Record: 4-9 (1-1 HL)
Conference: Horizon League
Rankings: N/A (vs. Butler #25 AP, #28 Coaches, #23 CHN)
RPI: No. 258 (vs. Butler #2)
Sagarin’s: No. 271 (vs. Butler #13)
Best Wins: vs. UCF 69-52 (Conf. USA 8-4)
Notable Losses: @Clev. St (HL 8-5) 42-66, North Carolina (ACC 13-0) 63-85, @Purdue (Big Ten 11-2) 45-59
Notes: Coming off a respectable 22-14 record in their inaugural Horizon League season, Valparaiso hoped to contend for a league title this year. Those hopes took two major blows early in the offseason with Bryan Bouchie’s transfer and Samuel Haanpaa’s decision to play professionally overseas. To make matters worse, Valpo’s starting point-guard and best outside threat Brandon McPherson (senior) is still recovering from knee surgery and has played sparingly since coming back in late December. All of this has spelled bad news for Homer Drew’s bunch thus far. The Crusaders are off to a 4-9 start, with two of those wins coming against non-D1 teams. They did hang tough at Purdue (down 2 at half), but the Boilers took control in the final 20 minutes, winning 59-45. Offensively, Valpo looks to hit leading-scorer Urule Igbavboa in the post. Drew’s crew also likes to draw and kick as their abundance of guards slash to the hole off of perimeter screens. Unfortunately for the Crusaders, they have yet to find a lethal 3-point threat (30.5 percent as a team) and are poor free throw shooters (57 percent). On defense, expect Valpo to use some zone to catch Butler off-guard.
Scoring margin: -4.3
Turnovers per game: 15.7
Rebounds per game: 32.2
Valpo PG Buggs, Erik 6-0 150lbs FR
PPG: 5.8, RPG: 2.6, APG: 2.9
Butler PG Nored, Ronald 6’0 170lbs FR
PPG: 4.3, RPG: 2.9, APG: 2.5
Buggs and Nored are very similar. Both players are freshman. Both have similar builds (Nored has an edge in strength). And both players are still adjusting to the college game. Nored has shown glimpses of his potential, but sometimes makes a tough pass instead of an easy one. He had one of his weaker games against UAB dishing out just two assists and turning it over five times. Meanwhile, Buggs is filling in for the injured McPherson and has struggled holding onto the ball (3.2 turnovers per game). Although they have similar stats, Nored is the more highly recruited and talented player. Furthermore, his gritty defense gives him a clear advantage in this matchup.
Valpo SG Diebler, Jake 6’3 180lbs SR
PPG: 6.5, RPG: 2.6, APG: 1.9
Butler SG Mack, Shelvin 6’3 185lbs FR
PPG: 13.3, RPG: 3.8, APG: 3.5
Diebler is the Crusaders’ emotion leader and best 3-point threat. The senior’s numbers don’t stand out, but he is a solid defender and Valpo’s smartest player. In fact, Diebler is planning to work as a graduate assistant on Drew’s staff next season. Hopefully for Valpo, he’s smarter than the UAB defenders who left Butler’s Shelvin Mack open in the second half last Tuesday. The freshman sensation torched UAB with five three pointers in a seven-minute span to lead Butler to a second-half comeback win.
Valpo G Rogers, Michael 6’5 215lbs SO
PPG: 9.7, RPG: 4.3, APG: 1.2
Butler F Hayward, Gordon 6’8 180lbs FR
PPG: 12.8, RPG: 6.0, APG: 1.7
Homer Drew loves recruiting foreign players. He found Jamaican-native Michael Rodgers at New York prep school. Rodgers is probably the Crusaders’ most athletic player and can make things happen in the open court, but he rarely draws fouls (1.1 fta per game). Matching Rodgers’ athleticism is Hayward, who has been brilliant on the road so far (15.0 ppg in six road games). But after winning HL player of the week for the second time thanks to his stat-stuffing performance at Xavier, Hayward shot just four times against UAB. Butler needs to make sure the diaper-dandy Hayward gets more touches.(Ugh. My apologies for the Dicky V reference.)
Valpo F Little, Howard 6’3 210lbs SO
PPG: 8.5, RPG: 5.1, APG: 1.5
Butler F Veasley, Willie 6’3 190lbs JR
PPG: 7.8, RPG: 3.9, APG: 1.3
Howard Little is tough on the offensive boards (2.0 per game) and, besides Igbavboa, is Valpo’s most consistent scorer. Veasley continues to show why he’s one of the HL’s top defender. He could match up with either Little or Rodgers. Either way, he’ll make it tough for his counterpart to score. UAB’s Robert Vaden scored 23 on Veasley, but needed 20 shots and several NBA-range 3’s to do so. Veasley is used to being guarded by taller players, so don’t be surprised if he scores in double-digits against the shorter Valpo defenders.
Valpo F Igbavboa, Urule 6’8 210lbs SR
PPG: 10.9, RPG: 5.1, APG: 1.5
Butler C Howard, Matt 6’8 220lbs SO
PPG: 13.8, RPG: 7.2, APG: 1.3
Igbavboa is Valpo’s best player (not sure about the Fro, though.) He is strong in the post and can knock down a mid-range jumper. His weakness is on defense. He is vulnerable against strong post players and often finds himself in foul trouble. That’s not a good sign against Howard, who has shot at least 10 ft’s in Butler’s last three games. Look for another big game out of Howard.
G Haskins, De’Andre 6’4 180lbs FR PPG: 6.8, RPG: 3.2, APG: 1.2
F Fumey, Benjamin 6’8 235lbs FR PPG: 4.6, RPG: 3.2, APG: 0.4
G McPherson, Brandon 6’2 210 SR PPG: 5.3, RPG: 0.7, APG: 1.3 (Questionable for the game due to a knee injury.)
G Hahn, Zach 6’0 170lbs SO PPG: 6.3, RPG: 2.2, APG: 1.0
F Jukes, Avery 6’8 215lbs JR PPG: 4.2, RPG: 2.4 APG: 0.5
G Vanzant, Shawn 6’1 175lbs SO PPG: 2.6, RPG: 2.0, APG: 1.0
If McPherson is good to go, a total of five Crusaders could see significant playing time off the bench. Valpo’s most productive bench players are freshmen De’Andre Haskins and Benjamin Fumey. Haskins, a guard, is Valpo’s leading scorer off the bench, averaging 6.8 ppg. Next to Diebler, he has made the most three-pointers on the team. For size, Valpo brings in 6’8 forward Benjamin Fumey (from Germany). For Butler, the return of Zach Hahn was huge against UAB. As he has done consistently this season, Hahn hit three timely shots. Sophomore Shawn Vanzant has been seeing consistent PT lately and often plays the point when Nored is on the bench.
Final Analysis: Valpo and Butler are both rich with college basketball tradition. So when Valpo moved to the HL, an instant instate rivalry formed. Last season, the largest crowd in Valpo history (5,432) greeted Butler at the Athletics-Recreation Center, and it took a Pete Campbell 3-pointer with 15 seconds left to give Butler its first lead and a 72-69 victory. This year both schools feature a plethora of new faces, but Butler is simply better in nearly every aspect of the game. And with Valpo students on winter break, the shoe-box gym shouldn’t be nearly as rocking. The only way Butler loses this game is if Butler beats Butler (if you catch my drift). Valpo may hang tough in the first half but expect Butler to finish with at least a 10-point victory and bragging rights in a series that has so far been quite one-sided.
Prediction: Butler 66, Valpo 52
(I’m confident Butler will win in convincing fashion. This just so happens to makes me really, really nervous about the game. I just don’t see how Valpo wins. Do you agree? And if not, how can Valpo pull off the upset? )