In a way, I feel sorry for Valpo. The Crusaders have played maybe the toughest schedule in the country so far. They have already faced preseason top 10 teams in North Carolina, Michigan State, and Butler. They still have us to face this week, plus a rematch with Butler down the line in conference play (maybe even twice with the Horizon League Tournament). You have to give Homer Drew credit for facing a daunting schedule, but the Crusaders have been unable to recapture the 1998 Bryce Drew magic. Their move up in conference to the Horizon league from the Summit League has not gone well, either.
I do feel like I know this team well though. They are stocked with young talent from both in-state and international destinations. This team could be very dangerous in about a year or two, but they are struggling right now against the weight of a tough early schedule.
2008-09 Record: 9-22 (Lost to Wright State 68-56 in Horizon League Tournament
2009-10 Record: 3-5, 0-1 Horizon League
Blog Representation: ValpoFans.proboards.com
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 13-1
Last Purdue win: 12/28/08 59-45 at Purdue
Last Valparaiso win: 12/22/65 114-96 at Valparasio
Common Opponents: at Ball State (L 88-78), at Michigan State (L 90-60)
Valpo has three wins, but two were against non-Division 1 teams in IU-South Bend and Arkansas-Fort Smith. The one Division 1 victory came against Georgia Southern 97-89. That may have been the only game in which the Crusaders were favored. They played North Carolina fairly tough in the Dean Dome, but ultimately fell 88-77. They have enough raw scoring talent to make a game of this if they are hitting their shots.
Personally, I couldn't be more statistically proud of their leading scorer. He is 6'3" shooting guard Brandon Wood (21ppg) and he is one of my beloved Kokomo Wildkats. He originally committed to Southern Illinois where he played very early in the 2007-08 season before an injury sidelined him the rest of the year. He transferred to Danville Community College last season before popping up at Valpo this season. He is an excellent scorer, but that can sometimes be a hindrance. Some examples:
Example #1: In his first collegiate game back in 2007 he had an impressive debut with 15 points against Northern Illinois. His coach, however, was disappointed with his play on the defensive side of the ball. He would only play 6 games with the Salukis before getting injured and transferring.
Example #2: I really hate to knock the kid, but I saw him play quite a bit for the team that I value even above Purdue. He has a me-first attitude. His senior year at Kokomo he led the North Central Conference in scoring. That is no small feat, as it is one of the top high school basketball conferences in the country, let alone Indiana. Unfortunately, Kokomo was 5-16 that season, their worst in school history. It was painful to watch. Brandon finished as one of the top 10 scorers in school history (a program that has played basketball for 106 seasons and has more sectional titles than anyone else), yet they have gotten better without him. A prime example was the Zionsville game his senior season.
I was covering this game and Brandon was suspended for the first quarter because he missed a practice (to attend the SIU at Butler game). Once inserted in the second quarter he showed a very poor attitude on the floor. He fouled out in less than 10 minutes of play, collecting just 2 points. Kokomo was down 18 when he left the game for good, but came storming back to cut the lead to one before falling late. His teammates at the time did a lot of standing around waiting for him to do his thing, but in that game they realized they could win without him. As a result, those freshmen and sophomores he played with won a sectional last season as juniors and seniors, beating Jesse Berry on his home floor in round 2.
I say all this because I can already see Valpo turning into Kokomo with Brandon Wood. He is a dynamic scorer. He had 30 against UNC and 39 in the win over Georgia Southern. They aren't winning games though. He had 24 of Valpo's 60 at MSU, but they lost by 30. In the last game Butler held him to a season low of 7. The kid can shoot the three well and he is excellent on the drive, but good defenses will frustrate him. He doesn't look to involve his teammates either. He has taken 116 shots from the field against 8 assists.
It pains me greatly to write these things about the kid because he is one of my Kats, but they are the facts. As Kokomo's offense began to revolve around him more and more in 2006 and 2007 they got worse and worse. Once he left, they got better. Here are Kokomo's records for the three years he played varsity, and the three years since he left.
2004-05 - 14-11 (Brandon was a sophomore role player, Kokomo advanced to the elite 8 before losing to state runner-up Muncie Central)
2005-06 - 10-11 (Brandon starts becoming #1 option, Kokomo loses in first round of sectionals)
2006-07 - 5-16 (Brandon is the number one option. Worst Kokomo season ever.)
2007-08 - 13-9 (Loses to Lafayette Jeff in sectional final)
2008-09 - 15-8 (wins sectional, loses by 3 to Marion in regional)
2009-10 - 2-0 (averaging 73.5 ppg with balanced scoring)
One factor could be that Kokomo had three coaches in his three main years. Mike Wade was a good coach who became athletic director after the 2004-05 season. Rick Baumgartner (won a state title in 2001 at Muncie South) was an ass who never connected with the program or the fans in 2005-06 and left after one year. Wood also had a shoulder injury that hampered him near the end of the season. Brian McCauley (current coach) took over in 2006-07. It was his first coaching job and he was a former player for the Kats in the mid-90's. He is doing a great job now, but struggled in that first season.This may have stunted Brandon's growth as a team player, but it did help him develop as a scorer.
Valpo has some other fine players that compliment Wood's scoring strengths. Brandon McPherson (13.1ppg, 3.3 apg) is a very talented 6'2" senior guard. He is a winner too. He was a teammate of Greg Oden and Mike Conley when they were owning Indiana high school basketball a few years ago. Cory Johnson (16ppg, 6.9 rpg) is a 6'7" junior forward that provides scoring balance and depth. Wood, Johnson, and McPherson are the top options by far, scoring drops off dramatically after them. Howard Little (7.1ppg), Michael Rogers (5.3ppg), Ryan Broekhoff (4.1ppg), Matt Kenney (3.5ppg) for the rest of a seven man rotation.
As you can see, Valpo is top heavy, but is not a deep team. That is why they have struggled against the better teams they face. They also do not rebound well, averaging only 30 per game. They can shoot the ball very well. They hit at a 46% clip from the field, 71% from the line, and 37% from long range. Unfortunately, their lack of size (Johnson is the only regular at 6'7" or better) means that they won't get many second chance points and can't establish an interior game against bigger teams. That means to win games Wood and McPherson have to shoot the lights out of the gym.
I like Valpo's offensive talent, but I don't see them winning for the reasons listed above. Who is going to challenge JJ on the defensive end? JaJuan Johnson can essentially own anything within five feet of the rim and as long as he isn't in foul trouble he can be there to stop Wood's drives. Offensively we should give him the ball and let the big man eat with dunks and short jumpers. Whoever is playing against Wood on offense could have a career day as well. As much as he works at scoring he struggles on the defensive end. I am hoping Homer Drew will get him to work on this aspect because he can be a very talented basketball player. It doesn't look like it is hitting home yet though for his entire team. Valparaiso has yet to hold a Division 1 team under 80 points. We just cracked 101.
Keys to the game for Purdue
- Dare Brandon Wood to score 50 and beat us personally
- Dominate the middle like we should
- Watch out for Wood slashing to the basket
- Maintain tough perimeter defense
- Don't fall asleep
Prediction: Purdue 92, Valparaiso 62