RSSRegion Sports Extra
March Madness is officially upon us as the Horizon League Championship begins on Tuesday evening with a trio of games at campus sites. I figured I'd sit down and predict my thoughts on how the tournament would play out, but first I looked back on my preseason predictions.
I nailed 80 percent of the Horizon League First Team and completely whiffed on the Second Team. I'm guessing I spelled Lavonte Dority's name wrong when I typed Keith Carter into my ballot.
I had the top three teams correct in the preseason ballot, though I did switch the order of Cleveland State and Wright State. I wanted to vote the Vikings No. 1 overall, but I flinched at the last second. I was way off on Youngstown State and Milwaukee. I had the Penguins at fourth overall and the Panthers in the basement. I was close enough on Valparaiso, Detroit and UIC.
What I learned from looking back at my preseason predictions is that I don't know any more about this league than you do. That said, follow along for my guide through the Horizon League tournament. While I'm confident in who will advance, I can't say everything that follows will actually happen.
Tuesday, Mar. 4
Just when everything looked like it was going Valparaiso's way last weekend, A.J. Pacher had to throw a wrench into the mix.
Pacher's game-winner with 1.6 seconds left gave Wright State a much-needed road win at Oakland and put the Raiders within striking distance of the Crusaders for third place in the Horizon League.
Had Oakland held on, the Crusaders would've had essentially a three-game lead over the rest of the conference with four games to play. Wright State has just three games remaining including home contests with Detroit and Valparaiso as well as a road contest against UIC in the regular-season finale.
With the Raiders having beaten Valparaiso earlier this year at the Athletics-Recreation Center, Wright State currently holds the tiebreaker over the Crusaders. The tiebreaker won't likely come into play if Valparaiso beats Wright State in Dayton next Tuesday, but could certainly be a major factor in the final standings if the Crusaders fall on the road.
The difference between third and fourth place is huge in the Horizon League as the third place team receives a first-round bye and is on the opposite side of first place (currently Green Bay) and wouldn't have a true road game until the championship game (if at all). Fourth place will match up against UIC on Tuesday Mar. 4 and will have to win on Friday against the 5/8 winner in order to get a road game against the well-rested No. 1 seed in Saturday's semifinals. If the No. 4 seed wins, they'll likely have to travel for another road contest in the championship game in what would be there fourth game in seven days.
There comes a moment in every poker tournament when you're put to a decision for all of your chips and you need to figure out just what your objective is. Maybe you're nearing the money bubble and you don't necessarily want to put all your chips at risk knowing you can fold your way to a small pay day. Maybe you think if you call the bet and win the hand, you're chances of winning the tournament improve exponentially, but then again, you could lose the hand and get knocked out. Do you want to simply cash or are you playing to win the whole thing?
Welcome to the situation that the Valparaiso men's basketball team is facing in advance of Saturday's much-anticipated Horizon League tilt between Green Bay and Cleveland State.
If you're the kind of person that is gunning for the win, then you're undoubtedly cheering for Cleveland State on Saturday. The math is really quite simple: if Cleveland State wins against the Phoenix, then all Valparaiso needs to do is win out and they'll be hosting the Horizon League tournament. Now before you think this is an easy task, remember, this is five games Valparaiso must win and they include the four toughest teams in the league (with two of them on the road) as well as the best player in the league (Kendrick Perry). If you really think Valparaiso can go 5-0 down the stretch, then by all means, cheer for the Vikings.
If you're the kind of person that is content with a minimum pay day, then you want Green Bay to win on Saturday. A Phoenix victory will almost guarantee the Horizon League title for Green Bay. Brian Wardle's squad would have a two-game lead with three games to play. yes, two of those games are road contests at Detroit and Oakland, but it's not as if those programs are setting the world on fire this season. Looking at the other side, a Cleveland State loss would (for at least an hour or two) put the Vikings on even ground with Valparaiso at four conference losses. Depending on Saturday night's result with Milwaukee, the Crusaders could find themselves just a half-game out of second place with four games remaining, including the regular-season finale against Cleveland State at the Athletics-Recreation Center on Mar. 1.
Right now there are plenty more questions than answers, but this much is true: if the Crusaders want to win the Horizon League, they'll need a Wisconsin sweep over the next week. If Valparaiso wants a bye in the conference tournament, it will need at least a Wisconsin split. Losing both games would drop the Crusaders back to the pack and then we'll do this dance all over again next Thursday night.
The dust has settled on an incredible weekend of games in the Horizon League and with three days off until the next contest, it's time to take some inventory of what we learned.
Whether it was the 3-point display in Oakland on Thursday night, a pair of near buzzer-beaters in Valparaiso on Friday/Sunday or Milwaukee's dismantling of Green Bay at the Resch Center on Saturday, the Horizon League provided plenty of fireworks in a week that was integral to tournament seeding.
Cleveland State made the biggest splash over the last four days with road victories at Oakland and Wright State, two places where Valparaiso has lost. Charlie Lee was sensational this week and single-handedly kept the Vikings in the game at Wright State by scoring 17 of Cleveland State's 21 points late in the game.
The Vikings could've easily lost both games, but instead are now the team everyone is looking up at in the Horizon League, even though they're still in second place. The schedulers in the league office didn't do Green Bay any favors this season, giving the Phoenix four road games in their last five contests. The lone remaining home game is a Feb. 20 tilt against Valparaiso.
The game of the year will be played this Saturday when Green Bay travels to Cleveland State. If Green Bay wins the game, the Horizon League tournament will almost assuredly be in Wisconsin. If Cleveland State wins the game, that can make matters a bit more complicated depending on what Valparaiso can do in the final five games of the season. With games against both Green Bay and Cleveland State remaining on the schedule, it's far too early to count the Crusaders out of the title mix.
If the last week was any indication, we're in for a wild final month of the Horizon League regular season. With most teams still having six or seven conference games left, it's likely far too early to start examining how the final standings could shake out. That doesn't mean I'm not going to try.
The biggest number to look at right now is the loss column. Green Bay currently has one loss while Valparaiso and Cleveland State have three losses. All three teams still need to match up with one another in the second half of conference play. During the first half each of the three teams split with one another. Green Bay beat Cleveland State. Valparaiso beat Green Bay. Cleveland State beat Valparaiso. This actually makes a pretty easy breakdown of the final month of the season as far as these three teams are concerned in the battle for the top seed and the right to host the Horizon League tournament.
Green Bay needs to lose at least two games in order for Valparaiso or Cleveland State to have a shot at winning the regular season title. At least one of those losses would need to come at Cleveland State (Feb. 15) or against Valparaiso (Feb. 20). I'm not going to even try to get into the various tie-breaking scenarios right now, but currently Valparaiso holds the trump card with the singular win over Green Bay. Of course that means the Crusaders would need to beat Cleveland State in the regular-season finale. Valparaiso won't win any ties over the Vikings if CSU wins at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
So back to the loss column. The average number of losses for the regular-season champion over the last seven nine-member seasons (2001-07, 2012-13) in the Horizon League is three. Just twice has the regular-season champion had four losses (05-06, 01-02) during that time. That fact alone essentially eliminates every other team from winning the league this season, which means the battle for second place is where the real fireworks begin.
The average finish for second place over that same window is 4.2 losses. With second place comes the double bye. Youngstown State (currently 4-4) looks to be in play for the No. 2 seed along with Valparaiso and Cleveland State. With five losses, Oakland, Wright State and Milwaukee look to be on the outside looking in, but in 2004-05, Green Bay did have six losses and finish in second place.
Game No. 23
Valparaiso 75, Green Bay 60
The Crusaders gave a reminder to the rest of the Horizon League that the last two championship banners are hanging in the Athletics-Recreation Center. Sure, Green Bay was short-handed without Alec Brown, but the Crusaders looked like absolute world beaters on Wednesday night. Lavonte Dority knocked down his first six shots and scored 26 points while Lexus Williams dished out a career-high eight assists.
Game Ball: Credit the players for finding the soft spots in Green Bay's defense and then exploiting those areas time after time. Whether it was Dority attacking the basket (where Brown's absence left a lot of space) or it was Williams continuously finding Jubril Adekoya under the basket, it was an impressive all-around performance by Valparaiso's offense. Dority is playing at another level right now, averaging 22 points while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field over his last five games.
Air Ball: All week long my Twitter feed has been subjected to countless pleas from the Valparaiso student body to vote for the Valparaizone as one of the top student sections in the country. What a joke. I give credit to the students who were in attendance, but the student section was nowhere near capacity. I just don't understand. I attended Valparaiso from 1999-2002 and the student section was never that sparse. It's not like this team isn't exciting and it's not like Green Bay wasn't the best team in the conference. I know Valparaiso is a tough academic school and there are plenty of other things going on, but for the love of all things basketball, kids, please put down your smartphones for two hours and come enjoy a social event that doesn't involve a Like button or a Snapchat.
I received a pretty cool phone call on Monday night, although not nearly as cool as the call Adam Amin received.
Amin, who is one of the top young broadcasting talents at ESPN (and in interest of full disclosure, a close friend) called me on Monday night with news that he was going to be calling the Notre Dame/Virginia game on Tuesday night...with less than 24 hours notice...along with Bobby Knight and Digger Phelps. Having nothing to do on Tuesday, I volunteered to drive Adam to South Bend. What followed was an experience that I'll remember forever.
Adam picked up me up around Noon on Tuesday and I took the wheel while he continued to cram as much Notre Dame/Virginia information into his brain. I've known Adam for nine years, dating back to his time as a student at Valparaiso, and his work ethic has always been top notch. Having less than 24 hours to prepare for a game would be stressful for anyone. For someone who bases his reputation on preparation, it can be nerve-wracking.
The Joyce Center (and much of Notre Dame's campus) was a ghost town as we arrived in South Bend. Our first stop was the production truck where Adam met with the producer, director and technical director for the broadcast. I expected a lot of work talk right off the bat, but instead it was Adam going out of his way to ask about kids, marriages and other personal topics. It didn't take long until we were watching phone videos of a little kid taking his first steps. I was struck by how close everyone on the production team seemed with one another (Adam included) and then was surprised to later learn that the team was largely a mixture of various staffs comprised because of the weather.
Once we arrived inside the arena, we met with the stage manager (I hope I'm getting all these TV terms down). He was a local Notre Dame guy who had a ton of stories. He razzed Adam a bit about preparing so much for the game. "You're only going to get a few words in before Digger and Knight take over." Adam constantly got razzed about this throughout the day and he took each joke in stride as he continued to prepare.
Game No. 21
Valparaiso 74, Youngstown State 71
Lavonte Dority got the Crusaders started and then Keith Carter finished the job as Valparaiso won at the Beeghly Center for the first time in three years. Dority score 20-plus points for the fourth time in five games with a game-high 27 points. Carter, sidelined all week by a groin injury, scored all eight of his points in the second half as the sophomore combined effective defense with timely offense to push the Crusaders to 4-2 in the Horizon League.
Game Ball: Dority, Carter and Jubril Adekoya are all deserving of high praise for their performances on Thursday night, but it was the play of Moussa Gueye that really tipped the scales for the Crusaders. Gueye grabbed a key rebound after Kendrick Perry missed a 3-pointer with 28 seconds remaining and then calmly swished both free throws to give Valparaiso a 70-67 lead. Gueye finished with a career-high 11 points and was 5-for-5 from the free throw line. On a night when Vashil Fernandez (and most of the team for that matter) was saddled with foul trouble, Gueye played smart (just two fouls) and effective. The Crusaders won the battle in the paint 36-20.
Air Ball: Alec Peters continued to struggle from the 3-point line on Thursday night. The freshman was 1-of-7 from the perimeter while hitting all three of his 2-point field goals. The recurring theme for Peters has been near-misses and that trend continued against the Penguins. He finished with nine points and seven rebounds and was one of the few players to have a positive +/- number, but Drew had the freshman off the floor during the final five minutes of the game. Peters remarked earlier this month that he plans to keep shooting his way out of the slump. I wouldn't be surprised if he comes out and hits his first five shots against Cleveland State.
For as good as the Valparaiso men's basketball team has been over the last two years, the Crusaders never truly dominated the Horizon League while winning both regular season titles.
The Crusaders didn't clinch either of their titles until the last week of the regular season and constantly battled Detroit (over the last two years) and Cleveland State (in 2012) for conference supremacy.
Not since Butler ran the table, going 18-0, in 2009-10 has a team completely outperformed the rest of the Horizon League.
We may be seeing a repeat of Butler's performance this season by way of the Green Bay Phoenix.
Brian Wardle's squad is 6-0 in conference play after knocking off Oakland 83-69 on Wednesday night. Looking at the remaining schedule, it's completely conceivable that the Phoenix may run the table and finish the regular season 16-0.
Game No. 17
Oakland 75, Valparaiso 70
The Crusaders let a golden opportunity to steal a road win in the Horizon League slip through their hands on Saturday afternoon. Oakland recovered from a 15-point second half deficit behind the hot-shooting of Duke Mondy (24 points) and Travis Bader (20 points) to win its third straight game over Valparaiso.
Game Ball -- I've got to give this one to the Horizon League for extending the invitation to Oakland and giving us the chance to see two of these games a year. Lord help us if Valparaiso and Oakland play each other in the Horizon League tournament. For reasons that go beyond the ability to explain, the Crusaders and Grizzlies put forth great theater whenever they meet on the hardwood. Saturday was no exception. There was a sense throughout the game that we were building to the final minute of play and even when the Crusaders opened up a 15-point halftime lead, there was still the anticipation that we were going to see more. Kudos to Travis Bader, Duke Mondy, Lavonte Dority and Lexus Williams for putting on a show.
Air Ball -- Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said it best after the game when he remarked that he felt Oakland won the game, Valparaiso didn't necessarily lose the game. That said, it's hard to find something to complain about here in a classic game, so I'll look at Valparaiso's last possession. Trailing by five points with 12.9 seconds left, Alec Peters grabbed the rebound off a missed Oakland free throw and flipped the ball ahead to Keith Carter. Carter, maybe not understanding how much time was left, dribbled at the top of the key for several seconds without taking a shot. He then dribbled into a trap and the clock expired as he desperately tried to get the ball back to Peters. Coming back from five down in 12.9 seconds wasn't going to happen, but to not get a shot off is unacceptable.
Game No. 16
Valparaiso 87, UIC 72
Bryce Drew accomplished a first on Thursday night: he won a Horizon League opener for the first time in his three-year coaching career. The Crusaders struggled through a frustrating first half only to right the ship early in the second half and ride the momentum to a convincing 15-point victory over UIC. The win extended Valparaiso's winning streak over the Flames to nine games.
Game Ball -- Keith Carter shined in his first game at the Athletics-Recreation Center. The sophomore guard came off the bench for the first time in four games and he immediately made his presence felt. Carter stole the ball and drove to the basket for a layup on his first possession in the game. The St. Louis transfer had a career-high 19 points in 24 minutes while knocking down all five of his shots in the second half.
Air Ball -- Valparaiso again struggled in the first 20 minutes of the game. The halftime deficit (eight points) wasn't as bad as it's been in recent outings, but the play was just as sloppy. The Crusaders had nine turnovers in the first half and just one steal. They forced the Flames to work deep into the shot clock on several possessions, but UIC responded with a variety of impressive baskets that only added to Valparaiso's frustration.
I, like most people, got my first true introduction to Valparaiso when Bryce Drew hit "The Shot" in the 1998 NCAA tournament. I was a senior in high school and a group of my friends skipped school to watch the first round games.
We all know the story. Drew hits the shot. Valpo beats Florida State. Chaos ensues. Sweetness surrounds Valparaiso. One of the ramifications of Drew's 3-pointer was that a high school senior in Milwaukee who was torn between his love of history and love of sports suddenly felt an urge to give Valparaiso University a look for his studies. I passed it off as indigestion from too many chicken wings at first, but almost a year to the day of Drew's shot, I made the decision to transfer schools and attend Valparaiso.
Within days of arriving in Northwest Indiana in the fall of 1999, I met Karl Berner. We immediately connected through a common love of radio and basketball. One night I remember the topic turned to the Sweet Sixteen run. I sat on the edge of the couch eager to listen to whatever interesting details Karl could tell me about this magical moment in time for my new college.
"The Sweet Sixteen was cool, but what was really awesome was the Miracle on Union Street. That was the best."
I dismissed this as crazy talk. How could any moment in Valparaiso Basketball history be greater than the Sweet Sixteen run?
Game No. 12
Valparaiso 80, Loyola Marymount 73
The Crusaders erased a 10-point halftime deficit behind the stellar play of Alec Peters and knocked off the Lions 80-73 in the final non-conference game of the year at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Game Ball -- Forget Horizon League Freshman of the Week, Peters delivered a performance befitting of Player of the Week honors on Saturday afternoon. When the offense struggled, Peters pounded the ball inside with easy baskets. When there was some rhythm, the Crusaders ran sets to get Peters open perimeter looks. In equaling his career-high of 30 points, Peters joined Bryce Drew (5x), Brandon Wood (5x), Cory Johnson (2x) and Dan Oppland (2x) as the only players in the program to score 30+ points on multiple occasions in the last 15 years.
Air Ball -- What was with that first half? Drew changed his lineup for the third time this season, inserting Jordan Coleman and Clay Yeo in place of Lexus Williams and Jubril Adekoya. The third-year coach remarked after the game that Williams was dealing with an injury and the coaching staff wasn't sure if he'd be able to play. It seemed to me that some sort of message was being sent, especially when Nick Davidson and David Chadwick got some run before Williams. I only say this because Williams eventually came in the game and then started the second half along with Adekoya. I wasn't at the Evansville game, so I can't speak to that, but Saturday's first half was the worst 20 minutes of basketball I've seen this team play all season.
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.
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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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