What if Brandon Wood never left for Michigan State?
It was widely assumed entering the 2011-12 season that the Horizon League Player of the Year would come from the Valparaiso men's basketball team.
Brandon Wood scored more than 500 points in each of his first two years at Valparaiso and the senior looked prime to dominate the Horizon League in a similar style of former Player of the Year winners Gordon Hayward (Butler) and Norris Cole (Cleveland State).
The Crusaders had a crushing end to Wood's junior season in which Valparaiso let the Horizon League title slip away in the closing weeks of the regular season and then couldn't overtake the referees in a tough 70-63 loss at Milwaukee in the semifinals of the conference tournament. The season ended quietly at the Athletics-Recreation Center in a 85-77 loss to Iona in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com tournament. Sources close to the program indicated at the time that many key members of the team mentally checked out once the Crusaders weren't selected for the NIT.
Valparaiso faced plenty of questions entering the 2011-12 season, namely at the center position. Kevin Van Wijk had yet to prove that he could play more than 15 minutes per game. Cameron Witt and Hrvoje Vucic offered plenty of size in the post, but neither offered the same offensive prowess of Cory Johnson.
With a big hole in the middle of the lineup, Wood and his family started looking into different options for the upcoming season. Wood had done everything he wanted in college through his first three seasons except for make an appearance in the NCAA tournament. Having graduated, Wood earned the opportunity to look into other graduate programs.
Wood, who has always had a passion for nightclub promotion, wanted to pursue a Masters Degree in Advertising and unfortunately for the Crusaders, Valparaiso didn't offer that program. Fortunately for Tom Izzo and for Wood, Michigan State offered a program in Advertising and Wood made the decision to play for the Spartans. Obviously academics are the most important thing in the decision to transfer as a fifth-year player, but let's not pretend that playing in the Big Ten, playing on an aircraft carrier in front of President Obama and having an automatic ticket to the NCAA tournament didn't play into the decision. You can taste the sarcasm with a spoon. (I'm not criticizing Wood here. I just absolutely hate the fifth-year transfer rule.)
With Wood heading off to East Lansing, the Crusaders suddenly had a huge hole on the roster. Dino Jakolis signed a Letter of Intent several weeks after Wood's departure, but he was already committed to Valparaiso long before Wood announced he was leaving.
Wood's actual replacement on the roster was Will Bogan. Using the same rule that allowed Wood to transfer immediately to Michigan State, Bogan graduated in three years and came to Valparaiso with two years of eligibility.
Wood went on to be a starter for much of the season for Michigan State and helped lead the Spartans to a Big Ten tournament championship and a Sweet Sixteen appearance in the NCAA tournament. Wood didn't get many NBA looks after his senior year, but ended up having a successful rookie season and winning a league title in Hungary.
But what if Wood never left Valparaiso?
Wood played 31.8 minutes in 65 career games with Valparaiso. Knowing that Bogan would've never been on the team is a good place to start with where Wood's numbers would've come from. Bogan averaged 27.8 minutes per game and Jay Harris saw his minutes jump from 17.0 to 25.6 with Wood off the team. Wood's presence would've cut Harris down to just around 20 minutes per game.
Even if you took a fifth of Harris' shots (46.6) and all of Bogan's (188), it's still nowhere near the 437 shots that Wood averaged in each of his two seasons with Valparaiso. That leaves 203 more shots that need to be accounted for.
Van Wijk saw a big jump in shots, but he basically replaced Cory Johnson. Richie Edwards took more than 200 shots, but he also was accounting for the absence of Howard Little and Michael Rogers.
The player that saw the biggest spike in development with Wood's departure was Ryan Broekhoff. The Australian native took just 70 more shots, but went from scoring 360 points as a sophomore to 508 as a junior. Broekhoff's breakout season didn't surprise anyone around the Valparaiso basketball program, especially not Wood.
"I definitely saw a breakout year coming (for Ryan)," Wood said earlier this year. "Playing with him his first couple years, I noticed that he did a lot of things well and knew that by the time his college career was over, he'd be great at those things."
Broekhoff wasn't shy earlier this year when talking about how Wood leaving changed things.
"It did open up quite a few avenues on offense," Broekhoff said. "Brandon was a fantastic player when he was here and we would've enjoyed having him last season. It did open things up, not just for me and my development, but for other guys as well. I never thought that I had to be the man or that I was going to get all these looks now, it just sort of fell that way. We had a lot of pieces that fit together well and I was lucky enough to be the recipient . Whether it was Kenney getting in the lane or Buggy getting in the lane, I was the recipient of the open shots from that. Then once Kevin got healthy that opened up a whole new avenue. We had a legitimate low post scorer presence. It wasn't me taking the reins and saying 'Yes, now I get to do whatever I want, play 35 minutes and put up 20 shots or anything like that." It kind of freed me up I guess to be a bit more creative, to play a more free, loose game where we ran up-and-down and made plays in transition. Everything fell into place at the right time for us and again, I was lucky enough to be the recipient for a lot of those things."
Had Wood returned to Valparaiso for his senior season, it's likely that the offense would've continued to run through him and Broekhoff might not have gotten the chance to shine like he did. It would be unfair to Wood if it wasn't pointed out that he tallied 103 assists as a junior as well as 55 steals (second in the Horizon League), so it's not like he was just a scorer.
Two years removed from the fact, there is no ill will between Wood and Valparaiso. His transfer was amicable from the moment Izzo called Homer Drew and asked permission to take on Wood. With Wood off the team, the Crusaders transitioned to different style of play with a roster that carried over for another year and ultimately made it to the NCAA tournament.
It will always be a great unknown as to how good the Crusaders could've been with an older Broekhoff and a healthy Van Wijk coupled with Wood while playing under Bryce Drew. That said, Broekhoff and Van Wijk leading Valparaiso in 2011-12 undoubtedly helped the Crusaders in 2012-13. Maybe the Crusaders get to the NCAA tournament with Wood his senior year. Maybe they don't.