Posted on: October 11, 2010 4:13 pm

2010-11 Valpo Season Preview

The young 09-10 Valpo Basketball team had a solid comeback season from 08-09. Unfortunately, their run was ended by Detroit in a shocking first round upset at the ARC. With another year under their belt, here are my thougts on the 10-11 Valparaiso Crusaders.

On paper, the argument can be made that this year’s squad has more talent than any since Coach Drew came out of retirement after Scott took the job at Baylor. This year’s Crusaders are going to win games in a different way than most people are used to…they have the potential to a lot of points on the board. Defending Horizon League scoring champ Brandon Wood will be joined in the backcourt by scoring machine Jay Harris out of Oswego East HS. The scorers will be joined key players Cory Johnson in the post and 3-point shooter Ryan Broekhoff. Another huge advantage for the team is that 6 of the 7 players who played in all 32 games are returning. The two big questions for this year are: can the team finally beat Butler and can the team win Valpo’s first ever HL title?

Before looking at who is on the team, I want to touch on the player we lost—Brandon McPherson. The 5th year senior was the only senior and his leadership was a major contributor to VU’s surprise 15 win season. He averaged nearly 12 PPG and led the team in APG with 3.2. His presence on the floor and in the locker room will be missed. Also departing are forwards Chris Halvorsen and Milos Milosevic have both left the program. Neither were significant contributors last season, and their transfers are less than surprising. Best of luck to all of the former players as they move on from Valpo.

Projected Starters:
C—Hrvoje Vucic (Fr, Redshirt): the 7’1” center from Croatia redshirted last season. Valpo has had bad luck recently when it comes to centers. Injuries and bad play have plagued Mousa Mbaye and Callum MacLeod. However, IF Vucic can handle playing D-I basketball, Valpo benefits in a big way. Cory Johnson is freed up to move around the court more and benefits from matching up against the smaller and less physical 4s in the HL. The presence of a big man like Vucic will also be helpful in the non-conference portion of the schedule against teams like Kansas.
F—Cory Johnson (Sr): Johnson was the emotional leader of the team and a favorite of the student section. Cory led the team in rebounds (5.8 PG) and blocks (0.5 PG) while finishing second to Brandon Wood with 15.6 PPG. One of the most physical players I’ve seen at VU, Cory has absolutely no problem banging bodies in the post to get a bucket or rebound. He is also an underrated jump shooter, something that can be exploited easier if he plays the 4. Against the smaller teams we’ll run in to in HL play, Johnson will likely see a good amount of time at the 5.
G/F—Michael Rogers (Sr): Rogers was VU’s top recruit in the spring/summer of ’07. He showed a great deal of promise in his freshman year and was thought by some as more than capable of replacing then senior Shawn Huff. This didn’t materialize as Rogers scoring never developed. However, he is the most capable man-on-man defender on the roster. He has been equally adept at guarding 4s and 5s like Matt Howard and Akron’s McKnight brothers as he has defending guards and swingmen like Gordon Hayward. Lucky for Rogers and Valpo, he won’t have to score much for this team to win. Just stick him in the game and tell him to shut down the opponent’s most dangerous scoring threat.
G—Brandon Wood (Jr): The conference scoring champ will be looking to improve on his 17.7 PPG 2.3 APG from last season. One question worth asking is whether or not Wood can average over 20 PPG this year. If he can repeat his production from last season offensively and continue to improve his defense, he’s destined to another great season and should contend for a second consecutive HL scoring title. Wood and Johnson are the two players that should make the all conference 1st or 2nd teams. Should either of them go down, this could become a long season.
G—Jay Harris (Fr): The freshman combo guard was Valpo’s prized recruit this offseason. As a senior, Harris averaged better than 27 PPG. Together, Wood and Harris will hopefully prove to by a dynamic offensive backcourt. VU’s depth at point guard is somewhat suspect with Erik Buggs missing last season due to injury. Harris can provide stability to the position and really help the rotation fall into place.

F/C—Cameron Witt (Jr): Witt came out of nowhere as a freshman to take Bryan Buchie’s place backing up Urule Igbavboa in the post. His physical play impressed early on and people expected continued improvement. This wasn’t the case. Though he still played physical basketball in the post, his lack of speed and poor footwork made him a liability on both sides of the ball. If freshman Kevin Van Wijk is as good as projected, Witt could see himself out of the rotation.
F—Kevin Van Wijk (Fr): The 21-year old freshman out of the Netherlands has earned himself high praise from the local media. At 6’8” he has a game comparable to Cory Johnson and will likely take over the starting spot after Johnson graduates. It shouldn’t take much for him to jump Witt to take over as the #3 post player in the rotation.
F—Ryan Broekhoff (So): A more complete beta-version of Samuel Haanpaa. Like Sam, “Rowdy” shoots the lights out (36% from 3), but his is also a better ball handler, can take the ball to the hole, and is a competent defender. Last season, the team’s midseason run was sparked primarily by his play and the play of Matt Kenney. When the length of the college season caught up with them and their level of play declined, the team began to struggle again. As a second year player, we need him to be able to make it through this year without being troubled by fatigue. The Aussie will likely be the first off the bench and could even supplant either Vucic or Rogers in the starting lineup depending on what lineup opponents will use.
F/G—Howard Little (Sr): Probably the best overall athlete on the team. Little has an ability to jump out of the gym (minus the missed dunk that cost us the Butler game several years ago…but I digress). He is a 7 point, 4 rebound, 1 assist player that can be a great asset as the senior leader of the 2nd team. There is a chance he will start in place of Rogers in some games. He has a skill set that allows him to play the 2 in a big lineup and the 3 or 4 in a small one. I expect to see Rogers and him together on the floor when Coach Drew is looking to run.
G—Matt Kenney (So): Kenney began gaining playing time as the production of fellow freshman guard Tommy Kurth began wane. Like Broekhoff, Kenney was solid from behind the arc (35%). He can play the point in a pinch, but is definitely better fit to play the 2. Kenny is a player who will need to play well early in the season or risk losing his spot in the rotation.
G—Erik Buggs (So, Redshirt): Entering his third year with the Crusaders, Buggs is the most experienced PG on the roster. Buggs only played in 6 games last season after suffering a stress fracture in his left leg. The way the roster is set up, there is likely only room for one backup PG (Buggs or Tommy Kurth) in the rotation. I give the advantage to Buggs based on his defense. Though undersized, he is probably the second best pure defender on the team. However, if his offensive numbers don’t improve he could lose his spot to Kurth. Averaging 4 PPG as a backup point guard in this offense isn’t problematic, but his career assist/turnover ratio in the neighborhood of 1 is a cause for concern.
G—Tommy Kurth (So): Likely to lose his spot in the rotation to the retuning Erik Buggs and true freshman Jay Harris. Kurth looked good in early performances after Buggs was lost to injury. However, it seemed as if he didn’t have the athletic ability to keep up with D-I guards. He eventually lost minutes to Matt Kenney, who proved to be more of a scoring threat. Unless there is an injury, I don’t expect Tommy Kurth to get much floor time.
G—Nick Sheldon (Jr): The more you see of Nick Sheldon, the better. Always popular with the student section, Sheldon checking in to the game is an indicator that Homer feels the game is well in hand.

Key Games:
11/12—Opener vs. IUNW
11/15—@ Kansas
12/2—HL opener @ UIC
1/1—@ Butler
1/9—vs. Cleveland State
1/16—@ Detroit
1/29—vs. Butler
2/3—@ Cleveland State
2/12—vs. Detroit
2/19—ESPN BracketBuster vs. TBA
2/26—Senior night vs. UIC

Final Thoughts:
The 2010-11 Crusaders will have a dynamic offense unlike any seen recently. Brandon Wood will make a run at a second scoring title. If a second post option can be established, Cory Johnson has the potential to transition from a very good center to a dominant power forward. Wood and Johnson should both be in the running for POY in the conference. Harris should make a run at newcomer of the year. Anything less than 20 wins should be seen as a disappointment. If Johnson, Rogers, and Buggs can improve the team defense Valpo can make a run at 25+ wins and a run at the conference title. I predict 22-25 wins and a 2nd place finish in the Horizon League. If that happens, the only thing standing between the Crusaders and the NCAA tournament will be a showdown against the Butler Bulldogs in Hinkle Fieldhouse.

I Lied…One More Question:
How much longer will Coach Drew remain on the Crusader bench before handing the reigns over to Bryce? I believe he is going to hold out and try to get one more trip to the NCAA tournament before calling it quits.
Posted on: October 10, 2010 7:27 pm
Edited on: October 10, 2010 9:50 pm
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Posted on: January 21, 2010 5:35 pm
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Posted on: January 21, 2010 12:22 pm
Edited on: January 21, 2010 6:33 pm

The current state of Valpo Basketball

The last two seasons have seen a dramatic shift in the fortunes of Homer Drew and his Valparaiso Crusaders basketball team.  The former NCAA tournament staple has become a mediocre team struggling in the 2nd division of the Horizon League.  The 08-09 season saw the end of the teams streak of 15 consecutive years winning at least 15 games.  Valpo fans and alums have been left to ask themselves "what happened."  As someone who has been on campus to witness these remarkable changes, I offer two key events (the 2006 recruiting class and the mass exodus following the 07-08 season) that changed the course of the VU basketball program, as well as a glimer of hope for the future.

The 2006 recruiting class.  As the VU athletic department was preparing for the transition from the MidCon (now Summit League) to the Horizon League, an oddly small recruiting class came to the university.  The class consited of 7'1" Callum MacLeod, a Junior from Wellingon, New Zealand who was expected to step in and play center from day one, and Samuel Haanpaa, a 6'8" swing man from Texas via Finland with a dead-eye for shooting the 3.  MacLeod never panned out, averaging 11 mpg and 5 ppg as a Junior and 5 mpg and 2 ppg his senior season.  Though he was a disappointment, Callum graduated by the time the team fell apart.  Haanpaa, on the other hand, adapted to the college game quickly, averaging 12 ppg and 4 rpg as a freshman followed by a 10 ppg 3 rpg sophomore season. 

The following season, Valpo would have what many considered to be the Horizon League's best recruiting class, featuring 6'10" F/C Bryan Bouchie from Southern Indiana as well as swing men Howard Little from Chicago and Michael Rogers from Jamacia.  Also in this class was a controversial F from Germany, Benjamin Fumey who missed his entire freshman campaign due to eligibility issues.  Bouchie, Rogers, and Little all found their way into Coach Drew's rotation early on and gelled quickly with established players Urule Igbavboa, Shawn Huff, Brandon McPherson, Jake Diebler, Jarryd Lloyd, and Samuel Haanpaa.  The Crusaders' 22-14 (9-9) mark was good for 4th in the Horizon Leauge.  The record, combined with the team's advance to the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament left many people feeling good headed into the next season.

Heading in to the offseason, the team and campus were on a high.  They had vastly outperformed expectations in their first season of HL basketball and were bringing back four starters (Igbavboa, McPherson, Dielber, and Haanpaa) and three of their four key reserves (Little, Rogers, and Bouchie).  However, that was soon to change...In May, Bouchie announced his intention to transfer to Evansville to be closer to his family and in August, Haanpaa signed a contract to play professionally in Italy.  Suddenly, in addition to losing Huff's 12 ppg and 5 rpg and Lloyd's 12 ppg 4 rpg 4 apg, the Crusaders also lost Haanpaa's 10 ppg 3 rpg and Bouchie's 7 ppg and 3 rpg.  In addition to the players leaving, G Brandon McPherson (10 ppg, 2 rpg, 2 apg) would miss most of the 08-09 season with a knee injury.  That is 51 total ppg and 17 rpg lost between 07-08 and 08-09!  It was clear that the team would be taking a step back, the question was: "how big of a step would it be?" 

The 51 ppg and 17 rpg would prove extremely difficult to fill.  Benjamin Fumey, the highly touted German recruit suffered through a year plagued by injury and bad play before chosing to withrawl from Valparaiso University.  Freshman Cameron Witt from Tasmania played hard, but not well enough to fill the void left by Bouchie.  The progress in the play Rogers and Little slowed significantly.  Guard Eric Buggs (Fr) was prone to turnovers and injuries while another freshman, Logan Jones was prone to runins with the University Police Department. 

The 2009 off-season saw the departure of the aforementioned Fumey as well as team leader Jake Diebler and consisten underachiever Urule Igbavboa, replaced by another "top class" featuring guards Tommy Kurth and Matt Kenney as well as swing man Ryan Broekhoff.  Addionally, transfers Corey Johnson (F-Iowa State) and Brandon Wood (G-Southern Illinois via JuCo) were both cleared to play.  Both Juniors, Johnson and Wood stepped in to leadership roles alongside Brandon McPherson (granted a medical redshirt following the 08-09 season).  As the team gels and players assume new roles we are beginning to see the emergence of a team that can be VERY GOOD next season as McPherson will be the only player leaving (assuming we lose no transfers).  Here is what to you can expect from the roster next year:

Cory Johnson-Sr. (F/C)--The best post player this University has seen in some time, expect him to improve on his 16 ppg 6 rpg performance so far this season.
Brandon Wood-Sr. (G)--The greatest scoring threat in the entire conference could improve on his 19 ppg 5 rpg 2 apg and become conference POY next season.
Michael Rogers-Sr. (G/F)--Though his offensive game hasn't come around like some had hoped, he has proven to be the most capable defender on the roster, exhibiting a Magic Johnson like ability to guard all positions (1-5) on the court.  He can give headaches to any offensive player and create mismatches on both sides of the floor.
Howard Little-Sr. (G/F)--Has a great slasher mentality and the size to do it well.  Rebounds (4 pg) better than many his size and could serve as an "energy guy" sparking the team off the bench.
Ryan Broekhoff-So. (G/F) and Matt Kenney-So. (G)--These guys can shoot the lights out.  With Johnson and Wood grabbing so much attention from, expect these two players to see many open looks next season, and make most of them.
Tommy Kurth-So. (G)--Has proven to be capable of running the offense.  With a summer in Valpo learning the system, I have no doubt he'll start over Buggs next year.
Cameron Witt-Jr. (F) and Eric Buggs-Jr. (G)--Both of these guys have not proven to be able to keep up with the game at this level, they seem to be the most likely to lose their spots in the rotation to incoming players next season.

My Expected 2010-2011 Rotation:
F/C Cory Johnson (Sr.) F/G Michael Rogers (Sr.) F/G Ryan Broekhoff (So.) G Brandon Wood (Sr.) G Tommy Kurth (So.)
Key Reserves :
G/F Howard Little (Sr.) G Matt Kenney (So.) F Cameron Witt (Jr.)--or Freshman F--G Eric Buggs (Jr.)--or Freshman G

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com