VALPARAISO | A three-game losing streak earlier this season prompted wholesale lineup changes for the Valparaiso men’s basketball team.
Following consecutive losses against Central Florida and East Tennessee State, Bryce Drew went back to the drawing board this week. The third-year coach held lengthy meetings with both his staff and players in order to right the ship with the start of the Horizon League season looming.
The Crusaders (8-7) will get their chance tonight as Illinois-Chicago (5-9) and Purdue transfer Kelsey Barlow come to the Athletics-Recreation Center for the first conference game for both teams.
“We’ve thrown in a variety of lineups in practice,” Drew said. “Coming off two losses, I’d think we’ll have some changes in the starting lineup. In terms of what positions those will be or who they’ll be, we’ll take another look at practice (on Wednesday).”
Drew seemed to find the right combination earlier this year after a string of losses that culminated with a forgettable evening in Evansville. Freshmen Lexus Williams and Jubril Adekoya were inserted into the starting lineup, and the Crusaders won four of their next five games. Injuries and the availability of semester transfer Keith Carter have changed the rotation over the last three games.
Williams (leg), Clay Yeo (hamstring) and Moussa Gueye (back) have all been affected by injuries in the last three weeks.
“We’re basically playing with six freshmen,” Drew said. “Every team has gone through this, but we’ve very inexperienced right now. The inexperience curve is very big for us. We have a positive, energetic staff and guys that want to get better. The last couple days have been very positive for us.”
If lineup changes are in fact coming against the Flames, it would be fair to say that Vashil Fernandez has earned a crack at his first career start. The junior forward played the entire second half against ETSU and registered his first career double-double against a Division I team. Gueye has been greatly limited since the St. Louis game because of a back injury, but Drew said the Alabama transfer had his best practice in weeks on Tuesday.
The Crusaders have lost their last two conference openers, and Drew knows how important a fast start is in conference play, especially because Valparaiso will travel to newcomer Oakland for a difficult road contest Saturday.
“The league is very good this year,” Drew said. “Again, we’re inexperienced, and that will provide us with an obstacle. There is a big difference between having been through the league before and experiencing it for the first time. We have a great challenge in front of us.”