Men’s basketball: Munster grad Joe Crisman buying into Loyola’s defense
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent January 5, 2013 11:08PM
Loyola head coach Porter Moser sends Munster native Joe Crisman back into the game near the end of the first half at Valparaiso University Wednesday night. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 7, 2013 6:49AM
Defense may be a tough sell in Division I basketball, but Loyola’s Ramblers are buying into it.
In eight of their first 10 victories they’ve limited opponents to 51 points or less. Picked to finish seventh in the preseason poll, the Ramblers have already won three more games than all of last season to emerge as the Horizon League’s most surprising team.
Wednesday, Valparaiso managed 54 points, but shot a miserable 29.4 percent in the first half of a 63-54 loss to the visiting Ramblers. It was an exercise in frustration for the preseason favorite, but represented business as usual for Munster’s Joe Crisman.
“That’s what we like to call our identity,” the 6-foot-2 sophomore guard said. “We’ve had some phenomenal defensive efforts this year, shutting down key players.”
Like St. Peter’s Desi Washington, for instance. One game after he scored 28, Crisman limited him to seven points, 10 below his team-leading average, to help the Ramblers overcome an 11-point deficit in the second half. Crisman sank all five of his shots to outscore Washington.
“It doesn’t really happen very often,” said Crisman, breaking into a grin.
He’s averaging less than six points a game, but coach Porter Moser describes him as the ultimate player when it comes to underappreciated intangibles.
“Joe does whatever it takes to win,” Moser said. “He’s been a winner all his life. Totally unselfish. He always finds a way.”
Little things mean a lot to Crisman, who suffered through a 7-23 record in his freshman year, but gained enough experience to earn veteran status.
“A lot of things don’t end up in the scorer’s book or the stat sheet,” he said. “Rotations ... not fouling ... holding the best players in check.”
One victory doesn’t cover a season, but successive upsets of Mississippi State, neighborhood rival DePaul and Valparaiso stamp the 10-3 Ramblers as legitimate conference contenders. Crisman is one of three returning starters, but seven freshmen and transfers have also helped Moser change Loyola’s culture. Newcomers like Devon Turk and Iowa transfer Cully Payne have stepped up.
“We have what we call a ‘war room’ where we watch film every day and we have guys sitting out this year who are helping us in practice,” Crisman said. “We’re deeper. It’s early, but we have a lot of pieces and are slowly coming together.”
They’ve become students of the game thanks to Moser, who picked up valuable insights while spending four years in St. Louis with the recently deceased Rick Majerus.
“He breaks things down. He does an unbelievable job of teaching the game,” Crisman acknowledged. “We’ve got notebooks. We write things down. Walk through it.”
Slowing teams down to a walk is what the Ramblers do best.
Moser won’t be lulled into complacency by early successes. Without anyone taller than 6-foot-7 in his lineup he can’t afford that luxury.
“We’re deeper, but we need to develop an eight-or-nine man rotation for the conference grind,” Moser said.
Even though Butler bailed out Moser believes the league is tougher, overall, than last year.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty out there with all the changes, but unlike a lot of conferences the Horizon is getting stronger,” Moser added.
Going into conference play seven of its nine members were over .500.
The Ramblers are scoring by committee. Ben Averkamp (15.8 ppg) is their only player in double figures.
“We take turns,” Crisman said.