Valpo Ready For Detroit in HL Quarterfinal
The Crusaders take on Detroit Friday evening. (William Liu)
Valpo Ready For Detroit in HL Quarterfinal
Thursday, March 03, 2011
Valparaiso (22-10, 12-6 Horizon)
Game #33: Friday, Mar. 4 - 7:30 p.m.
vs. Detroit (17-15, 10-8 Horizon)
at U.S. Cellular Arena (10,783) - Milwaukee, Wis.

Next Up in Crusader Basketball: Valparaiso makes the trip north to Milwaukee for the quarterfinal round of the 2011 Horizon League Men’s Basketball Championship, as the fourth-seeded Crusaders face off against fifth-seeded Detroit Friday evening.

Last Time Out:
After trailing by double figures early, fourth-seeded Valparaiso built as much as a 19-point second half lead and then held off a rally by ninth-seeded Youngstown State, eventually earning an 80-71 win in first round action of the 2011 Horizon League Men’s Basketball Championship Tuesday evening at the ARC.  Brandon Wood picked up his first career double-double to lead the Crusaders, tallying 20 points and a career-best 13 rebounds.

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) and WEFM (95.9 FM, Michigan City).  Todd Ickow is back for his 19th season on play-by-play, while Aaron Leavitt will handle the color commentary Friday and Adam Amin will report live from the sidelines.  The live audio will also be available at www.valpoathletics.com, as well as live video through the Horizon League Network and live stats.  Live video of the game will also be available on ESPN3.com.

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 ranks sixth in career victories among active coaches in D-I men’s basketball.  Drew enters Friday's game with a 370-303 record in 21 seasons at the helm of the Crusader program and a 639-425 record in 32 years overall as a head coach.

Series Notes: Valpo owns a narrow 8-7 edge in the all-time series over Detroit, but has held a significant advantage since joining the Horizon League, going 6-3 against the Titans over the last four seasons.  Included in those six wins are a pair of victories this season: 78-68 in Detroit on Jan. 16 and 82-74 in Valpo on Feb. 10.  Brandon Wood scored a team-high 17 in the first matchup and duplicated his point total in the second win, while Cory Johnson paced the Crusaders with 19 points in their home victory.

The Road Ahead: With a win on Friday, the Crusaders would take on top-seeded Milwaukee in the second semifinal on Saturday night.  A win in that contest would place Valpo in the championship game on Tuesday evening at a site to be determined.

Scouting Detroit: The Titans enter Friday night’s game at 17-15 overall and finished league play at 10-8 to earn the fifth seed in the tournament.  Detroit, which beat Loyola 90-69 in the opening round, boasts maybe the league’s most balanced offense, as five different players average in double figures, led by 13.7 ppg from Chase Simon.

Crusaders All-Time in the HL Championship: With Tuesday’s win over Youngstown State, the Crusaders now own a 3-3 record in their fourth season in the Horizon League in the league’s postseason tournament.  Valpo has played two neutral-site games all-time in tournament, both in 2007-2008, when as the sixth seed, it defeated #3 Wright State in Indianapolis (72-67) before falling to #2 Cleveland State (78-73).  The Crusaders’ only tournament meeting with Detroit came last year in the first round, when the Titans won 89-82.

Best League Finish:
Valparaiso concluded the 2010-2011 Horizon League regular season at 12-6, its best finish in league action since making the move prior to the 2007-2008 season.  The Crusaders’ fourth seed for the league championship also marks their best seed for the league’s postseason tournament.  

Finishing Near the Top: Valpo also finished just one game back of a three-way tie atop the league standings, the closest its been to the top spot since winning the Mid-Con title in 2003-2004.  The Crusaders were also the only squad in the league to have beaten all three of the teams that tied for the title.

Easy as 1-2-3: While the old coaches adage is that it is tough to beat a team three times in one year, Valpo head coach Homer Drew has had no such difficulties throughout his time with the Crusaders.  With its win over Youngstown State on Tuesday, Valpo is now 15-2 under Drew when facing a team in postseason action that it defeated twice in the regular season.  The Crusaders beat Detroit in both regular season matchups this year.  A full list of such games can be found on page three of these notes.

20 Wins, 10 Times: The Crusaders’ Feb. 19 win over Missouri State gave Valpo its 20th win of the season, the tenth time the Crusaders have reached the 20-win milestone under Homer Drew.  However, it marks just the second time in the last eight years that Valpo has won at least 20 games, joining the 2007-2008 squad which came out ahead on 22 occasions.

Winning With Defense
: Valpo has improved its defensive efficiency from 109.4 points per 100 possessions (304th nationally) a year ago to 97.8/100 possessions (97th nationally) this year, a big key to their 22 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 17-2 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 67.1 ppg overall and just 66.7 ppg in league action.

Higher Numbers on Both Sides:
If it seems like the Crusaders’ scores on both sides of the scoreboard have been higher lately, it’s because they have been.  Over the season’s first 21 games, Valpo scored 72.2 ppg and surrendered just 64.4 ppg.  But over the last 11 games, the Crusaders have averaged 74.5 ppg and given up 72.2 ppg.

A Look at RPI: The Crusaders enter the quaterfinals of the league tournament as one of four Horizon League teams in the top-100 in the nation in RPI.  According to the latest figures from WarrenNolan.com, Valpo sits at #72 heading into the Detroit game, joining Cleveland State (#42), Butler (#45) and Milwaukee (#97) among the nation's top-100 squads.

Who Needs Rally Caps?: Valparaiso has flipped a number of games in its favor this season after trailing by double digits, doing it again last time out against Youngstown State.  In fact, the Crusaders are just below .500 this year in games where they have trailed by 10 or more points at any juncture, going 7-8 in such contests, and have actually led after trailing by 10+ points in three of the losses.  On the flip side, they are 19-3 in games where they have led by 10 or more points.  In addition, Valpo has overcome nine-point deficits in a pair of games this season 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 17th nationally with a .477 field goal percentage.  The Crusaders have been especially proficient inside the arc, hitting at a .556 clip from two-point range, good for third nationally.  Valpo has hit at least half of their two-point attempts in 18 of its last 22 games.  Among Valpo’s nine-man rotation, eight players are hitting at least 50% from inside the arc this season.

Working Extra Time: Three of Valpo’s league games in the second half of Horizon League action required an overtime session to decide, with the Crusaders now 3-1 in overtime games this year within league play and 3-2 overall this season when playing extra time.  Valpo’s five 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.

National Poll Watch
: For the first time in almost nine years, the Crusaders have received votes in one of the two major national polls.  Valpo did not receive votes this week in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, the first time the Crusaders have not been listed among the others receiving votes in the last five polls.  Prior to this season, 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.

BracketBuster: Valparaiso earned its second televised appearance in seven years as part of the Sears BracketBusters series this year, and made the most of it with its win over Missouri State Feb. 19 on ESPN2.  The commentary was provided by Dave O’Brien and Dick Vitale, with the latter doing his first BracketBusters game ever for ESPN.  The ARC also marked the smallest venue Vitale has broadcast from in his 32 years at ESPN, but he was definitely impressed, remarking near the end of the broadcast, “These fans have been on fire from the moment we sat here...they gave them an edge today, a great home-court feel.  This is truly home court.”

On the Worldwide Leader: The win over the Bears marked 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.

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 three games this year - Dec. 7 against Purdue, Jan. 29 against Butler and Feb. 19 against Missouri State - and matched the ARC all-time attendance record in the first two 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.

Crusaders Finish Where They Were Picked: Valpo closed the regular season in fourth place, matching its placement in the Horizon League preseason poll.  Butler topped the preseason rankings and ended the regular season in a tie for first with Cleveland State (picked third) and Milwaukee (picked fifth).  

Oh Captain My Captain: The Crusaders have a pair of captains on their squad for the 2010-2011 season.  Cory Johnson and Howard Little are serving 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.

All-League Honoree: Redshirt junior guard Brandon Wood represented the Crusaders as a First Team All-League selection as the league’s postseason awards were announced Monday.  Wood, who also was on the preseason First Team, becomes the first Valpo player to earn a First Team nod since the Crrusaders moved to the Horizon League.

Wood Leads the Way: Wood has scored in double figures in 23 of his 29 games this season and ranks fourth in the league, averaging 16.4 points per game.  But the junior managed to find one feat he had not yet accomplished Tuesday night, pairing his team-high 20 points with a career-best 13 rebounds for his first career double-double in the win over YSU.  Wood has now scored at least 20 points in four of the last six games and 10 times overall this year.  The junior currently leads the team in scoring, assists (3.4 apg) and steals (1.7 spg) and ranks third in rebounding (4.6 rpg).  Wood finds himself among the league leaders in a number of categories outside scoring as well, ranking second in steals and seventh in assists.

Hitting 1,000: With a 3-pointer with 4:24 to play in the first half at Green Bay Feb. 21, Wood became the 30th player in Valpo history to score 1,000 career points.  Wood is also just the fourth Crusader in program history to reach the 1K milestone in just their second season of play, and enters Friday’s game with 1,055 career points, a Valpo record through two seasons.  Dick Jones (1,020 pts, 1965-1967), John Meyne (1,013 pts, 1982-1984) and Dave Redmon (1,005 pts, 1992-1994) are the only other Crusaders to reach 1,000 in their first two seasons.

Little is the Iron Man:
Senior guard Howard Little set a new program record last time out against YSU, playing in his 130th career game.  Little made his mark on the game against the Penguins with 14 points, the 12th time in the last 14 outings he has scored at least nine points.  The senior, who paces the team in rebounding (4.9 rpg), averages 9.8 ppg and hits at a .549 clip from the field, the third-best shooting percentage in the Horizon League.

Johnson in the Post: Fifth-year senior Cory Johnson scored in double figures for his team-leading 24th time on Tuesday evening, putting up 15 points in the first-round win over the Penguins despite playing just 21 minutes due to foul trouble.  Johnson currently ranks second on the team with 14.2 ppg and hits at a .564 clip inside the arc on the season.

Cracking the Career Charts...: A number of Crusaders have already cracked Valpo’s career charts in different categories.  Little broke Brandon McPherson’s career games played record last time out, playing in his 130th game.  Michael Rogers is also moving up the same list, currently sitting in a tie for fourth with 126 career games.  Little has also tallied 145 career steals, good for eighth in Valpo history and just five thefts shy of Jamie Sykes in seventh place.  Ryan Broekhoff’s career 3-point percentage of .421 is seventh-best in Crusader history.  Wood and Johnson are ranked ninth (17.0 ppg) and 11th (14.9 ppg) on the scoring average chart, while Johnson is also seventh in career field goal percentage, shooting at a .520 clip.

...and the Single-Season Charts: Nearing the end of the season, a number of players are also threatening the single-season charts.  Broekhoff’s current 3-point percentage of .469 would place him fifth in a season all-time.  Broekhoff is also just four blocked shots and 11 3-pointers outside the top-10s in those respective categories.  Wood moved into a tie for eighth place for single-season steals last time out, and his total of 51 is just 12 shy of Valpo’s record of 63.  In addition, both Rogers/Little are less than 2% away from cracking the single-season field goal percentage chart, with tenth place currently at .565.