirt junior forward Cory Johnson has been on an extended hot streak from the floor over Valpo’s last seven games.  In that time, the redshirt junior has connected on 48-of-69 (.696) shots from the floor while averaging 17.4 PPG.  In fact, Johnson has hit at a .667 or better clip from the field in six of those seven games, the only outlier being a 3-of-7 performance at Purdue.  On the year, he has connected on at least 60% of his field goal attempts in seven games.

Kenney Handles the Ball: Freshman guard Matt Kenney has been superb this year at handling the basketball.  Kenney has dished out 29 assists through 13 games while committing just seven turnovers, an assist/turnover ratio of 4.14.  His ratio is the second-best nationally among all players averaging at least two assists/game, trailing only Duke’s Jon Scheyer.  In fact, over the last seven games, the freshman has handed out 17 assists and only totaled two turnovers.  Kenney is one of three freshman guards pacing Valpo in assist/turnover ratio, as Tommy Kurth is second on the squad at 1.90 and Ryan Broekhoff third at 1.75.

Quickly: The Crusaders continue to lead the league in assists (15.5 APG) despite having just nine helpers at IPFW and five assists at Akron ... it has been a total team effort in the assist column though, as Brandon McPherson leads the team with just 2.6 APG on the season, which ranks just 14th in the league ... the Crusaders were also held to season lows for points (57) and steals (4) last time out at Akron ... three different Crusaders (McPherson, Wood, Broekhoff) are connecting on at least 42% of their 3-point attempts on the season and all rank among the top-11 in the Horizon League in the category.