The Matchup: Valparaiso heads to the Second City on Monday evening for a matchup against the Flames of UIC. The key Horizon League meeting for both teams comes as the Crusaders look to snap a season-worst three-game losing streak and fight their way back into a top-six seed for the Horizon League Tournament. Valpo beat UIC earlier this season in the two squads’ first matchup in 10 years, improving the Crusaders’ all-time mark against the Flames to 10-26.
Last Meeting: Senior guard Jarryd Loyd beat the buzzer to end the first half with a half-court shot that cut UIC’s lead over Valparaiso to 40-33 at the break, and the Crusader defense took over in the second half, holding the Flames to just 16 second-half points as Valpo claimed the 60-56 victory Jan. 24 at the Athletics-Recreation Center. The Crusaders held UIC without a field goal for the first 7:27 of the second half and just one field goal in the half’s opening 12 minutes. Valpo’s offense slowly brought the team back into the game, finally erasing the seven-point halftime deficit with a Samuel Haanpää triple with 10:48 remaining to put the Crusaders up 44-42, and Valpo would not trail again. Haanpää paced the Crusader offensive effort with 15 points, hitting on five of his six 3-point attempts. Loyd added 13 points and a team-best four assists.
Last Time Out: Brandon McPherson nailed five triples in the first half on his way to matching his season-high with 20 points, but it was not enough, as Green Bay defeated Valparaiso in overtime, 76-71, Thursday night in Green Bay, Wis. The Crusaders’ ninth triple of the game, off the hands of Shawn Huff less than two minutes into the second half, put them ahead 40-24 with 18:28 to play. But Green Bay would score 26 of the game’s next 36 points to tie it up with 10 minutes left in regulation, and it was tight the rest of the way. Ryan Tillema eventually knocked down a 3-pointer for the Phoenix with two minutes left in overtime to give GB the lead for good. Huff added 14 points and Loyd 10 to go along with four assists. Igbavboa scored nine points and matched a career best with 15 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. It can also be seen throughout Chicagoland on Lakeshore Public Television.
Road Warriors: The Crusaders own just a 4-6 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 3-3 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: Fans who have seen Valpo’s Horizon League games this year have been almost guaranteed a battle down to the wire. 10 of the Crusaders’ 11 league contests have been decided by single digits, while eight of the 11 games have been within one possession at some point in the final two minutes. The Crusaders’ close games mirror the league’s parity as a whole, as 24 of the first 63 league games have been decided by five or fewer points, with 23 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 96th in the RPI, one of five HL squads among the nation’s top 103 teams, and the league is ranked 11th. In the Sagarin ratings, the Crusaders sit 91st, 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 354 career helpers. Meanwhile, four Crusaders currently rank among Valpo’s all-time top-10 in 3-point field goal percentage. Two of those players, senior forward Shawn Huff and sophomore guard Samuel Haanpää, are neck-and-neck on the program’s career 3-pointers made list as well. Huff currently ranks 10th on that chart with 131 career triples, while Haanpää is one 3-pointer behind Huff.
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 40.4% of their attempts from behind the arc, 22nd best among the 341 Division I teams. The team average of 9.4 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 42% 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.