Valparaiso men's basketball coach Bryce Drew finally was able to insert Bobby Capobianco (hernia) into the rotation this weekend and the Crusaders are likely three weeks away from gaining the services of point guard Lavonte Dority. Once Dority is eligible, and provided there are no more injuries, Drew will finally have a complete squad.
The question will be how the minutes get distributed and, more importantly, what positions will players be at on the floor. Here is my breakdown on what I think we'll see by the time Horizon League play begins in January.
Erik Buggs has been much improved this season at the charity stripe (75 percent) and he is in many ways, the heart-and-soul of the Valparaiso basketball team. He's the veteran and has been career starter since he arrived in 2008. Buggs won't lose his starting role to Dority, but the backup point guard position will be greatly elevated when the South Florida transfer becomes eligible. Will Bogan has played the second most minutes on the team this season (170) and has been forced to play out of position as the backup floor general. Bogan is a very capable basketball player, but he's been given the point guard responsibilities almost by default. He's a company line guy, but I'd think Bogan would be eager to return to his full-time role as a shooting guard, even if that meant less overall minutes.
Bogan proved in Saturday's win over Bethune-Cookman just how effective he is from the 3-point line and how good the Crusaders are when the (his) perimeter shots are falling. Bogan is shooting better from 3-point this season than he did as a junior, but he isn't scoring as many points and that can be directly attributed to playing point guard. Once Dority arrives, Bogan will be back as the shooter he shines as. All that said, Jordan Coleman has been a revelation in the first six games this season. I'll admit that I didn't see a big role for Coleman when the season started, thinking Alex Rossi would get the bulk of the backup minutes, but now I don't see how you can keep Coleman off the floor. Coleman and Matt Kenney are very similar players to me and when those two are on, Valpo is nearly unbeatable. Will Coleman unseat Bogan as a starter? Probably not, but currently Coleman is getting just five less minutes a game than Bogan and two less than Ben Boggs. Kenney hasn't started a game all year and he averages more minutes than Boggs or Kevin Van Wijk.
The Crusaders don't really have a true small forward as Boggs and Kenney both play a wing role but are more guards than they are forwards. Boggs looked very good against Chicago State with nine points and eight rebounds and the coaching staff has raved about his off-season improvements. Kenney can be the best player on the floor at times and at others he disappears. He didn't shoot much against the Cougars, but he tallied seven assists. Kenney disappeared offensively against Bethune-Cookman, but his rebounding was key in the first half and the senior added three more assists. With Ryan Broekhoff and Van Wijk scoring at will, Kenney understands when he doesn't need to force the issue.
Here comes the part where all of the armchair quarterbacks are starting to pull their hair out. The popular consensus is that with the addition of Capobianco, Drew needs to move Broekhoff to small forward and play both Capo and Van Wijk in the post. The problems here are two-fold. First, which guard comes off the floor in that scenario? Bogan, the effective 3-point shooter? Boggs or Kenney, both jack-of-all-trade players or Coleman, the multi-talented freak of an athlete? The second problem comes with Broekhoff's effectiveness level. Yes, he is amazing when he is on the floor, but his game is best suited (for Valparaiso) at the power forward position. He is a matchup nightmare for opposing post players who can guard him downlow but struggle to catch him on the perimeter. When post players venture out to guard Broekhoff, he'll blow by them and attack the basket. When the defense gets caught rotating a different defender on Broekhoff, he'll find an open 3-point shot. The pro's of leaving Broekhoff at the four far outweigh the pro's that would come from a Capo/Van Wijk combo in the post.
Yes, we will see Broekhoff/Capobianco/Van Wijk play together every once in a while, but my guess is we'll likely see Capo continuing to come off the bench to spell Van Wijk and bring in a change of pace depending on the opposition. I think it became pretty clear against Bethune-Cookman just what kind of role Vashil Fernandez is going to have this season. The Wildcats played small, which limited the need for Fernandez. There will be plenty of games like that. There will also be games like last season's Horizon League title game when the Crusaders lacked any serious post presence beyond Van Wijk. When Kevin went down with an injury, the game was lost. Now with Capobianco and Vashil, conference teams like Detroit and Green Bay will see a different type of lineup than teams like Milwaukee or Cleveland State might see.
The Crusaders have the most depth they've had since 2005-06 and the most complete team since 2001-02. This is exactly why Drew gets paid the proverbial big bucks, to make sure that he is putting the right lineup on the floor night-in and night-out. That doesn't mean however that it's the same lineup every night. Coaches often laugh when media constantly ask them about starting lineups. It's not about who starts, it's about how well units of players mesh with each other and I suppose it's about who finishes.
Seven players have averaged between 22 and 29.7 minutes in the first six games of the year. Capobianco will move into that zone and Dority will get double digit minutes as well. Each game will bring new opposition and new rotations. It's a problem that Drew has to deal with, but it's a problem that Valparaiso is happy to have.