VALPARAISO | With a roster that includes eight newcomers, Valparaiso men’s basketball coach Bryce Drew wanted to make sure his players received baptism by fire this season.
That baptism will largely come at the Athletics-Recreation Center as Drew released the 2013-14 schedule on Tuesday morning that is full of difficult home games.
Murray State will open the season at the ARC on Nov. 8 and St. Louis travels to Valparaiso on Dec. 7.
Home games against James Madison, Mercer and Central Florida also dot a schedule that includes nine non-conference games against teams with 20 or more wins and 18 games against teams that played in the postseason last year.
“This is one of the toughest non-conference home schedules that we’ve had in a long time,” Drew said. “Our fans are in for a nice treat.”
Valparaiso’s first road game will be its toughest of the year as the Crusaders travel to Assembly Hall to take on Illinois on Nov. 13.
The game, which is scheduled to be a one-time meeting, will allow Valparaiso assistant coach Roger Powell to return to his alma mater. Powell led the Illini to the 2005 NCAA national championship game as a senior.
“We have a good relationship with (Illinois) Coach (John) Groce,” Drew said. “We’re thrilled to have the chance to go down there and play and we’re really excited for Roger.
"I’m sure he’ll get a real nice ovation when we get there.”
The Crusaders will be home for Thanksgiving as they’ll host Mercer and Cincinnati Christian on back-to-back nights beginning on Black Friday.
Given that Valparaiso will host UCF on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the schedule will mirror that of the Horizon League tournament should the Crusaders not receive a bye.
“I wish I was smart enough to have come up with that plan myself, but that’s just how it worked out,” Drew said. “It’s good to be home, but our players will probably be upset they’ll have to cut down the amount of Thanksgiving food they can eat because we’ll have games the next two days.”
Valparaiso opens Horizon League play at home Jan. 2 against UIC and then will travel to the O’Rena for Oakland’s first conference game on Jan. 4.
The Crusaders will host Wright State on Jan. 10 in a nationally-televised rematch of the 2013 Horizon League Championship game. Valparaiso will also host Detroit on ESPNU on Feb. 8.
The regular season ends Mar. 1 in a home game against Cleveland State, just three days before the Horizon League tournament is set to begin. The 2014 title game will be held on Tuesday, Mar. 11.
The Crusaders never have more than two consecutive road games or two consecutive home games during the conference slate.
“There are things you can’t control with the conference schedule, so we concentrate on what we can control,” Drew said. “I think the league does a great job and everything balances out every couple of years.
"We’ll control how we approach these games.”