Valparaiso (4-2, 0-0 Horizon)
Game #7: Thursday, Dec. 2 - 7 p.m.
at UIC (4-3, 0-0 Horizon)
UIC Pavilion (8,000) - Chicago, Ill.
Next Up in Crusader Basketball: Valparaiso continues a five-game stretch away from home and opens up Horizon League play Thursday evening as the Crusaders make the short trip to the Windy City to face UIC.
Last Time Out: The Crusaders captured the Upper Division Championship of the 2010 iBN Sports Las Vegas Invitational by defeating Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 68-62. Valpo led for the final 18 minutes of Saturday afternoon’s game and hit all eight of its free throw attempts in the final two minutes to hold off the Islanders. Howard Little represented the Crusaders on the All-Tournament Team.
Following the Crusaders: Every game this season will be available on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, with Thursday's game broadcast live on WAKE (1500 AM, Valparaiso), WEFM (95.9 FM, Michigan City) and WJOB (1230 AM, Hammond). Todd Ickow is back for his 19th season on play-by-play, while Adam Amin will handle the color commentary Thursday. The live audio will also be available at www.valpoathletics.com, with live stats and live video through the Horizon League Network available on the official Crusader website as well. The game will also be broadcast live on Comcast SportsNet Chicago.
Head Coach Homer Drew: One of only a handful of coaches at the Division I level coaching on a floor named in his honor, head coach Homer Drew is the seventh-winningest active coach in D-I men’s basketball. Drew enters Thursday’s game with a 352-295 record in 21 seasons at the helm of the Crusader program and a 621-417 record in 32 years overall as a head coach.
Series Notes: UIC leads the all-time series against the Crusaders, 29-12, and owns a 16-2 advantage as the home team in the series. But Valpo earned one of its two road wins in the series last year and is 3-3 overall against the Flames since joining the Horizon League, including an 83-82 win at the ARC in their last meeting on Feb. 8. Ryan Broekhoff and Brandon Wood paced the Crusaders with 18 points apiece in that victory, a game in which Valpo shot 55.6% from the floor and knocked down 10 3-pointers.
The Road Ahead: The Crusaders close their five-game stretch away from the ARC on Saturday afternoon with another trip into Chicago to take on Loyola in Horizon League action. Valpo then returns home for one of the most anticipated home games in recent history as the Crusaders host Purdue Tuesday night on ESPNU.
Scouting UIC: Under first-year head coach Howard Moore, the Flames are 4-3 so far this season, including a 74-68 neutral-site victory over Rhode Island. UIC boasts three starters in double figures, led by 17.6 ppg from Robo Kreps. Minnesota transfer Paul Carter is averaging 15.1 ppg and 8.1 rpg, the latter mark good for third in the Horizon League.
Bringing Home the Hardware: Valparaiso captured the Upper Division Championship at the Las Vegas Invitational with victories over Northern Colorado and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi last weekend. It marked the first time the Crusaders had won all of their games at a tournament site since November of 2007, when Valpo defeated Maryland Eastern Shore and Austin Peay on South Padre Island at the SPI Invitational.
Coming From Behind: Two of Valpo’s three games last week saw it erase double-digit deficits in relatively short order. At Ohio, the Crusaders trailed 31-16 with 4:11 to go in the first half before going on a 16-0 run to go into the half up a point. Then, against Northern Colorado, Valpo trailed by as many as 12 in the first half and by 10 with 4:08 to go in the opening period before going on an 18-6 run over the next 6:12 to take the lead.
Second-Half Shooters: Through six games this year, the Crusaders are averaging nearly eight points more per game in the second half of play as compared to the first half (43.2-35.5). Valpo is shooting over 14% better from the floor in the final 20 minutes (.550-.407) and over 20% better from behind the 3-point arc (.406-.197).
Hitting From the Stripe: This year’s Valpo squad has been solid at the free throw line so far, as the Crusaders rank second in the Horizon League, hitting at a 73.1% clip from the stripe. Four different players are hitting at least 87% of their freebies as well. In Las Vegas over the weekend, the Crusaders were a perfect 14-of-14 over the final three minutes of their two victories, and overall were 47-of-57 (82.5%) in the two wins.
A Big Victory: Valpo easily handled Purdue North Central Nov. 18, limiting the Panthers to just 44 points in a 98-44 victory. The 54-point margin of victory ties for the sixth-highest differential in program history, matching the winning margin in a 66-12 win against Chicago Tech back in the 1920-1921 season.
Offensive Explosion...: The Crusaders lit up the scoreboard throughout their season opener against IU Northwest, scoring 59 first-half points and adding 52 second-half points. A short-range flip up and in by Cory Johnson with 5:49 to play put Valpo over the century mark as it utilized the third digit on the scoreboard for the first time since a 105-73 win over Longwood on Jan. 7, 2006. The 111 points matched the most the Crusaders have scored in the last 15 seasons as well.
Followed By Struggles: But Valpo’s second game of the year, at #7/6 Kansas, wasn’t quite so smooth on the offensive end. The Crusaders’ 27.4% field goal percentage was their worst performance from the floor in at least a decade, while their two 3-pointers was the lowest since hitting just two treys against UMES Nov. 23, 2007. The 44 points was Valpo’s lowest offensive output since Dec. 2, 2008 at Cleveland State (42).
Offense Leads the Way: This year’s Crusader squad is leading the Horizon League in scoring offense (78.7 ppg) and field goal percentage (.476), no surprise given how much firepower returned from the league’s top offensive team a year ago. Valpo paced the league last season with 73.2 points per game and also ranked atop the league charts in field goal percentage (.467) and 3-pointers made per game (7.7). The Crusaders ranked among the nation’s top-50 teams in the latter two categories, as well as assists/game (15.0).
Valpo Tabbed Fourth in Preseason Poll: Valparaiso was picked to finish in fourth place in the Horizon League preseason poll conducted of the league’s coaches, sports information directors, and media members. The Crusaders tallied 312 points in the polling. Butler, the reigning national runner-up and last season's regular season and tournament champions, was a unanimous selection atop the league standings. Detroit edged out Cleveland State as the second pick, while Milwaukee and Wright State were picked fifth and sixth, respectively. Green Bay, Loyola, UIC and Youngstown State rounded out the polling.
A Look Back at 2009-2010: Valparaiso improved throughout the 2009-2010 season, closing the year with 15 wins. The Crusaders went 10-8 in league play, finishing in a tie for fourth place in the Horizon League regular season standings. It marked the second time in Valpo’s first three seasons as a Horizon League institution that it had finished in the top half of the standings.
A Lot of Production Returns: Having lost just one regular and three players in all from last year’s squad, Valparaiso returns the vast majority of its production from last season. The 10 letterwinners, including four starters, who return for the Crusaders in 2010-2011 comprised 82.8% of the team’s scoring and 91.2% of the team’s rebounding from a year ago.
Wood Named Preseason First Team All-League: Redshirt junior guard Brandon Wood was one of five players named to the preseason Horizon League First Team All-League squad as announced in mid-October. Wood, the league’s Newcomer of the Year and a Second Team All-League honoree in 2009-2010, led the circuit in scoring at 17.7 ppg a year ago, while his 565 total points tied for ninth-most in a single season in Valpo history. Also an NABC All-District 12 Second Team choice, he ranked among the league's best as well in 3-pointers per game (1.8, 6th) and free throw percentage (.813, 7th).
Johnson a Second Team Honoree: Fifth-year senior forward Cory Johnson also earned a spot on the preseason All-League Second Team after receiving Second Team and All-Newcomer Team honors last year in his first year with the Crusaders. Johnson averaged 15.6 ppg and 5.8 rpg a year ago, good for fourth and eighth among Horizon League players, respectively. He connected at a 55.6% clip from the floor, second-best in the league and 20th nationally, and hit better than half of his three-point attempts as well.
Oh Captain My Captain: The Crusaders will have a pair of captains for the 2010-2011 season. Cory Johnson and Howard Little will serve in the role, each for the second straight year.
Sun, Fun and Basketball: This year’s Crusader squad got the chance to bond as a team with a preseason foreign trip to Cancun in August, the first time Valpo has taken advantage of the chance to take a preseason trip. The Crusaders got 10 days of practice in Valpo before taking off for Cancun with all 13 players, including newcomers Jay Harris and Kevin Van Wijk. While down in Cancun, Valpo won all four games, including a come-from-behind 102-84 win over Pioneros de Quintana Roo, which finished third in the 20-team LNBP last year.
Early League Play: This weekend marks the fourth straight season that an early December weekend has kicked off Horizon League play for the Crusaders, with the results being a mixed bag through three years. In 2007-2008, Valpo swept a road trip at Wright State and Detroit, while in 2008-2009, the Crusaders lost at Cleveland State before winning at Youngstown State. Last year, Valpo dropped a decision at travel partner Butler to kick off league play.
Doing the Little Things: Senior guard Howard Little was named to the Las Vegas Invitational All-Tournament Team for his performances in a pair of Crusader victories in Vegas. Little drained all four of his second-half 3-point attempts en route to a team-best 18 points in the comeback win over Northern Colorado. He then closed tournament play with a 13-point, eight-rebound, three-steal effort in Valpo’s victory over Texas A&M-CC.
Now Boarding: Despite being just 6'3", Little has been one of the Crusaders' best rebounders during his four-year career and has showcased that again in the early going this season. Most recently, Little pulled down eight rebounds, including four offensive, in the win over the Islanders and now is averaging a team-best 5.5 rpg. Of his 33 total rebounds through six games, 19 of them have come on the offensive end, placing Little third in the Horizon League in offensive rebounding.
Broekhoff Shines Offensively: Sophomore Ryan Broekhoff had already had a pair of big offensive performances early this season, but posted his most impressive game to date last Tuesday night at Ohio. Broekhoff went for a career-best 24 points, hitting 9-of-13 shots from the floor, including 3-of-4 from behind the arc. The sophomore followed by connecting on all four of his second-half 3-point attempts in the win over Northern Colorado en route to 15 points. He currently is second on the team in both scoring (13.7 ppg) and rebounding (5.0 rpg) and leads the team with nine blocked shots.
Injuries Can’t Hold Him Down: Johnson has battled through injuries all season long for the Crusaders to provide a post presence on both ends of the court. Last week, he posted a season-high 19 points at Ohio and then, after being limited to just nine points in 14 minutes due to foul trouble and injury against Northern Colorado, rebounded with 18 points and five boards in the win over Texas A&M-CC. Johnson is currently averaging a team-high 14.6 ppg on the season while shooting at a 52.9% clip from the floor.
Wood Distributes the Ball: Redshirt junior guard Brandon Wood became known for his scoring prowess in his first season as a Crusader, leading the Horizon League in scoring at 17.7 ppg. While he is still among the team’s leading scorers, averaging 12.5 ppg through six games, it is his ability to set up other players that has stood out so far this year. Wood tied his career high for the second straight game with seven assists against Ohio last Tuesday, and enters this week averaging 5.2 apg to lead the league.
Lending a Helping Hand: Led by Wood’s proficiency in distributing the basketball, Valpo is averaging a league-high 17.3 assists per game so far this year, among the top-30 squads nationally. Four other Crusaders are averaging at least 2.0 apg and all five have positive assist/turnover ratios, while as a team, Valpo’s 1.41 assist/turnover ratio also leads the league and ranks 21st in the nation.
Rookie Cool Under Pressure: Freshman Jay Harris showed a senior’s poise when sent to the foul line in Las Vegas. Harris connected on a perfect 6-of-6 from the charity stripe in the win over Northern Colorado, four of which came as the Crusaders secured the lead for good in the second half. He then replicated the feat against Texas A&M-CC, knocking down all six of his attempts in the final two minutes to help Valpo fend off the Islanders. On the year, Harris is now 16-of-18 (.889) from the foul line.
Crusaders Ink Edwards to NLI: Valparaiso men’s basketball head coach Homer Drew announced Nov. 13 that Richie Edwards of Hillsborough [Fla.] C.C. has signed a National Letter of Intent during the early signing period and will join the Crusader program for the 2011-2012 campaign. Edwards, who will have two seasons of eligibility left when he joins the Crusaders, was a First Team All-Conference selection for the Hawks as a freshman, averaging better than 16 points and seven rebounds per game. A product of Lakeland H.S., he was named the Lakeland Ledger Player of the Year as a high school senior, leading his squad to the regional finals while posting 17.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest.
Quickly: The Crusaders forced 39 turnovers while committing just 24 in their two games in Vegas ... Little and redshirt sophomore Erik Buggs each nabbed four of Valpo’s 18 total team steals in the two Las Vegas games ... sophomore Matt Kenney matched his season high with 11 points off the bench against Northern Colorado ... the Crusaders have used the same starting lineup in five of their first six games, the only change coming against PNC, when Van Wijk started in place of an injured Johnson ... Valpo announced on Nov. 18 that Tommy Kurth would be sitting out the season in anticipation of applying for a Medical Hardship Waiver at the year’s conclusion due to injury.