GORCHES: VU will be better than predicted
By Steve T. Gorches 314-3797 or email@example.com October 26, 2013 11:08PM
Jeffrey D. Nicholls/Post-Tribune Post-Tribune sports writer Steve Gorches
Updated: November 28, 2013 6:58AM
Call me sentimental, call me a homer, call me an idiot — I’m used to it.
But I just don’t think this year’s version of the Valparaiso University men’s basketball team will be as bad as most people seem to think.
The Crusaders opened the season on Saturday night with a home exhibition game against Hillsdale, and the end result was a 69-60 victory. But the naysayers will look at the first half, in which Valparaiso shot a paltry 29.2 percent and had eight turnovers (compared to just two for Hillsdale), and say that’s the VU team fans should expect to see a lot of this year.
The Crusaders were down 34-29 at halftime, but remember, it was just an exhibition.
Coach Bryce Drew wanted to see what he has in a roster that only has four players who saw time on last year’s Horizon League Tournament championship team that made a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
There were 11 different Crusaders playing in the first 12 minutes — five of them were true freshmen.
Of course it would be crazy to believe this squad can repeat last year’s magical season in which highlights on ESPN weren’t uncommon, mostly thanks to Ryan Broekhoff.
Yes, all five starters are gone, as well as two other letter winners, but that doesn’t mean this group is worse.
Different, but not worse. Make that much different.
In fact, the average fan will barely recognize returners LaVonte Dority, Bobby Capobianco, Jordan Coleman and Vashil Fernandez, but you can bet those guys will be crucial to proving the naysayers who picked Valparaiso sixth in the Horizon League preseason poll wrong.
The last two years, the Crusaders were an outside shooting team — almost to a fault. There were games that they thrived on the 3-pointer. And there were others in which they died by the 3.
This group will shoot 3-pointers — on Saturday they were 5 of 18 with freshman Alec Peters hitting three of those long-range shots. In fact, Peters has a little bit of Broekhoff in him with the way he shoots and his attitude and work ethic on the court. He also could become a crowd-pleaser if he hits more of the 3s like the one with 1:27 left in the game and the shot clock winding down.
“The first couple minutes, I was trying to get the nerves out,” Peters said about his first game in a VU uniform. “If I can make shots like that, it helps the team.”
Especially when the focus of this year’s squad will be more inside than in recent years.
On Peters’ second 3-pointer, he gave Drew some of the same flashbacks to Broekhoff. It was an ill-advised shot during the offensive set, and Drew admitted to cringing.
“I was going to say ‘bad shot’ before it went in,” Drew said.
How many times did that happen with Broekhoff? More times than most fans can remember.
Threes by Peters and Dority will be a bonus if the big bodies inside can overpower Horizon League teams that are going to be smaller night-in, night-out against the Crusaders.
From Capobianco at 6-foot-10, to Fernandez at 6-10, to Alabama transfer Moussa Gueye at 7-foot, to Charlotte transfer David Chadwick at 6-9, there’s no shortage of bodies to throw at smaller teams.
“We love our big guys,” Dority said. “If the inside-out game is how we win games, that’s fine.”
And it will definitely provide better results on the defensive end. On Saturday night, Valparaiso had 11 blocked shots — six of them coming from Fernandez, who also had two monster dunks after offensive rebounds. If it were a regular-season game, that amount would tie a school record.
You can bet that record will be broken this season multiple times.
Will this Crusaders team repeat as Horizon League Tournament champs? Who knows, but I wouldn’t count them out already.
Will this team provide some of the same excitement on the court, and have some big wins? It’s probable.
Will the Crusaders finish as low as sixth place in the conference as predicted? I just don’t think so. The coaching philosophy and talent just won’t let it happen. Is it a better or worse team? That’s not the question to ask.
Is it a different team? Absolutely, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
For the record, I picked VU to finish second in the preseason poll.
I think the finish will be closer to that than sixth.