The Matchup: Valparaiso looks to break a two-game losing streak Thursday evening as the Crusaders hit the road for the first time in the last two and a half weeks, traveling to Green Bay to take on the Phoenix. It will be the Crusaders’ first game at Green Bay since the 1998-99 campaign. Thursday’s matchup is the 33rd all-time meeting between the two squads after the rivalry was renewed this year when Valpo joined the Horizon League, with the Phoenix holding a 19-13 advantage.
Last Meeting: In a back-and-forth affair that featured eight ties and 15 lead changes, it was Valparaiso which closed out the game with a flurry, as the Crusaders put together a 16-4 run over the final 4:30 to rally for the victory over Green Bay Jan. 12 at the ARC, 82-73. The Phoenix earned its largest lead of the game at five points with 6:24 to play and still led by three with 4:39 remaining before Valpo composed its game-ending run. Samuel Haanpää led Valpo with 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting, scoring 17 in the first 6:30 of the ballgame. Shawn Huff added 18 points, including 16 in the second half, while Urule Igbavboa chipped in 14 points of his own.
Last Time Out: In front of a school-record 5,432 fans at the Athletics-Recreation Center and a nationwide audience on ESPN2, Valparaiso led #10/11 Butler for most of Tuesday night’s game. But the Bulldogs got a 3-pointer from Pete Campbell with 15 seconds remaining to go ahead, and would eventually win by a 71-68 count. The Crusaders jumped out to a quick 12-0 lead in front of the capacity crowd, and led or was tied for the first 39:45 of the ballgame. Jarryd Loyd put Valpo ahead by three with a triple with 37 seconds left, but Butler came down and converted a layup, followed by Campbell’s 3-pointer to give it the lead for good. Loyd led three Crusaders in double figures with 16 points, and also paced the team with three assists. Brandon McPherson added 14 points, while Urule Igbavboa chipped in 11 of his own. Shawn Huff tied for game-high honors with eight rebounds.
On the Air: Tonight’s game, like every game this season, can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, a four-station entity carrying Crusader athletics all over Northwest Indiana, and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics. Originating from WVUR, 95.1 FM in Valparaiso, the Valpo Sports Radio Network also includes WEFM, 95.9 FM in Michigan City; WAKE, 1500 AM in Valparaiso; and WWLO, 89.1 FM in Lowell. Veteran broadcaster Todd Ickow returns for his 17th season on play-by-play, while WVUR’s Adam Amin will handle the color commentary.
Road Warriors: The Crusaders own just a 4-5 road record on the year, but that record is somewhat decieving, as four of those losses have come to teams currently in the nation’s top-25. Valpo is 3-2 in Horizon League road action so far, one of just three league teams at or above .500 on the road in league play. The three league road victories for the Crusaders also match the team’s most in the last three seasons, with four road games remaining.
Crusaders Go Bracket Busting: Valparaiso earned a televised contest for the first time in its four years as a part of the O’Reilly ESPNU BracketBusters pool of teams, getting paired against Miami (Ohio) for a game at the ARC on February 23. Game time and network will be determined on Monday, February 11. The Crusaders had previously drawn Butler, Niagara and Western Michigan in their first three years as a part of the BracketBusters pool.
National Exposure: The BracketBusters contest will mark the fourth time this year that a Valpo men’s basketball game has been nationally broadcast. The Crusaders’ contest at Wisconsin in December was shown on the Big Ten Network, while their game at North Carolina was broadcast on Fox Sports Net. Most recently, Tuesday’s matchup at the ARC against Butler was part of ESPN’s Rivalry Week on ESPN2, the first time that ESPN had shown a game from the ARC on one of its networks in 10 years.
Close Games the Norm: Tuesday night’s game was nothing out of the ordinary in terms of the game’s closeness for Valpo, as it was its eighth consecutive league contest decided by single digits. The Crusaders have not had a game determined by 10 or more points since Jan. 2, and nine of their 10 league contests have been single-digit decisions. The Crusaders’ close games mirror the league’s parity as a whole, as 16 of the first 48 league games have been decided by five or fewer points, with 20 others featuring a six-to-10 point margin of victory.
Bringing Experience With Them: The Crusaders made the step up to the Horizon League with a core group of experienced players. Valpo returns eight of 11 players who took the court last season, including each of its top seven scorers. 93.6% of last year’s scoring, 86.6% of last year’s rebounding and 90.4% of last year’s minutes played are back for the 2007-08 campaign, the highest returning percentage in each category among Horizon League squads.
Best Start: Nine conference championships. Seven NCAA Tournament appearances. A magical run to the Sweet 16. 302 wins. These are just some of the accomplishments that Crusader head coach Homer Drew and his players had piled up during Drew’s first 18 seasons at the helm of the Valpo men’s basketball program. But none of Drew’s teams had accomplished what this year’s squad did: winning ten of the season’s first 11 games. The previous best start under Drew came from the 1996-1997 team, which started 9-2 in its first 11 contests.
All About the Ratings: Valparaiso’s move to the Horizon League has proven to be a win-win for both parties in a number of rating systems so far this year. Valpo is currently 89th in the RPI, one of four HL squads in the top-100 nationally, and the league is ranked tenth. In the Sagarin ratings, the Crusaders sit 89th, while the Horizon ranks tenth among the 31 Division I leagues.
Beating the Buzzer: The fans at the ARC are starting to become accustomed to buzzer-beating shots at the end of the first half. Jan. 12 against Green Bay, it was Shawn Huff knocking down a 15-footer at the buzzer to cut the Crusaders’ halftime deficit to one point. Jarryd Loyd followed on Jan. 24 with a half-court heave that fell through as the clock read 0:00, bringing Valpo back to within seven points at the break against UIC.
Moving Up the Charts: A number of current Crusader players are moving up various career record charts this year. Senior guard Jarryd Loyd moved into eighth place on Valpo’s career assist chart at Youngstown State, and now has 350 career helpers. Meanwhile, sophomore guard Samuel Haanpää moved into a tie for tenth place on Valpo’s career 3-point field goals chart against Loyola, knocking down his 128th triple to tie him with Jim Ford. Senior forward Shawn Huff is knocking on the door of the top-10 in the same category, as he has connected on 127 career 3-pointers.
Shooting From 19’9”: Valparaiso has proven to be one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting teams so far this season. The Crusaders are connecting on 40.1% of their attempts from behind the arc, 22nd best among the 341 Division I teams. The team average of 9.3 made 3-pointers per game is good for 12th nationally as well. It’s not just one player that has been a threat for Valpo from behind the arc either, as the team’s top four 3-point shooters are all averaging better than one make per game and are all connecting on at least 43% of their attempts from downtown.
Defense to the Forefront: Valparaiso’s defense carried the team to its victory over UIC on Jan. 24. The Crusaders held the Flames scoreless for the first 7:27 of the second half and allowed them to hit just one of their first 20 shots of the half. UIC ended up connecting on just 17.1% (6-of-35) of its shots in the final 20 minutes and scored just 16 second-half points, Valpo’s second-best defensive half of the season.
Handling the Basketball: The Crusaders got a shot at the basket on almost every possession Jan. 12 against Green Bay, dishing out 17 assists and committing just five turnovers. Valpo point guards Jarryd Loyd and Brandon McPherson combined for 11 assists and did not commit a turnover. For Valpo, it was the fewest number of turnovers in a game since it committed just five miscues Dec. 9, 1991 against Notre Dame.
Haanpää’s Magical Night: Sophomore guard Samuel Haanpää enjoyed one of the best performances in Crusader history Dec. 15 against Chicago State, breaking current associate head coach Bryce Drew’s team record for 3-pointers in a game. Haanpää knocked down 10 triples in the contest, needing just 11 attempts. He also set a new career high with 32 points in the 90-61 victory.
Half of Dominance: Valparaiso put together one of its most dominating halves of basketball in recent history against Indiana Wesleyan on Jan. 2. The Crusaders outscored the Wildcats by a 58-15 margin in the second half, hitting 61.3% of their shots for the half and allowing IWU to hit just 21.2%. Five different Valpo players had at least eight points in the second 20 minutes, and the Crusaders put together runs of 13-0, 10-0, 14-0 and 17-0 during the half.