Valparaiso (20-10, 13-4 Horizon)
Game #31: Friday, Feb. 24 - 6 p.m.
Butler (18-12, 11-6 Horizon)
Athletics-Recreation Center (5,000) - Valparaiso, Ind.
Next Up in Crusader Basketball: Having clinched the outright Horizon League regular season title, as well as the #1 seed and hosting rights for the upcoming Horizon League Championship, with a win this past Tuesday over Loyola, the Crusaders celebrate Senior Night Friday evening as they host a nationally-televised game against Butler on ESPNU at 6 p.m in their final regular season game of the 2011-2012 season.
Last Time Out: It took five minutes longer than Crusader fans might have liked, but in the end, the wait was worth it, as the Valparaiso men’s basketball team captured the 2011-2012 Horizon League Men’s Basketball regular season title on Tuesday evening with a 66-62 overtime victory over Loyola at the ARC. Ryan Broekhoff posted his 11th double-double of the year with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Will Bogan scored 16 points.
Following the Crusaders: Every game this season will be available on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, with Friday'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 20th season on play-by-play, while Keaton Gillogly will join him on color commentary Friday. The game will also be broadcast live on ESPNU, the third of four appearances for Valpo on ESPNU this season, with Jim Barbar and Dave Kaplan on the call. Links to the live audio webcast, as well as to live statistics and the Valpo Gameday interactive page, will also be available at www.valpoathletics.com.
Head Coach Bryce Drew: Bryce Drew made his head coaching debut at Arizona on Nov. 7, as he was named the 21st head coach in the history of the Valparaiso men’s basketball program on May 17, 2011. Just the fourth new head coach to grace the Crusader sidelines in the last 31 years, Drew had spent the last six seasons as a member of the Crusader coaching staff before earning the head position. He famously hit the game-winning shot against Ole Miss for Valpo in the first round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament to cap an illustrious Crusader career, before going on to a seven-year professional career, six of which were spent in the NBA.
Series Notes: Valpo’s most common opponent all-time, Butler holds a sizable 67-34 lead in the all-time series against the Crusaders, including a 7-2 mark since Valpo joined the Horizon League. But the Crusaders own a slight 25-24 advantage on their home court, and in fact have won the last two meetings between the two squads, including most recently a 77-71 overtime win on Dec. 3, 2011 at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Richie Edwards came off the bench to lead five Crusaders in double figures in that contest with 18 points.
The Road Ahead: Valpo will have eight days off before its next game, a Horizon League Championship semifinal against the remaining team from the 4/5/8/9 seeds. That game will be at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 3 live on ESPNU.
Scouting Butler: The Bulldogs enter Friday night’s contest at 18-12 overall and 11-6 in Horizon League play. Butler is in second place in the league standings (pending the results of Thursday’s games) and is smack in the middle of a fight for the #2 seed and the corresponding double-bye in the league tournament. The Bulldogs most recently defeated UIC on Tuesday evening, 69-44. Butler scores just 63.5 points per game, but allows just 61 points a contest as well. Andrew Smith is the only Bulldog who averages in double figures, posting 10.6 ppg to go with 5.2 rebounds per game, while Khyle Marshall contributes 9.3 points per game.
Senior Night: Friday marks the final regular season home game in the careers of two Valparaiso seniors, two walk-ons who arrived at this point from totally different paths. Nick Shelton joined the Crusader men’s basketball program right out of high school as a walk-on and has spent the last four years pouring his heart and soul into Valpo basketball, giving selflessly of himself for the benefit of the team. Shelton scored his first career basket as a sophomore in his home state, at Michigan State, and earned his first career start earlier this season in Valpo’s win over IU Kokomo. Meanwhile, Nathan Stegelmann wasn’t even a member of the Crusader squad at the beginning of the season, joining the team during the 2K Sports Classic to help provide depth in practice and on the bench. Stegelmann debuted against IU Kokomo with 11 points, six rebounds and a Valpo season-high four blocked shots, and has remained on the roster throughout the season.
Regular Season Champions: Valpo’s 66-62 overtime victory over Loyola on Tuesday assured the Crusaders they would be outright Horizon League regular season champions. Valpo won the outright title, which comes with one more game remaining tonight, in just its fifth season as a Horizon League member and assures the Crusaders of the #1 seed in the upcoming Horizon League Championship, which will be held at the ARC. It also guarantees that Valpo will go to the postseason for the 11th time in the last 17 years, as all NCAA Division I conference regular season champions are assured of at least a berth in the NIT.
It’s Been a While: While the Valpo men’s basketball program has a legacy of championships, it’s been a few years since the Crusaders have been able to celebrate a title. Valpo’s last regular season championship came in the 2003-2004 season, when the Crusaders defeated Chicago State in the regular season finale to claim the outright Mid-Continent Conference title. That regular season title also ended a stretch of nine regular season Mid-Con titles in ten years.
20 x 12: The Crusaders’ victory over Loyola also assured Valpo of winning at least 20 games for the second consecutive year, a milestone which the program has now reached in 12 of the last 19 seasons. Homer Drew led Valpo to ten 20+ win campaigns, while Scott Drew and Bryce Drew have now both guided the Crusaders to at least 20 victories in their seasons as head coach.
The League Tournament: Winning on Tuesday means that Valpo has also earned the privilege of hosting the 2012 Horizon League Men’s Basketball Championship. Games at the ARC begin on Friday with a pair of second-round matchups at 5:00 and 7:30 p.m. on HLN. Saturday’s semifinals will also be at 5:00 and 7:30 p.m., with the Crusaders taking the court in the latter matchup live on ESPNU. The 5 p.m. semifinal will be tape-delayed on ESPNU following the second semi. With a win in the semifinals, Valpo would then host the title game on Tuesday, March 6 at 8 p.m., live on ESPN.
Honoring The 1961-1962 Squad: During halftime of Friday evening’s game, the 1961-1962 Valparaiso men’s basketball team will be honored. The 61-62 squad was the first team in program history to advance to the NCAA postseason, eventually making the national quarterfinals. The 1961-1962 Crusaders, led by head coach Paul Meadows, finished the regular season with a 15-7 record before being invited to the NCAA College Division Basketball Championship (now the NCAA Division II Tournament). Valpo defeated Kentucky State in the first round of the tournament, 75-61, and then beat Concordia (Ill.) by a 75-72 score to advance to the final eight, where it eventually fell to Sacramento State, 62-54.
Finishing Close Games: One reason the Crusaders have been able to clinch the league’s regular season title with one game remaining on the slate has been their ability to win the tight games. Valpo owns an 8-2 overall record this season in games decided by five or fewer points. Within Horizon League play, the Crusaders are 7-1 in games decided by either five or fewer points or in overtime, and in fact have won their last six such games, including Tuesday’s clincher over Loyola.
Proficiency Inside the Arc: Valparaiso’s success shooting from 2-point range has carried over into the 2011-2012 season. Last season, the Crusaders finished the year hitting 55.3% of their 2-point attempts, good for third nationally. So far this year, Valpo has connected at nearly the exact same rate from inside, knocking down 54.8% of its tries from inside the arc, good for sixth nationally. In fact, of Valpo’s seven rotation players who have been playing the entire season, six are hitting at least half of their 2-point attempts.
Home Court Advantage: With 15 regular season home games slated for the ARC this year and at least one more postseason game at home, Valparaiso has plenty of opportunities to utilize its home court advantage. With the win over Loyola on Tuesday, the Crusaders are now 12-2 at home this year and now own a 258-112 (.697) all-time record at the ARC, including a 205-47 (.813) mark over the last 18-plus years at home. The Crusaders are also guaranteed to finish well above .500 at home, which will mark the 19th consecutive season with at least a .500 record on their home court.
Connecting From Deep: Over their last six Horizon League games, the Crusaders have been red-hot from behind the 3-point line. Valpo is hitting at a 46% clip from deep over the last six league contests, led by Ryan Broekhoff, who is 19-of-32 over that stretch. The Crusaders have also averaged nearly 10 3-pointers a game over the last six league games, have reached double figures in triples four times and shot better than 50% from deep on three occasions.
Valpo Tabbed Fifth in Preseason Poll: Valparaiso was picked to finish in fifth place in the Horizon League preseason poll conducted of the league’s coaches, sports information directors, and media members. The Crusaders tallied 255 points in the polling. Preseason league favorite Butler received 28 of the 50 first-place votes, while Detroit was picked second and received 19 first-place votes. Cleveland State (2 first-place votes) and Milwaukee (1 first-place vote) were chosen third and fourth ahead of the Crusaders, while Green Bay was just behind Valpo in sixth position. Youngstown State, Wright State, Loyola and UIC rounded out the polling in order.
A Look Back at 2010-2011: Valparaiso is coming off of its tenth postseason appearance in the last 16 seasons, having earned a berth into the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) last season. The Crusaders won 23 total games in 2010-2011, their greatest number of victories since the 2001-2002 season. Valpo also went 12-6 in Horizon League, posting its best record in league play since entering the HL and finishing just one game out of a share of the regular season title.
High-Scoring Coaching Staff: Valparaiso boasts the third-highest scoring coaching staff in Division I basketball, as judged by points scored by the core four coaches at the Division I level. Head coach Bryce Drew scored 2,142 points at Valpo, while assistant coach Jake Diebler scored 826 points as a Crusader. Assistant coach Roger Powell Jr. added 1,178 points during his time at Illinois. Valpo’s total of 4,146 Division I points trails just Tennessee and Auburn.
Shots From the Heart: Both Valpo head coach Bryce Drew and assistant coach Roger Powell Jr. participated in the 2nd Annual Shots From the Heart Tournament, in benefit of the Skip Prosser Foundation. The tournament was started last year to help create more awareness for the growing problem of heart disease, and consists of two 64-coach fields (one bracket of head coaches and one bracket of assistant coaches) participating in a free throw shooting contest. Drew was eliminated in the second round, while Powell fell in the third round.
A Lonely Banner: Each year’s senior class has banners hung inside the ARC during their senior season, but this season, there is just one men’s basketball banner hanging from the rafters. Walk-on guard Nick Shelton started the season as the lone member of this year’s senior class, as fellow senior walk-on Nathan Stegelmann was added to the roster in mid-November.
Calling All Captains: With no scholarship seniors on this year’s squad, Valpo looks to a trio of juniors to lead the way as the captains for the 2011-2012 team. Ryan Broekhoff, Erik Buggs and Matt Kenney will share the captaincy this season.
Short Bench: Finally, the Crusaders have available to them all 10 scholarship athletes who are eligible. Other than the Dec. 17 game against Oakland, Valpo had not been able to use the full contingent of 10. Prior to that point, Ben Boggs had to sit out the first semester after transferring in from Virginia Tech, while Tommy Kurth had missed nine games due to illness. The Crusaders are also without scholarship players Bobby Capobianco, who must sit out the entire season after transferring to Valpo from Indiana, and Vashil Fernandez, who will be sitting out this season.
A Set Rotation: Head coach Bryce Drew seems to have settled into a regular eight-man rotation as the Crusaders head down the homestretch. Other than the disqualification of Richie Edwards after just four minutes at Milwaukee and an injury to Kevin Van Wijk at Cleveland State which forced him to miss the YSU and LMU games, over the last 14 games, all eight regulars have played at least 10 minutes in every game, while over the same stretch, only twice (Broekhoff at Wright State and against Loyola) has any Crusader been asked to play more than 35 minutes. Even though Tuesday’s contest against the Ramblers went to overtime, only Broekhoff (41 minutes) reached the 35-minute threshold, as six players played at least 26 minutes apiece, while all eight saw at least 14 minutes of action.
Onward and Upward: Junior Ryan Broekhoff came up big in the regular season clincher on Tuesday, posting his league-best 11th double-double of the year with 17 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Loyola. Broekhoff, who surpassed the 1,000-point milestone two games back at LMU, has started to move up the Crusaders’ career charts in a number of categories, as he ranks tenth all-time at Valpo with 68 career blocked shots, seventh in 3-pointers made with 164 career triples, and 15th in Crusader history in career rebounds with 563 caroms. The junior also maintains a chance to lead the Horizon League in both scoring and rebounding, as he ranks third (15.1 ppg) and first (8.4 rpg) in the respective categories.
Bogan Comes Up Big: Redshirt junior Will Bogan bookended the Crusaders’ win over Loyola on Tuesday with big shots on both sides, ending the night with 16 points. The junior hit a pair of 3-pointers to get Valpo out to an early 8-0 lead, and then with the Crusaders up just one point with under two minutes to play in overtime, hit shots on two consecutive possessions to push the advantage to four points. The Ole Miss transfer went 4-for-8 from behind the arc against the Ramblers, his 11th game this season with at least three 3-pointers, and is now connecting at a 42% clip from behind the 3-point line, good for third in the league.
Edwards Steps Up His Game: While junior Richie Edwards scored just five points last time out against Loyola, he had a six-game stretch prior to Tuesday’s game that was as good as any six-game span by any Crusader this season. Edwards started his hot stretch with back-to-back 16-point efforts three weekends ago against Detroit and Wright State before going on the road and scoring 20 points at Cleveland State and 19 at Youngstown State. He then paced the Crusaders in both their contests last week, scoring 19 points in a key Horizon League win over UIC before tallying 17 points in the Crusaders’ BracketBusters loss at Loyola Marymount. The junior college transfer is now averaging 9.6 ppg on the season and has pushed his average up to 10.0 ppg in Horizon League play. Over the six consecutive games, Edwards averaged 17.8 ppg on 58.6% (34-of-58) shooting from the floor and was 11-of-20 (55%) from behind the 3-point line.
Van Wijk Returns: Junior Kevin Van Wijk returned to the Crusader starting lineup Tuesday against Loyola, contributing 12 points in 32 minutes of action on 6-of-10 shooting. The most accurate shooter in the Horizon League at 61.5%, a number which ranks eighth nationally, Van Wijk returned after missing the Loyola Marymount trip in order to rest and rehab his knee, injured at Cleveland State on Feb. 9. The junior also missed the Youngstown State game on Feb. 11 and played in the UIC game on Feb. 14. Van Wijk has had just four games this season (discounting his limited action at CSU) in which he has not hit at least half his shots from the floor, and is averaging 14.3 ppg, good for seventh in the league.