Valpo men back in national spotlight in BracketBusters
By Michael Osipoff 648-3137 or firstname.lastname@example.org February 4, 2013 10:56PM
Valparaiso Head Coach Bryce Drew talks with his team during a timeout against Chicago State during their game for the Joe Cipriano Nebraska Classic at Valparaiso University Friday, November 23, 2012 in Valparaiso, Ind. | Scott M. Bort~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 6, 2013 6:33AM
VALPARAISO — With a game on Tuesday night against UIC and not wanting to detract from that focus, Valparaiso didn’t make as big of a deal about Monday night’s announcement of the BracketBusters matchups as it might have in the past.
But the Crusaders (17-6, 7-2 Horizon League) still welcomed the opportunity to play Ohio Valley Conference member Eastern Kentucky (17-6, 7-3) at noon on Feb. 2 at the Athletics-Recreation Center, televised by ESPNU.
“Excited for our players, excited for our fans,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. “It’s always nice to have ESPN in your own gym, and to be on national TV. It’s a great compliment to our guys, their hard work throughout the season.”
The Crusaders were selected for a TV game for the fourth time, having gone 2-1 previously, defeating Miami (Ohio) 99-94 in double-overtime in 2008 on ESPN Classic, defeating Missouri State 80-67 in ’11 on ESPN2, and losing at Loyola Marymount 61-53 last season on ESPNU.
Valparaiso is 4-4 overall, including 4-0 at home, in the event, which will be held for the 11th and final time, it was announced earlier this season.
“You’re kind of torn. You have a lot of good memories from the BracketBuster, and some of the complaints on the flip side, maybe sometimes it hurts some teams with (NCAA Tournament) at-large bids, because it’s another game they might get upset and it kind of ruins their chances for an at-large bid,” said Drew, noting regular-season Missouri Valley Conference champion Missouri State’s loss at the ARC probably cost it an at-large bid.
Around this game against the Colonels, the Crusaders play at Loyola on Feb. 19 and against Youngstown State on Feb. 26. Last season, Valparaiso defeated UIC and Loyola in overtime around its loss at Loyola Marymount.
Eastern Kentucky, under eighth-year coach Jeff Neubauer, features a pair of high-scoring guards in Chicago native Mike DiNunno (15.9 points per game, 4.3 assists) and Glenn Cosey (15.6). Both the Crusaders and Colonels have won at Murray State this season.
“It can go both ways,” Drew said when asked about playing a non-conference game in the heart of the conference season. “If your team maybe’s not playing well, it’s nice to have a game that you can play without the conference standings in line, you can kind of try to get your rhythm back to try to get ready for conference. If you are in a really good rhythm, like last year we had to travel to California, it was a great, fun trip, but it was a lot to travel all the back here and play a game a couple days later.”
Going into their game against the Flames (14-9, 5-5), the Crusaders — who will be playing their 100th regular-season Horizon League game, having posted a 57-42 record — have been in a really good rhythm. They dominated Milwaukee 71-40 on Friday at the ARC, their largest margin of victory since joining the league for the 2007-08 season, and their best defensive performance against a Division I opponent since 1984.
Valparaiso topped UIC 75-70 on Jan. 9 at the Pavilion, overcoming a nine-point second-half deficit for its seventh straight win in the series.
“We’ll have to be even better than we were up there,” Drew said.
Matt Kenney (back) on Monday practiced for the first time since Valparaiso’s win against Green Bay on Jan. 23, and was considered a game-time decision against UIC. The senior guard played six minutes in the Crusaders’ loss at Youngstown State, and missed their win against Milwaukee.
“Basically, it’s the best he’s moved since the Green Bay game,” Drew said. “We’ll see how he responds tomorrow at shootaround, and make a decision whether to play or not.”
Ben Boggs started in Kenney’s absence against the Panthers, matching his season high with 12 points in a season-high 33 minutes.
“If he (Kenney) can’t go 100 percent, we want to do what’s best for Matt’s health and for the long-term of this season, because we need Matt if we want to accomplish what our goals are,” Drew said.
Drew said Alex Rossi last week underwent “successful” cardiac ablation, a procedure to correct an abnormal heart rhythm, and should be cleared to return to practice later this week and play again this season. The sophomore guard who transferred from California hasn’t played since the Crusaders’ Dec. 22 win against Purdue Calumet. He has averaged 2.1 points in nine games, shooting 5-of-8 from 3-point range.
“He’s one of our best shooters,” Drew said. “If he’s healthy, it’s nice to have that option to put him in the game or not.”