ValpoAthletics.com
Crusaders Prepare For National TV Appearance in BracketBusters Game
The Crusaders take on Missouri State Saturday afternoon. (Laura Jacobsen)
The Crusaders take on Missouri State Saturday afternoon. (Laura Jacobsen)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

#-/RV Valparaiso (19-8, 11-4 Horizon)
Game #28: Saturday, Feb. 19 - 4 p.m.
Missouri State (21-6, 13-3 Missouri Valley)
Athletics-Recreation Center (5,000) - Valparaiso, Ind.
 
Next Up in Crusader Basketball: Valparaiso steps out of league play for the final time in the regular season, hosting Missouri State Saturday afternoon live on ESPN2 as part of the Sears BracketBusters event.  The Crusaders, who own a 10-2 home record this year, are in search of their 20th win of the season.

Last Time Out: In a see-saw battle Wednesday evening that saw both teams claim double-digit leads at one point, Valparaiso had a pair of point-blank attempts for the go-ahead basket roll around and out in the final ten seconds as Milwaukee eventually claimed a 79-76 win over the Crusaders in Milwaukee, Wis.  Brandon Wood led the Crusaders with 23 points, while Ryan Broekhoff added 21, including 16 in the first half.

Following the Crusaders: Every game this season will be available on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, with Saturday's game broadcast live on WAKE (1500 AM, Valparaiso) and WEFM (95.9 FM, Michigan City).  Todd Ickow is back for his 19th season on play-by-play, while Adam Amin will handle the color commentary Saturday.  The game will be telecast live on ESPN2, one of six BracketBuster showdowns slated for the network, with Dave O’Brien on play-by-play and Dick Vitale on color commentary.  The live audio will also be available at www.valpoathletics.com, as well as live stats.

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 Sunday's game with a 367-301 record in 21 seasons at the helm of the Crusader program and a 636-423 record in 32 years overall as a head coach.

Series Notes: Former conference foes in the old AMCU-8, Valparaiso and Missouri State are meeting for the 18th time on the hardwood, but for the first time in 21 years.  The Bears own a 14-3 edge in the all-time series and are 7-1 all-time in Valpo.

The Road Ahead: The regular season closes with three games in the final week of play for the Crusaders.  Valpo makes a quick trip up to Green Bay for a Monday night game before closing the season at the ARC next weekend, hosting Loyola on Thursday and UIC on Saturday.

Scouting Missouri State: The Bears enter Saturday’s game atop the Missouri Valley Conference, with a 13-3 mark in league play and a 21-6 record overall and on a four-game winning streak.  Kyle Weems, four times the MVC Player of the Week, leads Missouri State with 16.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, while Will Creekmore scores 11.7 ppg and Jermaine Mallett adds 11.1 ppg.

BracketBuster Matchup: The Crusaders learned late last month that they had earned another national TV appearance as part of the Sears BracketBusters event, as Valpo will host Missouri State live on ESPN2 at 4 p.m. on Saturday.  This marks the second time the Crusaders have made a national TV appearance for the BracketBusters game, joining the 2007-2008 squad which hosted Miami (Ohio) on ESPN Classic.  On the call of Saturday’s game will be Dave O’Brien (PBP) and Dick Vitale (color commentary).

All-Time in the BracketBusters: This marks the seventh straight year that Valpo has participated in the BracketBusters series, with the Crusaders owning a 3-3 mark in their six previous games.  The split is based entirely on site, as Valpo has won all three home games at the ARC (Niagara, 2006; Miami (Ohio), 2008; Akron, 2009) and lost all three road games (Butler, 2005; Western Michigan, 2007; Bowling Green, 2010).

On the Worldwide Leader: Saturday marks the Crusaders’ 11th appearance on the ESPN family of networks over the last four seasons, and is the third time in that time span that ESPN2 has carried a game live from the ARC (2/5/08 - Butler; 3/1/08 - Wright State).  Earlier this season, Valpo hosted Purdue on ESPNU from the ARC, while the Crusaders have also made three appearances this year in games broadcast exclusively on ESPN3.com.

Tight Horizon League Race: While Saturday’s game is a step away from the Horizon League race, the chase for the top spot coming down the stretch is as tight as its ever been.  The Crusaders are currently tied in the loss column with Cleveland State and sit a half-game back of the Vikings, with Milwaukee and Butler both a half-game back of Valpo.  The top seed has home court advantage throughout the tournament, while the top two seeds earn a double-bye into the semifinals.

National Poll Watch:
For the first time in almost nine years, the Crusaders are receiving votes in one of the two major national polls.  Valpo picked up four points in this week’s edition of the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll to be listed among the others receiving votes for the third consecutive week.  Valpo last made an appearance in one of the national polls in March of 2002, accumulating five points in the last poll prior to the NCAA Tournament that year.

Earning League Wins: With three more Horizon League games remaining, the Crusaders have already assured themselves of their best season in league play.  Valpo has now won 11 Horizon League contests this year, surpassing the 10 they won a season ago.

Just Win, Baby, Win: Valpo has already accumulated 19 wins this season, the second-most by a Crusader squad in the last eight years.  Only the 2007-2008 team, which won 22 games, has won more in that time frame.  With just one more victory, Valpo would win 20 games for the tenth time under head coach Homer Drew.

Winning With Defense: Valpo has improved its defensive efficiency from 109.4 points per 100 possessions (304th nationally) a year ago to 96.1/100 possessions (77th nationally) this year, a big key to their 19 wins so far this year.  Eight times this year, the Crusaders have held a D-I opponent to 60 points or fewer, while they are 15-1 on the season when holding their opposition under 70 points.

How Improved It Is: Last year, the Crusaders surrendered a league-worst 74.3 points per game and gave up 71.8 ppg in league play only, which ranked ninth among the ten Horizon League squads.  So far this year, it has been a 180 in terms of the defensive output, as Valpo is giving up just 66.4 ppg overall.  The defense has been even better in league play so far, as the Crusaders have allowed just 65.8 ppg against league foes, third-best in the league.

Getting Back on Track: While the Crusader defense has been the backbone of the team this season, the numbers have slipped a bit recently.  After giving up more than a point per possession just twice in an 11-game stretch Dec. 18-Jan. 23, a stretch in which they went 9-2, Valpo has surrendered more than a point per possession in four of the last six games.  The offense has stepped up as well recently, though, posting more than a point per possession in four of those games as well.

A Look at RPI: The Crusaders enter this weekend as one of three Horizon League teams in the top-60 in the nation in RPI.  According to the latest figures from RealTimeRPI.com, Valpo sits at #54 heading into the Missouri State game, joining Cleveland State (#34) and Butler (#44) among the nation's best.

Who Needs Rally Caps?: Valparaiso has flipped a number of games in its favor this season after trailing by double digits.  In fact, the Crusaders are .500 this year in games where they have trailed by 10 or more points at any juncture, going 6-6 in such contests, while on the flip side, they are 16-3 in games where they have led by 10 or more points.  In addition, Valpo has overcome nine-point deficits in a pair of games in the last three weeks as well.

Sharp Shooters From Inside: Valpo has cemented itself as one of the best shooting teams in the nation this year, entering this weekend tied for 16th nationally with a .479 field goal percentage.  The Crusaders have been especially proficient inside the arc, hitting at a .558 clip from two-point range, good for fourth nationally.  Valpo has hit at least half of their two-point attempts in 14 of its last 17 games.  Among Valpo’s nine-man rotation, seven players are hitting at least 50% from inside the arc this season.

Stop, Thief!: The Crusaders lead the league and rank 34th nationally with an average of 8.3 steals/game this season, and have proven very consistent as pickpockets throughout the year.  In 26 of 27 games, Valpo has tallied at least six steals, with the only exception being when the Crusaders registered just four at Kansas.  Valpo’s streak of 25 straight games with at least six steals currently leads the nation, while the Crusaders have stepped it up recently as well, tallying double-digit thefts in four of their last seven contests.

Working Extra Time: Two of Valpo’s last four league wins (Butler, @YSU) has required an overtime session to decide, moving the Crusaders’ record to 3-0 in league play and 3-1 overall this season when playing extra time.  Valpo’s four overtime games this year are the most in a single season by a Crusader squad since the 1992-1993 team played eight overtime games, tied for the NCAA single-season record.

4 Wins x 3: Valpo’s win over Detroit Jan. 16 gave the Crusaders their third four-game winning streak of the 2010-2011 campaign, something that has not happened for Valpo since the 2001-2002 season.  That year’s Crusader squad won seven straight between November and December, captured nine straight wins in the heart of Mid-Con play and then won five consecutive games entering the NCAA Tournament.

10 Wins Before the New Year: The Crusaders’ win over Ball State Dec. 28 assured Valpo of heading into the 2011 calendar year with a 10-4 record, matching a program record for most wins prior to January 1.  The 2001-2002 team also posted a 10-4 mark prior to New Year’s Day 2002, while the 2007-2008 Crusaders went 10-3 in the 2007 portion of the schedule.

103-102: The antithesis of most of the Crusaders’ games this season was the 103-102 win in regulation at Oakland Dec. 21 to capture the Lou Henson Award Tournament.  Some notes regarding that high-scoring victory can be found on page six of this release.

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.

Crusaders Match Attendance Record: Valparaiso has sold out a pair of games this year - its Dec. 7 game against Purdue and Jan. 29 against Butler - and matched the ARC all-time attendance record in both contests.  The attendance of 5,432 for both games tied the mark set on Feb. 5, 2008 when the Crusaders welcomed a sellout crowd for a top-10 Butler squad.

Breaking Out the New Gear: The Crusaders unveiled their new uniform design Dec. 7 against Purdue, and also debuted gray uniforms in the nationally-televised contest.  The grays will serve as alternate uniforms, mainly for use on special occasions, while Valpo will continue to wear white jerseys at home and gold uniforms on the road.

Valpo Tabbed Fourth in Preseason Poll: Valparaiso was picked to finish in fourth place in the Horizon League preseason poll, tallying 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.

Pair of Crusaders on Preseason All-League Squads: Valpo was represented by a pair of players on the Horizon League’s preseason All-League teams.  Redshirt junior Brandon Wood was named to the First Team, while fifth-year senior Cory Johnson earned a spot on the Second Team.

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.

Players of the Week: Valparaiso has claimed three Player of the Week honors from the Horizon League already this season.  Brandon Wood earned the Crusaders’ first honor of the year, sharing Player of the Week accolades after he averaged 28.0 ppg en route to All-Tournament honors at the Lou Henson Award Tournament.  Cory Johnson was tabbed as the league’s Player of the Week Jan. 10 after averaging 23.0 ppg in two league victories for the Crusaders, while Wood was again honored the next week after tallying 21.5 ppg in a pair of league road wins.

Wood Leads the Way:
Redshirt junior guard Brandon Wood has scored in double figures in 19 of his 25 games this season and ranks fourth in the league, averaging 16.3 points per game.  Last time out, the junior totaled a team-best 23 points at Milwaukee, including four 3-pointers, the fifth time this year he’s hit a quartet of trifectas..  Wood has contributed all over the place for Valpo this season, currently leading the team in scoring, assists (3.4 apg) and steals (1.8 spg) and ranking third in rebounding (4.4 rpg).  The junior finds himself among the league leaders in a number of categories outside scoring as well, ranking second in steals and seventh in assists.

In Search of 1,000: Despite being just 57 games into his Crusader career, Wood enters Saturday night’s game with 972 career points, just 28 shy of his 1,000th career point at Valpo.  Wood will become the 30th player in program history to reach the 1K milestone.

Little Quietly Produces: Senior Howard Little has quietly been a solid presence on both ends of the floor for the Crusaders recently, scoring nine or more points in each of Valpo’s last nine contests.  Last Saturday, he stepped up in a big way, leading the Crusaders with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting in their two-point win over Wright State.  Then, at Milwaukee on Wednesday, he scored in double figures for the 14th time this year, going 6-of-10 from the floor for 14 points.  The senior, who averages 9.9 points and a team-best 5.0 rebounds per game, continues to rank among the league’s most accurate shooters, currently ranking third with a .544 field goal percentage, and hits at a .636 clip inside the arc.

Broekhoff Bombs Away: Sophomore Ryan Broekhoff has been huge from behind the arc for the Crusaders recently, going 21-of-37 from 3-point range in Valpo's last seven games.  After missing his first two last time out, the sophomore nailed four in a row to help the Crusaders overcome a double-digit deficit and gain a halftime lead at Milwaukee.  Broekhoff closed the game against the Panthers with 21 points, the second-highest output of his career.  He currently ranks third on the team in scoring (10.7 ppg), second in rebounding (4.8 rpg) and leads the way in blocks (1.2 bpg).  From behind the arc this year, he has hit at a .486 clip, a mark which has improved to .548 in Horizon League play.

Johnson In the Post: While fifth-year senior Cory Johnson scored a Valpo-career low four points last time out at Milwaukee, he reamins a potent threat in the post for the Crusaders.  Johnson ranks second on the team and ninth in the league, averaging 14.5 ppg on the year, including a team-high 20 double-digit efforts.  He also ranks ninth in the league with a .495 field goal percentage and connects at a .575 clip from inside the arc.

Cracking the Career Charts:
A number of Crusaders have already cracked Valpo’s career charts in different categories or are on pace to do so very soon.  Little surpassed Raitis Grafs at Milwaukee for eighth place all-time in steals and, with 143 career steals, is now just seven thefts shy of Jamie Sykes in seventh place.  Little also is now tied for fourth in career games played (125) and continues to be on pace to surpass the program record of 129, barring injury.  Broekhoff’s career 3-point percentage of .427 is already fifth-best in Valpo history.  Wood and Johnson both have accumulated 50+ games played for their careers, allowing them to be ranked ninth (17.1 ppg) and 11th (15.1 ppg) on the scoring average chart.  Johnson also ranks fifth in career field goal percentage, shooting at a .527 clip.

Quickly:
Valpo suffered its first loss of the season when out-rebounding an opponent (33-28) and when out-shooting an opponent (.527-.519) Wednesday at Milwaukee ... in fact, the game against the Panthers was the first time Valpo’s result had deviated from the better-shooting team this year (now 19-1 when shooting better, 0-7 when shooting worse) ... the Crusaders dropped 20 fast-break points on the Panthers Wednesday, the second time in their last three games they’ve scored at least 20 on the break.