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Game No. 11
St. Louis 67, Valparaiso 65
Mike McCall tipped in an offensive rebound with 0.1 seconds left and the Billikens escaped from the Athletics-Recreation Center with a 67-65 victory on Saturday night. McCall's tip-in came when he corralled an Alec Peters blocked shot of Rob Loe with 0.9 seconds left. The officials went to the monitor and were able to confirm that McCall's shot beat the buzzer.
Game Ball -- The Crusaders could've folded on multiple occasions on Saturday night, but instead rallied to tie the game with 3.8 seconds remaining. Valparaiso fell behind 15-3 in the first 5:05, only to score the next 10 points. St. Louis would take multiple double digit leads throughout the night and Valparaiso battled back on each occasion. LaVonte Dority's leaner tied the game with 3.8 seconds left, but the Crusaders wouldn't have been in that position if it weren't for strong post performances from Bobby Capobianco and Moussa Gueye, as well as ugly-but-effective 3-pointer from Alec Peters. The Crusaders grew on Saturday night and showed they could play with the best their schedule has to offer.
Air Ball -- I've only had the chance to watch the replay of McCall's tip-in twice, but it appears that the Crusaders had some defensive issues throughout the possession. The fact that St. Louis was able to get the ball to midcourt without taking any time off the clock is alarming. Peters played good defense on the shot, but there very little blocking out that occurred after Loe's shot went up. McCall slipped by the defense and was in position to tip the rebound in while several Crusaders were standing away from the play. The flip side of that is McCall made an amazing play with 0.1 seconds left on the clock. Tough break for the Crusaders.
Game No. 8
Mercer 117, Valparaiso 108 (3OT)
Both teams left everything on the floor on Friday night as the Bears scored the final nine points of the third overtime session to outlast Valparaiso. LaVonte Dority set a career-high with 31 points, including a 4-point play with 11.9 seconds left in regulation that eventually led to the first overtime. Bobby Capobianco also established a career-high with 23 points, including a layup with 16.3 seconds left to force the third overtime.
Game Ball -- There were so many twists and turns in this game that it's difficult to pick one recipient of the Game Ball. Kudos to Dority for scoring 26 of his 31 points after the first half and essentially taking over the game until Capobianco stepped in during the extra sessions. The two seniors became the stars of the game that looked to be defined by the freshmen in the early stages. The youngsters combined for 20 of Valparaiso's first 24 points before cooling off in the second half. Lexus Williams scored all of his career-high 15 points in the first half and Alec Peters missed nine straight shots at one point. Both made big plays down the stretch and shook off the struggles.
Air Ball -- As deep as this team looks to be on some nights, the Crusaders were essentially five-handed after Capobianco fouled out with 3:33 left in the third overtime. Injuries sidelined Jordan Coleman and David Chadwick on Friday night and fouls got the best of Moussa Gueye and Vashil Fernandez. With Capobianco out, Jubril Adekoya had to play the five and Clay Yeo came in off-the-bench. With Yeo in, the Bears went right at him as Bud Thomas scored a layup with 2:51 left. Mercer would never trail again.
Game No. 7
Valparaiso 85, UCF 70
The Crusaders delivered one of their best performances of the season as five players scored in double figures to give Valparaiso a wire-to-wire 85-70 victory. Alec Peters knocked down four 3-pointers and led the Crusaders with 16 points.
Game Ball -- Bobby Capobianco didn't exactly have a Saturday to remember last weekend. The senior lost his starting spot and then committed three first-half fouls against James Madison. There were two ways that Capobianco could've gone after the game and there are plenty of Division I players who would've chosen to pout and feel sorry for themselves. Instead, Capobianco reasserted himself and delivered his best game since arriving at Valparaiso on Tuesday night. He scored 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting and added nine rebounds to go along with three blocks and three steals. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his game was that Capobianco had to change positions midway through the second half when Vashil Fernandez and Moussa Gueye each fouled out. Capobianco played all but 24 seconds in the final 16+ minutes of the game.
Air Ball -- I think I speak for all sportswriters when I say that we do our best to eliminate dialogue concerning the officials in our reporting. Unless the officials make a call that is specifically influential to the outcome of the game, I try to avoid commenting on their impact. All that said, the officials were terrible on Tuesday night. From the lack of carrying calls that were made compared to how much carrying occurred, to the blatant double dribbles that happened, the refs got even the most basic calls wrong. We had yet another stretch in a college basketball game this season where the officials got whistle-happy midway through the second half and brought the game to a screeching halt. I didn't have a problem with the technical fouls, but the rest of the game was poorly officiated.
Game No. 6
Valparaiso 81, James Madison 49
The Crusaders used a 36-6 run to take control in what was as close to a must-win game as there is in November. Valparaiso entered the game on a three-game losing streak and Bryce Drew didn't hesitate to make changes in the starting lineup. Lexus Williams and Jubril Adekoya replaced Jordan Coleman and Bobby Capobianco in the first unit. Williams responded with a career-high 12 points and four steals.
Game Ball -- Jordan Coleman moved back to a reserve role on Saturday afternoon and didn't miss a beat. The senior scored five straight points to jumpstart the 36-6 scoring run and the California native finished with a game-high 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Both Coleman and Capobianco could've sulked over getting taken out of the starting lineup, but both players responded well. Capobianco was sidelined with early foul trouble, but the senior forward responded with six points and three rebounds in limited second half action. The company line after the game was that none of the players care about the starting lineup. They'll do whatever it takes to get a win.
Air Ball -- It's hard to pick out any one thing to harp on in this win, but the Crusaders again went a lengthy stretch without a field goal toward the end of the first half. The offense was sluggish for much of the first half until the defense forced a few turnovers and pushed the tempo of the game. Valparaiso needs to do a better job of finding an easy basket when these offensive lulls occur.
Game No. 4
IUPUI 84, Valparaiso 51
The Crusaders fell behind early in their home opener and could never recover against a deep IUPUI squad that won at the Athletics-Recreation Center for just the second time in series history. The Jaguars' reserves outscored Valparaiso's bench 56-9 as coach Austin Parkinson subbed players in at every turn, wearing down the short-handed Crusaders.
Game Ball -- While there wasn't a lot to get excited about in this game, I give a lot of credit to Valparaiso coach Tracey Dorow. There were plenty of excuses that Dorow could've held onto following the game, including lack of depth, foul trouble, fatigue or a brutal early season schedule. Dorow wouldn't take the bait and she blamed Thursday's struggles on the the coaching staff and the players. Hearing Dorow speak candidly about her team in the post-game news conference was refreshing in a time when coaches are so quick to sugarcoat everything. This team has an uphill battle to climb, but Dorow is facing it head on.
Air Ball -- Pretty much everything else. The Crusaders scored just 13 baskets, shot 28.3 percent and showed little emotion on several possessions. Shot selection was a point of criticism after the game from Dorow as was lack of rebounding. Charae Richardson missed all three of her field goal attempts (all 3-pointers) and was the only scholarship player not to hit a shot in the game. The senior was lights out in the exhibition game against St. Joseph's, but has struggled in the early stages of the season.
Game No. 5
Evansville 100, Valparaiso 92
The script played out the same for Valparaiso on Wednesday night as the Crusaders fell behind big in the opening moments, only to stage another late rally that came up short. Evansville led by 25 at the half and had the lead up to 27 before the Crusaders stormed back and cut the deficit to six. D.J. Balentine led five Evansville players in double figures with 32 points.
Game Ball -- What else can be said about Alec Peters? Alec's journey to his tornado-damaged hometown of Washington, Ill. was covered here, here and here before Wednesday's game against the Purple Aces. Peters traveled six hours back from Ohio on Sunday, hopped in a car Monday morning, worked all day in the tornado relief effort and drove back to Valpo Tuesday morning before taking an afternoon charter flight to Evansville with the team. Peters could've had the worst game of his career on Wednesday and he still would've been worthy of the Game Ball. Instead, the freshman connected on seven 3-pointers and had 30 points while wearing an orange ribbon that honored his family and friends in Washington. This kid really is something special.
Air Ball -- 5:36. 4:19. 6:13. That's how long it has taken Valparaiso to trail by double digits in each of the last three games. Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew mentioned five travel days in the last eight days and that Wednesday's game reminded him of the slow start at Nebraska last season after coming off the 7 a.m. ESPN Marathon tip against Northern Illinois. If fatigue is an issue, common sense would indicate that it would kick in late in the game, not in the early stages. I know adrenaline factors in and if that's the case, the Crusaders need to start playing five-on-five full-court during the 60 minutes they have on the court during warm-ups. This team is gutsy enough to battle back in these games, but sooner or later this team will realize that winning is a lot easier when there isn't a double digit margin hanging over their heads.
Valparaiso and Evansville will share the hardwood Wednesday night for the 83rd time. Butler and St. Joseph’s are the only two schools that have faced off against the Crusaders on more occasions.
The two programs also share a connection that ended in tragedy for one school and mass confusion for another.
A DC-3 charter plane crashed less than two minutes after takeoff on Dec. 13, 1977, killing all 29 people on board, including the Evansville men’s basketball team. Through miscommunication, a mistaken first responder and an incorrect United Press International wire report, word got out that the Valparaiso men’s basketball team was also aboard the flight.
Valparaiso was scheduled to play at Missouri on Saturday, Dec. 13 and the Crusaders flew out of Porter County Airport that morning toward Columbia. The original plan was for Valparaiso’s charter plane to drop the team in Columbia before flying to Evansville to pick up the Purple Aces and take them to Murfressboro, Tennessee. The plane was then going to return to Columbia following Valparaiso’s game and take the Crusaders home before returning to Murfressboro the next day.
Those plans were scrapped when weather conditions forced the original DC-3 plane carrying Valparaiso to land in St. Louis. The Crusaders then bused to Columbia while the Indianapolis-based National Jet Service (the charter company used by both teams) readied another plane to head to Evansville. The replacement plane arrived several hours late. With all the baggage placed on board (and much of it to the rear of the plane), the DC-3 waited to take off while a larger plane was on the runway. Once given the green light to take off, the pilots waited for the wake of the previous flight to dissipate before proceeding. The flight took off and immediately the pilots realized there was a problem. Ninety seconds later, the plane crashed on the outskirts of the airport property and everyone on board was killed. The National Transportation Safety Board ruled that human error was the cause of the crash and it had nothing to do with the weather or the wake of the previous plane.
Game No. 4
Ohio 76, Valparaiso 72
In a near-replica of a game played between the two teams three years to the week, Valparaiso rallied from a 16-point deficit to take a late one-point lead, only to go cold down the stretch and lose a close decision to the Bobcats. LaVonte Dority led the Crusaders with 20 points.
Game Ball -- Alec Peters and Clay Yeo sparked the Crusaders with 10 straight points that served as the beginning stages of a 24-7 run that gave Valparaiso a late 70-69 lead. Both freshmen shook off first half struggles to make several key plays that helped the Crusaders get back in the game. The youngsters are still learning how to close out a road game, but the pair have showed plenty of promise in the first four games of their respective careers.
Air Ball -- The Crusaders have had more turnovers than assists in all three of their Division I games this year. Valparaiso turned the ball over 19 times on Sunday, with 13 coming in the first half. Despite having a size advantage against Ohio, the Crusaders were unable to establish an offensive post presence, which would've led to easy assists. Valparaiso must get better at distributing the ball and limiting turnovers.
Game No. 3
Illinois 64, Valparaiso 52
The Crusaders got to within two points with less than seven minutes to play on Wednesday night, but the Illini closed with force and scored 13 of the next 14 points to take a commanding lead. Valparaiso never led during the game after falling behind by double digits early in the contest.
Game Ball -- Valparaiso's three key freshmen (Alec Peters, Clay Yeo, Lexus Williams) didn't have exceptional efforts on Wednesday night, but the newcomers certainly belonged on the court. Peters was second on the team with 30 minutes and Williams was right behind with 26 minutes off the bench. The trio struggled with their shot (5-of-20), but combined for 11 rebounds. More importantly, the freshmen didn't turn the ball over once. On a night when the seniors combined for 12 turnovers, it was the freshmen who looked poised and ready to handle the pressure of playing in a Big Ten environment. If this class stays together for the next four years, it won't even be fair to the rest of the Horizon League.
Air Ball -- 3:13, 4:50, 5:59, 4:58, 6:12. Those were the lengths of various field goal droughts for the Crusaders on Wednesday night. Considering those numbers it's shocking to think that Valparaiso was within two points late in the game on the road against a high major opponent. Now it's not as if the Crusaders didn't score during those stretches. The team was 11-of-20 from the free throw line. (The misses we've covered before and I'm sure we'll cover again) Going through long stretches without a field goal is nothing new for Valparaiso. One needs to look no further than last season's Big Ten game against Nebraska. The Detroit game at the ARC is another great representation of Valparaiso's tendency to shut down offensively for minutes at a time. Getting Keith Carter eligible should help with the ability to create shots, but right now it looks like a program issue. Two completely different teams, one big problem.
Valparaiso director of athletics Mark LaBarbera walked onto Brown Field this afternoon to announce to the football team that Dale Carlson was out as the head coach after four years and 40 losses. The announcement sent shockwaves through not only the team, but two distinctly different alumni groups: recent alums who played under Carlson and older alums who are watching the situation unfold from afar.
Impact on the current team
“There are a lot of emotions going on right now,” said a senior member of the team who wished not to be identified. “Everyone is shocked. We didn’t see this coming today.”
The players were set to practice at 4:30 on Sunday afternoon, typical protocol for the day following a game. The team practices on Sunday and then uses Monday as an off-day. As the players gathered on the field, ready to start their final week of practice, the coaches were nowhere to be seen.
“We’re out there and now it’s 4:45 and we know something is wrong,” the senior player said. “LaBarbera came out onto the field and addressed the team. Coach (Carlson) was still in his office and some of us went over there to talk with him.”
Game No. 2
Valparaiso 113, North Park 50
Five players scored in double figures as the Crusaders barely broke a sweat in Sunday's 63-point victory over the Vikings. The game marked the fourth-largest win in school history and Valparaiso's 113 points were the most scored in a game since the Crusaders hung 118 points on Chicago State in the first round of the 1996 Mid-Con Conference Tournament.
Game Ball -- LaVonte Dority caught a lot of grief for his 3-of-13 shooting performance in Friday night's season opener against Murray State. The senior responded by coming out and draining his first six shots and leading the Crusaders with 21 points in just 17 minutes Dority knocked down his first four 3-pointers and didn't miss a shot until three minutes into the second half. The senior added two steals and an assist.
Air Ball -- It's hard to find something to get down about today if you're Valparaiso, so I'll take a look at the bigger picture. I understand the personal connection to bringing in North Park (Valparaiso director of athletics Mark LaBarbera graduated from the school in 1981) and I know that the freshmen need all the floor time they can get, but I just wonder about the timing of this game. Going from an emotional Murray State game to a glorified practice in front of a sparse crowd may not be the best way to get ready for Illinois.
Game No. 1
Valparaiso 77, Murray State 74
The Crusaders started their journey toward another championship banner right after they finished celebrating their last title. LaVonte Dority hit a runner with 8.8 seconds left to hold off a pesky Murray State squad 77-74. Jordan Coleman (16 points, eight rebounds) and Vashil Fernandez (14 points, seven rebounds) had career nights for the Crusaders in front of a rowdy Athletics-Recreation Center crowd.
Game Ball -- As much as Murray State kept knocking the Crusaders never let the Racers get both feet through the door in the second half. Sure, there were alarming field goal droughts over the course of the evening, but for every bad offensive possession, the Crusaders put together several strong defensive possessions. Coach Bryce Drew didn't hesitate leaning on his freshmen in the late stages of the game, calling on key minutes from Alec Peters, Clay Yeo and Lexus Williams.
A secondary Game Ball needs to go to Vashil Fernandez. The junior center looked like a completely different player in the first half on Friday night as he made his first five shots (several of them dunks) and displayed vastly improved footwork. The Jamaican big man added seven rebounds and just one turnover in a career-high 24 minutes.
Fri. Nov. 8 -- Valparaiso 76, Murray State 72 (OT)
* The Crusaders begin the night by raising their 2012-13 championship banners and then continue by raising expectations for the current season with a thrilling come-from-behind victory. LaVonte Dority hits back-to-back 3-pointers during a 11-0 run to close out regulation and then freshmen Alec Peters and Clay Yeo come into their own in the extra session.
Sun. Nov. 10 -- Valparaiso 88, North Park 53
* Andrean product Nick Davidson ends any speculation that he'll redshirt this season by scoring seven points and dishing out three assists in a solid 12 minutes of court time.
Wed. Nov 13 -- Illinois 81, Valparaiso 58
Exhibition Game No. 1
Valparaiso 89, St. Joseph's 62
The short-handed Crusaders used scoring runs of 10-1 to close out the first half and 29-9 midway through the second half to knock off the visiting Pumas 89-62. Four players scored in double figures and the Crusaders had 20 assists and 12 steals to go along with 19 second-chance points. The contest was Valparaiso's lone exhibition game and marked the Crusader debut for three different players.
Game Ball -- There's no doubt that the Crusaders will miss Tabitha Gerardot before the year is said-and-done, but JUCO transfer Sharon Karungi filled in quite nicely on Tuesday night. The Uganda native had 23 points and 14 rebounds in her first game with the Crusaders as well as four blocks. The junior center grabbed six offensive rebounds and helped Valparaiso score 40 points in the paint. Fouls could become a concern as the Crusaders face more athletic competition, but it was a solid debut for Karungi.
Air Ball -- Valparaiso's two freshmen guards had a rough debut on Tuesday. Aliyah Issac and Faith Miller shot a combined 20 percent from the floor and had eight fouls. Miller had a 3-pointer and tallied four turnovers in 16 minutes while Issac added a steal. To be fair, Miller is a walk-on who was forced into 16 minutes of action due to injuries and Issac has been hampered by a back injury that has limited her in practice. Valparaiso coach Tracey Dorow is confident that both players will improve as the season continues.
Exhibition Game No. 2
Valparaiso 90, Robert Morris 82
Lavonte Dority led five players in double figures with 18 points as the Crusaders shot 53 percent to edge the nationally-ranked Eagles. Dority's back-to-back 3-pointers with just under five minutes remaining helped open up a one-possession game and give Valparaiso enough cushion to withstand Kashaune McKinney's game-high 38 points.
Game Ball -- Clay Yeo and Lexus Williams combined for 30 points while David Chadwick added five points and five rebounds in 12 productive minutes. The three Valparaiso reserves will no doubt be pushing for playing time when Bryce Drew shrinks the rotation once the regular season begins. All three players had shining moments on Saturday and proved they can be counted on in key moments of the game.
Air Ball -- Free throw shooting has been a thorn in Valparaiso's side in recent years and the old bugaboo showed up again on Saturday as the Crusaders shot just 47.1 percent (8-of-17) from the charity stripe. Part of the deficiencies come from the fact that a guard didn't attempt a free throw for the first 34 minutes of the game. Alec Peters was especially alarming at the line as the freshman missed all three of his attempts. Lavonte Dority and Bobby Capobianco also missed free throws when made shots could've taken some of the pressure off the Valparaiso defense.
Exhibition Game No. 1
Valparaiso 69, Hillsdale 60
Game Ball -- Valparaiso's Alec Peters couldn't have scripted a better debut. The freshman had 17 points, six rebounds, two assists and two blocks in 24 minutes. Peters began his collegiate career by tipping a pass on the first possession of the game and nearly saving the ball while diving out-of-bounds. Peters found his shooting touch in the second half, knocking down three 3-pointers, including two highlight shots. The Peoria native hit a shot with a defender directly in his face and then drilled another just before the shot clock expired. As Will Bogan said during the radio broadcast of the game "I'm not sure this is unbelievable, I think this is what we're going to see from him every night. We may have a diaper dandy on our hands here."
Air Ball -- The NCAA made several rule changes for this season while are designed to increase scoring and limit defensive physicality. Both players/coaches and officials are learning how to implement the new rules and what resulted on Saturday night was a foul fest for the first 20 minutes of the game. Calls that would've clearly been offensive fouls last season were called on the defense and the game never got into a rhythm as the officials couldn't get out of their own way. I almost felt like I was watching the fourth quarter of a NBA game.
Quotable -- "It was right in front of me and I was about to say 'Bad shot,' but then he got it. It's his first game and I'm still learning what a bad shot is for him." -- Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew on Alec Peters' second half 3-pointer which gave the Crusaders a 51-44 lead. Peters took the shot with a Hillsdale defender directly in his face.
It's nearly been a full day and I still can't wrap my head around the latest news coming from the NCAA. Georgetown big man Josh Smith was granted immediate eligibility on Wednesday evening and was granted a Seasons of Competition Waiver for the 2012-13 season.
Ok, so what does that actually mean?
Smith played his first two seasons at UCLA and then played six games for the Bruins last season before deciding to transfer. The Kent, Washington native looked at several schools before selecting Georgetown. He didn't transfer because he graduated and he didn't transfer because some distant relative got the flu.
It appeared that Smith would have just one season of eligibility and he wouldn't be able to play until the semester break. Now Smith, who plays in the newly formed (with a newly signed TV deal) Big East, will be able to play immediately and have two full years of eligibility.
My initial thoughts moved to Keith Carter. The Valparaiso sophomore played four games for St. Louis last season before deciding to transfer. He weighed several options before choosing Valparaiso. If Smith, who has already played two seasons and change for UCLA gets immediate eligibility, why not Carter? Why not any transfer student-athlete?
The Horizon League held its annual Men's Basketball Media Day at the Intercontinental Hotel in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon. Each of the nine league coaches were in attendance as well as a player from each team.
The event is one of my favorites of the year as it allows everyone to get together in one place and celebrate the beginning of the season. Sure there are rivalries, even some personal animosities, but it's an event where everyone loves basketball and it was a fun atmosphere.
Here are some of the highlights from the day...
* WGN Radio's David Kaplan was on hand to emcee the beginning of the event before giving way to the Horizon League's Bill Benner. All of the coaches gathered in the press room along with the media as Kaplan quickly ran through the order of projections. While scribes such as myself quickly tried to tweet out all the information, I couldn't help but notice the general indifference displayed by the coaches. Green Bay's Brian Wardle didn't do any type of victory dance when the Phoenix edged out Wright State by one point. Bryce Drew showed even less emotion than the zero response we got last year when the Crusaders were picked to win the league. I love that the beginning of the event was the announcement of the projections and the rest of the day featured coaches explaining that the projections meant nothing.
* Horizon League commissioner Jon LeCrone was up next at the podium. I've always enjoyed speaking with LeCrone and his transparency is much-welcomed, but there was nothing of note to come on Wednesday. Part of this was my own mindset as I was scrambling to catch up with Kaplan's micro-machinesesque listing of the preseason projections. LeCrone was speaking for two minutes before I was able to figure out where Valpo was picked.
"You've Got Mail"
Alright, so it's been years since the old AOL chime would come across my computer speakers when a new email arrived in my inbox, but I still look forward to getting personal email. Spam moves through the information superhighway so much that I miss getting email that matters.
I got one of those emails earlier this week. The same feelings (and questions) go through my mind every year when I receive the annual email from the Horizon League asking for my preseason ballot. It's barely October and I haven't even considered Halloween, let alone Christmas, and I'm suddenly trying to figure out March. Or am I?
I've been making these selections for years now and I still don't know how to approach the preseason predictions. Is the idea to put the teams down in the order I think they'd finish today? In the way they'll finish in March? There are always questions that revolve around unproven teams every year and this season that team happens to be Valparaiso. The Crusaders lost the bulk of their rotation and will be led by players in new positions this season. Picking Valparaiso anywhere beyond eighth or ninth place will be buying into the potential of the newcomers (I'll have them considerably higher). How about specific players? Keith Carter (Valparaiso) and Kelsey Barlow (UIC) are two players that will likely make one of the All-League teams at the end of the season. Is it fair to vote them in now despite not playing one minute of Horizon League basketball? Carter won't even take the court until just before conference play begins.
Maybe I'm spending too much time on all this. After all, the preseason predictions are highly laughable anyway, right? How else can you explain Ray McCallum Jr. getting voted as the Preseason Player of the Year last year despite the reigning Player of the Year (Ryan Broekhoff) returning? Then again, McCallum was actually voted the Player of the Year, so what do I know?
Happy Holiday! College basketball has "officially" returned with the start of normal practices today. I say normal because teams have been able to practice throughout the school year on a limited time basis. The Valparaiso men's basketball team was on the court on Wednesday and Thursday, so today's practice doesn't come with much fanfare as far as I'm concerned.
That won't stop me however from trying to predict a starting lineup for the first game of the season. This would've been a pretty simple exercise last year with all the returning seniors, but this season represents a different challenge.
Center -- Moussa Gueye -- Gueye didn't transfer to Valparaiso to sit on the bench. The word out of preseason camp is that Gueye is a dominant player in spurts. I believe he'll be a strong force in the Horizon League, but it will be curious to see how many minutes he logs in each game. Gueye averaged 15.4 minutes per game last season and never topped more than 25 minutes in a game. When Gueye comes out, both Vashil Fernandez and David Chadwick will have to pick up the slack.
Forward -- Alec Peters -- One of the freshmen is going to have to start (unless Chadwick earns a spot) and my money is on Peters. Clay Yeo and Jubril Adekoya will get plenty of minutes as well, but Peters seems to have the most-prepared body. Yeo tweeted that he has put on 18 pounds since arriving on campus. Peters may start the first game, but I expect this spot in the lineup to be a revolving door through the non-conference slate.
Forward -- Bobby Capobianco -- The slimmed-down Capobianco will start at one of the forward positions, but I'm not sure if he'll play in the post (power forward) or on the wing (small forward). We all know that Capobianco likes to shoot the 3-pointer and he can be a matchup nightmare for the opposition if his shot is on. Capobianco could be in line for a monster season if he can stay healthy.
The "unofficial" official beginning of the 2013-14 college basketball season is this Friday as the NCAA is now allowing men's basketball programs to begin practice three weeks earlier than normal.
Long gone are the days where the start of practice actually meant anything. It used to be that Midnight Madness would kick off the season. Now teams are doing work in the gym throughout the summer and in the first two months of the school year. I can still remember the hilarity of watching the 2002 Crusaders practice with a beach ball because basketballs weren't allowed in the gym until after Oct. 15.
With the start of the season around the corner, I took a look at the recently-released schedule to try and find when Valparaiso would be hosting its "rivalry game." You know, the one game where ESPN would be sure to roll into town and students would design shirts to commemorate the occasion. I couldn't find it.
I'm not saying this is a bad thing, but it's becoming increasingly clear to me that Valparaiso lacks a true rival.
Last season everyone was up in arms about Detroit. Obviously this stemmed from Ray McCallum dunking his way out of the Athletics-Recreation Center and on to the NCAA tournament in 2012. The Crusaders and Titans were on a crash course all season and played two epic comeback games that looked great on ESPN. Now with McCallum in the NBA and players like Nick "Macklemore" Minnerath and Jason Calliste elsewhere, does this "rivalry" matter anymore?
WICHITA, Kan. | Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, home of the Wichita Wingnuts, is an interesting case in extremes.
Built in 1934, the stadium surface is all turf, with the only dirt on the pitcher's mound. The basepaths have been painted brown to appear as dirt, so it has the facade of a baseball diamond, but the balls take a ping pong-like bounce off the surface because it's practically concrete underneath.
The walls are shorter in height than what you'd see at U.S. Steel Yard. It's 385 to a curve in right and left fields, and 400 to straight-away center. There are power alleys at about the right-center and left-center marks, which reaches about 375, so if the ball takes a good hop, it isn't playable off the wall, it'll simply jump over.
Beyond the batter's eye is downtown Wichita, tall buildings, hotels and a downtown area.
The Wingnuts are taking their batting practice until 5:15, with the RailCats on the field until 6 p.m.
GARY | The RailCats front office staff removed the tarp from the field at 4:30, but with maintenance to be done, this will likely either erase or severely delay batting practice.
The RailCats teed off on the Wichita pitching staff last night, taking all the BP they needed with 17 hits, three of them for extra bases.
Every 'Cats batter to the plate either scored a run or had a hit off off the Wichita staff.
GARY | The RailCats open against a Wichita team that hasn't allowed a postseason run since losing in the American Association Championship Series in three games to Winnipeg last season.
The RailCats, meanwhile, haven't been shutout since the playoffs opener to Fargo-Moorhead, a pitchers' duel in which the RedHawks scored both runs in the eighth inning.
Prior to that, the RailCats hadn't recorded a shutout since July 25 against Sioux City.
GARY | The RailCats have won six game fours in 10 chances, only once to clinch a series.
Facing Jake Laber, the fifth-year Fargo-Moorhead pitcher, his 0-1 record against the RailCats this season is not indicative of his control against the club.
The lefty faces left-handed hitters well and the RailCat put five in today's starting lineup. Laber has a .263 opponent batting average against left-handed hitters versus a .300 opponent average of right-handed hitters. He's walked just three lefties to 34 righties.
"He's a little bit like Morgan Coombs in that you'll see his track record this season that for every start he had that maybe wasn't his best, he followed up with a great one," RailCats manager Greg Tagert said before the game. "Sometimes familiarity can work both ways. Does it help you? It helps you if the guy isn't any good. But in this case we've got our work cut out for us tonight."
Morgan Coombs faced Fargo-Moorhead once this season, allowing nine runs in 4 2/3 innings, an eventual RailCats win.
GARY | The RailCats are 1-3 in games three they've played against Fargo-Moorhead, winning the first (and only) in 2005.
Only in 2006 did the RailCats and RedHawks not play Game 3 in Gary, because despite winning home-field advantage, Fargo-Moorhead prefers to open postseason series at home.
The RailCats left North Dakota with a 1-1 series tie, having lost the first game 2-0 and then won the second 11-2. In four previous postseason matchups, the RailCats scored double-digit runs against F-M only one other time: a 12-4 win in Game 4 in 2005.
The RailCats have only lost in the first round of the playoffs once: against Fargo-Moorhead in 2010.
The 'Cats are 4-1 in playoff series when they've lost the first game, the only loss to Fargo-Moorhead in 2010.
GARY | The RailCats coaching staff has opted to rest many of its starters today, only as many as possible with a 23-man roster.
Missing from the lineup is leadoff man Adam Klein and triples record-setter Mike Massaro.
Several players are playing out of position, which only makes the lineup card that much more interesting.
To save the suspense, tonight's lineup...
El Paso Diablos (38-61)
GARY | The RailCats have already made a change to their rotation now that they are playoff bound: today's starting pitcher.
Tim Verthein, who was picked up on Aug. 23 when the team could add a 23rd player, will start today's game in lieu of Morgan Coombs. Instead, Coombs is set to start Monday's 1:10 p.m. game.
Saturday night, Tagert said that he would look at all opportunities to rest players and pitchers in preparation for the postseason. Alain Quijano is set to start Game 1 on Wednesday.
El Paso Diablos (38-60)
GARY | The RailCats head into their final weekend of the regular season needing to win one game to reach the playoffs.
Any of the next three against El Paso will do, but the sooner the better from the standpoint of the front office, which can start selling tickets for the postseason as soon as it's official.
The RailCats were in a similar situation in 2011, when their magic number was 1 in a wild card race against St. Paul, and the 'Cats lost three straight to the Saints in the final three games to end with a magic number of 1.
Winnipeg hosts Fargo-Moorhead, needing to win all three games against the RedHawks to play the RedHawks in the first round.
The fight in the South is even more interesting. Amarillo, Laredo and Grand Prairie all have the same winning percentage heading into the final week of the season and none play each other. Amarillo holds the tie breaker in all scenarios, except if Grand Prairie and Laredo finish with the same record, in which case Grand Prairie holds the tie breaker.
GARY | The RailCats made a move before the 12:10 p.m. game, releasing Taylor Sewitt and moving Danny Pulfer off of the disabled list.
Sewitt, a reliever, pitched 3 2/3 innings Wednesday, allowing 12 hits, nine runs, walking six, striking out two and throwing a season-high 113 pitches.
Sewitt was signed out of spring training and threw in 36 games this season, second most out of the RailCats bullpen. He had a 5.03 ERA.
Pulfer broke his finger and had been on the disabled list since July 27,
The RailCats and Wingnuts will be battling the rain today, as the game will have to be played, no matter how late the rain stays.
GARY | The RailCats enter today's game with a magic number of 9 (total games in the season, plus 1, minus RailCats wins, minus opponents' losses) and two teams behind them in the wild card race.
With a Lincoln loss and a Winnipeg win on Tuesday, the RailCats hold a 2 1/2 game lead in the wild card race and the Saltdogs and Goldeyes are tied for second.
The RailCats don't face either team the remainder of the season, and neither team plays each other. Each team must face their own division's leader as Winnipeg ends the regular season against the North Division's No. 1 Fargo-Moorhead and the Saltdogs play the Central's No. 1 Wichita next week.
The 'Cats, meanwhile, end their season against St. Paul, Kansas City and El Paso. As much as any game can go any direction, the RailCats have a combined 18-5 record against those three teams this season.
Before that, the 'Cats have another two games against Wichita, whose magic number is two. The RailCats are 7-4 against the Wingnuts this season, guaranteed to finish with a winning record against the league's best team.
GARY | It's almost 5 p.m., are your tickets in pocket ready for the RailCats game?
The 'Cats start a double header as part of a makeup game originally scheduled in Wichita last week. The bonus for the RailCats is that they are the home team in both games, so the Wingnuts effectively gave up the benefit of the last at-bat when they called the second rain game last Thursday.
Reliever Matt Jernstad will start Game 1 and the move to bring in Joe Zeller hasn't been completed yet. The American Association roster expansion comes Thursday, so he could -- theoretically -- be added as late as Thursday without the need to drop a player from the current roster.
HOWEVER, the RailCats haven't named a starter for Wednesday, and Alain Quijano is still day-to-day after taking a line drive to the hand Friday. He threw a bullpen today.
Game 1 Lineup:
GARY | The RailCats will face Sioux City for the final game in the weekend series and last game in the home season series against the Canaries.
The 'Cats are 1-8 against Sioux City this season and haven't lost every game to one team at home since 2005 when they were swept at U.S. Steel Yard by Fargo-Moorhead in the regular season.
Before the game, the franchise honored former RailCats Mike Rohde and Chris Carrara, who are in attendance and received crystal awards for their service to the team from owner Pat Salvi. The production booth played their walk-up music.
Sunday also marks the return of hitting coach Mick Curran, who managed the Medicine Hat Mavericks in the Western Collegiate Baseball League. The Mavericks broke a league record for wins, then lost in the championship series.
GARY | With Friday's loss, the RailCats hold at the top of the wild card standings shrunk.
Entering the weekend series against Sioux Falls -- a non-Division team with no hope of a postseason -- the RailCats were 2 1/2 games ahead of Lincoln in the wild card standings.
Lincoln beat Rockland 3-2 on Friday while the RailCats fell 12-5 to Sioux Falls, a 36-49 team that is 7-1 against the 'Cats this season.
Before the game, manager Greg Tagert said that the outlook for last night's starter, Alain Quijano, is good. Quijano told his manager that he feels better, the swelling is starting to diminish and he hopes to make a start next week.
GARY | Of the three-game trip the RailCats had scheduled in Wichita Tuesday through Thursday, the team played one day.
It was a double-header that turned into a win-loss day for the 'Cats.
The 10-5 win that ultimately capped the five-game trip through Lincoln and Wichita is the momentum that Gary brings to a six day home stretch.
The final day that was rained out in Wichita will be made up in Gary on Tuesday with a double header slated for 5:10 p.m.
However, the 'Cats finished that stretch with a 1-4 record that included two one-run losses.
GARY | The RailCats end their home stand as the interns end their jobs.
The RailCats internship program gives college students a chance to learn about the front office techniques of a minor league baseball team, and many participate or administer the mid-inning games that are played on the field.
The 'Cats, meanwhile, are hoping to win their third-straight series after Kansas City created a tie with a 4-1 win Tuesday.
Against Ethan Cole, Gary's heavy hitters should have an easier time connecting with the ball. Cole holds a 5.33 ERA and is 0-5 in four starts. He has allowed 72 hits and walked 12 in 54 innings.
The RailCats have made two games in two days involving the pitching staff. Today marks the release of James Adkins, who went five innings allowing six hits and four runs yesterday, for the addition of lefty Chuck Fontana.
GARY | The RailCats five wins in a row include victories against three different teams -- Sioux City, St. Paul and Kansas City -- who hold a collective record of 31 games below .500.
The T-Bones lead the league in home runs with 85, the RailCats are last with 15 (including yesterday's bomb by Cristian Guerrero, his first since June 7).
The RailCats released right-handed pitcher Osvaldo Rodriguez -- officially placing him on irrevocable waivers -- and activated Reid Fronk before the game. Fronk was acquired on July 31, but immediately placed on the inactive list, where he'd spent most of the year with El Paso.
Also, the 'Cats placed Ari Ronick on the inactive list, retroactive to July 22.
With the turn of the calendar into August earlier this week and the influx of "Back-to-School" sales happening everywhere, the 2013-14 athletic season is right around the corner.
Valparaiso men's basketball coach Bryce Drew officially released the roster for the coming season last week and it sure looks strange to see different names behind No. 15 and No. 23.
Here are some of the details...
0 Keith Carter 6'0" 185 pounds
Carter will gain eligibility once the first semester ends (roughly Dec. 20). Drew has yet to release the schedule so it's unclear as to how many games Carter will miss.
GARY | The RailCats have a chance for a second home sweep of St. Paul with a win Sunday afternoon.
The 'Cats swept the Saints June 20-23 to open an 11-game home stand that ended the month.
This wont' be the last time the RailCats see the Saints this season, though St. Paul isn't a divisional foe. The 'Cats travel to Minnesota to start their final road trip of the season Aug. 23-25. The RailCats dropped two of three in St. Paul on July 26-28.
The Saints made a move before the game, activating starter Drew Gay and placing Mike Koons on the disabled list.
The RailCats plan to start Billy Spottiswood, whose 4-1 record includes consecutive wins against Sioux City in back-to-back starts. His three no decisions have eventually led to two wins and a loss to the RailCats' record.
GARY | After concluding Friday's win over St. Paul at 12:10 Saturday morning, RailCats had an early call to the field Saturday afternoon.
The 'Cats were already stretching and hitting at 2 p.m. Normal batting practice for a 6 p.m. start is 3:30 p.m., and the RailCats were hitting a simulated game while Reid Fronk took at-bats.
Manager Greg Tagert said Friday that Fronk will take several swings in simulated games over the weekend in the hopes to activate him Monday or Tuesday. He said his activation will likely come at the expense of someone on the pitching staff. The RailCats don't have any space on the disabled list, with Ari Ronick out with a quad strain and Danny Pulfer out with a broken finger.
St. Paul Saints (37-34)
GARY | We'll start with an FYI that the game will begin later because of the dwarf wrestling event preceding the game.
Game time is estimated around 7:35 to 7:40, in case you're planning your evening.
Also, the tarp is on the field to start batting practice thanks to a rain that rolled in around 3:55 p.m. That has mostly washed out all of batting practice.
The RailCats are a month away from the end of the season and cling to a 2 1/2 game lead on the wildcard slot in front of Laredo.
6:45 p.m.: Here's the deal with the late start -- the wrestling pit is set up for the dwarf wrestling, but the wrestlers haven't begun. A heavy rain drenched the covers on the wrestling mat, and the game won't start until the wrestlers have wrestled. The tarp is still on the field as the rain comes lightly.
A play from Tuesday's RailCats game against Sioux City was deemed worth enough to put rookie Zac Mitchell on SportsCenter.
In the third inning of the 1-0 game, a ball hit by Leugim Barroso heads up the middle of the field looking to be a sure hit. Then it bounces off second base and into the waiting glove of Mitchell, who makes the throw to first to tag Barroso.
RailCats radio broadcaster and media relations guru Jon Mozes popped a video of the play on YouTube and tweeted that it should be a part of SportsCenter's plays of the week. As the series was closing down on Thursday night, he received an email from ESPN granting the request.
Mitchell's throw was deemed worthy of the No. 4 spot, and can be found late in Friday morning's broadcast, during the :50 to :55 block.
Or you can watch it on YouTube, right where ESPN found it.
GARY | To open the season, the RailCats failed in three early chances to sweep a series, including one at home against Wichita.
Since then, the 'Cats swept two straight at home against St. Paul and Kansas City, but June 27 was their last series sweep.
Against Sioux City, the RailCats have a chance to reach home sweep No. 3 and maintain a 3 1/2 game lead in the wild card race.
GARY | The RailCats have won 15 games by a single run and eight games in the last at-bat. Of those 15, four have come against Sioux City.
RailCats Alain Quijano, who is slated to take the mound against the Explorers on Wednesday, has finished with a decision in each of his last six starts including a win on July 3 against Sioux City.
Quijano has not allowed a run to the Explorers in two previous starts this season. He made 13 starts as a member of the Sioux City club last season before he was traded to Grand Prairie. His 3.32 ERA with the Explorers was best on the pitching staff in 2012.
The RailCats' ace leads the league in games started with 14 and wins with eight. His 90 1/3 innings pitched is fifth in the league.
GARY | Today's game notes from the RailCats media relations department note that if the postseason began today, the team would own the wildcard and enter the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Not that any team is ready to discuss playoffs with nearly a third of the season yet to be played. In the last week the 'Cats have dropped from second overall in the league to third and fallen further behind in a quest to win the division (something they haven't done since joining the American Association).
The RailCats are the beneficiaries of a tough matchup to the west this week as league leader (and Central Division topper) Wichita hosts Southern Division No. 2 Amarillo). The WingNuts fell to the Sox on Monday, which when combined with the RailCats' win against Sioux City gives the 'Cats a game back in the division race (from 6 1/2 down to 5 1/2 down).
Now comes the catch, the Sox are 2 1/2 games behind the RailCats for the wildcard spot. So as much as the RailCats need Amarillo to beat Wichita, they also need to keep winning to fight back the threat from the Sox.
Manager Greg Tagert said that despite Sioux City's record -- a second-to-last-in-the-league 24-38 -- the Explorers are among the best defensive teams (leading the league in fielding) and shouldn't be overlooked by the RailCats.
GARY | The RailCats beamed after their road trip to open August that they returned 5-3 when it could easily have been 4-4 or 3-5.
Today, they'll open a four-game homestand on the ugly end of seen games away from U.S. Steel Yard. The RailCats were 2-5 in two strolls through Lincoln and Sioux Falls.
The 'Cats have fallen from two games behind Wichita for first in the Central Division on July 11 to six-and-a-half back in 11 games.
Today's starter, Stephen Hiscock, was activated prior to the game after spending almost two months on the inactive list. Hiscock's last game was May 27 against Sioux City -- today's opponent -- a six-inning no decision in which he allowed seven hits and two earned runs.
He was placed on the inactive list on May 28 with a sore shoulder. He spent most of his time there with reliever Estevan Uriegas, who was activated Sunday as starter Will Krout was released.
What if Jarryd Loyd never airballed the Butler free throw?
The 2007-08 season was a special year for the Valparaiso men's basketball team. The Crusaders were coming off four "down" years for the program ever since Homer Drew returned to the bench following the 2002-03 season. Drew had a senior-led team taking the floor in the fall of 2007 featuring Jarryd Loyd and Shawn Huff, as well as some solid freshmen in Bryan Bouchie, Howard Little and Mike Rogers.
On top of the talent on the floor, the Crusaders were finally official members of the Horizon League and they made a great first impression. Picked to finish sixth in the conference, Valparaiso won its first two games, including a 71-66 upset on the road against Wright State.
The Athletics-Recreation Center started to have life again after being relatively silent for the past several years and a lot had to do with fan favorites Huff and Loyd.
One of the biggest draws of joining the Horizon League for Valparaiso was a chance to renew an in-state rivalry with Butler. The Bulldogs had long turned their noses up at playing Valparaiso out-of-conference, going so far as to demand a two-for-one trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse if Butler was to play at the ARC.
GARY | The importance of today's RailCats game vs. Fargo-Moorhead can't be understated.
The RailCats are a half-game ahead of the RedHawks in the overall standings, and fell to four games behind Wichita in the Central Division with consecutive losses Friday and Saturday.
Lincoln, which is three games behind the RailCats in third place in the division, will host the 'Cats for three games beginning Monday.
For a game of such impact and import, James Adkins is taking a spot start in the rotation while Morgan Coombs is out with shingles. Adkins was 1-1 in three starts in Grand Prairie to start the season, and last started for the RailCats in a 5-4 win against St. Paul on June 21.
GARY | The RailCats have won five straight and 11 of their last 12 at home.
This four-game home stand is the only time that Fargo-Moorhead, a former Northern League foe, will be in town all season. The 'Cats hold a 3-1 advantage so far this season.
After the two series road trip that ended with a sweep in Winnipeg on Tuesday, manager Greg Tagert said he hoped his team could score earlier rather than later, not that the late-game heroics aren't exciting.
The 'Cats have scored their most runs of the season in the first inning: 39 runs in 51 games. Their second highest grossing inning is the sixth, in which they've scored 38 runs.
Just as I'm writing this, the RailCats announced they've signed Washington Township product Josh Biggs to a contract as a left-handed reliever. Morgan Coombs will go on the DL with shingles, Tagert said.
GARY | The RailCats return to U.S. Steel Yard after a sweep of Winnipeg and having won five of their last eight games.
The 'Cats play just eight games at home in all of July: this four-game series against Fargo-Moorhead and four games against Sioux City on July 22-25.
The team is 17-9 at home this season and its current 12-games above .500 is a high mark for the season.
The 'Cats still sit in second place in the American Association's Central Division, two games back of Wichita. The Wingnuts and RailCats play for a final time this season Aug. 20-22 in Gary.
The RedHawks lead the North Division with a 30-21 record and are 6-4 in their last 10 games.
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In Today's Paper
Al Hamnik has been a reporter and columnist in Northwest Indiana for 42 years and is a member of the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, as well as a winner of the Indiana sportswriter of the year award, an IHSAA media award winner, a Corky Lamm Award winner and a three-time HSPA winner.
Steve Hanlon was the Prep Beat writer for The Times from 1995 through 2000 before he went to work at the Indianapolis Star. Upon returning to The Times in 2004, he covered Valparaiso University for one season before he took back the Prep Beat beat in 2005.
Jim Hunsley covers a menagerie of sports as a reporter in the Times.
Paul Oren is a beat reporter for Valparaiso University as well as various high school sports throughout the Region. He has covered NCAA tournaments in basketball, soccer, tennis and volleyball, along with numerous IHSAA state championship events.
Jim Peters graduated from Andrean (Class of 1981) and Purdue (1985), where he met and worked with current Porter County Assistant Sports Editor Greg Smith. He spent the first 10 or so years of his professional career at a chain of Northwest Indiana weeklies that covered Merrillville, Andrean, Hobart, Portage, Lake Station and River Forest before catching on at the Times in the summer of 1998. Jim covers high school sports in Porter County.
Hillary Smith has covered prep, pro and college sports -- and even a Dixie Baseball World Series -- for newspapers north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line since 1995.
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