Butler’s Stevens cites Valpo’s ‘old’ juniors
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent February 26, 2012 11:04PM
Butler head coach Brad Stevens yells to his players in the first period at Gentile Arena, 6526 N. Winthrop, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: March 28, 2012 8:16AM
No doubt about it, the Horizon League is suffering from growing pains. In a good way, that is.
It’s a fuzzy-cheeked league, stocked with blossoming underclassmen.
Noteworthy on the rosters of Valparaiso, Butler and Loyola, for example, is the almost complete absence of significant seniors.
“Lot of people (coming) back,” said Butler’s Brad Stevens. “The difference between Valpo and the rest of us is that their guys are old juniors.”
The unflappable coach was referring to Will Bogan, Ben Boggs and Richie Edwards, who migrated to VU from Mississippi, Virginia Tech and Hillsborough Community College, respectively.
“Their three newcomers are transfers instead of freshmen,” said Stevens, whose Bulldogs are in danger of falling short of 20 victories for the first time in seven seasons. “Certainly they’re one of the more mature teams. As a result they’ve won a lot of close games.”
An astute observation. Eight of the newly crowned Horizon League champion’s victories have been by six points or less. Make it 10, adding in overtime decisions.
Bogan, working on his MBA after graduating from Ole Miss in three years, delivered back-to-back clutch performances against Loyola and Butler last week, giving him 11 games in double figures. His high was 23 in a 73-71 victory at Detroit in January.
Boggs transferred from Virginia Tech halfway through his sophomore season and was obliged to sit out the first 10 games. Since the Atlantic Coast Conference all-academic guard became eligible he’s started 16 times.
In the summer Edwards prepped by playing in the 26th World University games, leading New Zealand in scoring with a 20.1 average. He also earned all-conference honors twice at Hillsborough Community College (Fla.). His heroics include an 18-point binge in an early overtime victory against the Bulldogs. On the fast track lately, he averaged 18 points in a recent six-game stretch.
“Transfers have been a good formula in our league for a long time,” Stevens said.
Imported major Division I wannabes have helped the Horizon League achieve five Sweet Sixteen appearances in the last nine seasons. League members have won at least one NCAA Tournament game for seven straight years. Give Butler most of the credit, the Horizon’s star attraction having reached the Final Four twice.
This year, the league may have to search elsewhere. Look for the Bulldogs to settle for the NIT unless they win the league tournament. Such a lapse should not tarnish the reputation of Stevens, who owns the fastest four-year start (117-26) of any Division I coach in history.
The bright, analytical whiz is paying the price for those tournament runs. The Bulldogs lost Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack in the last two NBA drafts. This season, center Andrew Smith emerged as Butler’s scoring leader, but his 11-point average hardly a recommendation for a go-to guy.
“We have a lot of them,” cracked Stevens, who sneaks up on you with understated humor. “We don’t have a designated No. 1.”
Figuring that out from game to game can be challenging.
In Friday’s loss to VU, Khyle Marshall stepped up, coming off the bench to deliver 17 points. Marshall is one of nine Bulldogs receiving double-figure minutes, which illustrates one of their greatest assets.
Since the fifth-seeded Dogs would have to win four games in seven days to earn the automatic bid, starting with Wright State, depth can’t be emphasized enough.
On the boards they rank No. 1 in the league because of Roosevelt Jones, a freshman with an ugly shot but the bountiful body of a tight end. Smith, one of three sophomores who started in their third straight loss to VU, has also delivered underneath.
What the offensively challenged Bulldogs lack is perimeter marksmanship. Scoring by committee, they’re huffing and puffing because of a league-worst 3-point percentage of .281. That’s not a sore spot with VU, which lists Bogan (.426) and scoring leader Ryan Broekhoff (.396) among the top six from the outer limits. Valparaiso’s versatility stands out when physical Kevin Van Wijk, who bangs with the best of them and nearly matches Broekhoff’s 14.8 average, is added to the equation.
“They’ve got a nice combination of scoring,” Stevens acknowledged. “Defensively, they’re really active and aggressive, led by (Erik) Buggs.”
If you’re looking for an intangible, Broekhoff pointed it out.
“I’ve never had a closer bond with my teammates,” he said after the Crusaders clinched their first Horizon title earlier in the week.
Happy that they took matters into their own hands by beating Loyola in overtime, Broekhoff heaved a sigh of relief.
“The pressure’s off, but you want to go in (the tournament) with some momentum,” he said.
Adding Butler for a second time to the list of VU’s 14 league victims provided it.
Fabulous 50: When Valparaiso honored the 1961-62 squad, its first team to qualify for postseason play, the only downer was the absence of Fran Clements. He organized the get-together for the Butler weekend, but was unable to attend because of flight problems.
“He tried eight different flights, but got beat by the weather,” said Valparaiso native Chuck Kriston, one of four starters who made it.
Clements led the Crusaders, who won the Great Lakes Regional, with a 14.9 career average.
“He was our captain 50 years ago and still is our captain,” said Kriston, “He was our MVP.”
Other starters who attended the festivities were Jon Robisch, Jim Lichtenberger and Dennis Olson.
In 1962 the Crusaders belonged to the Indiana Collegiate Conference along with Ball State, Indiana State, Butler, St. Joseph’s, DePauw and Evansville. Coached by Paul Meadows, they won 17 games before Sonoma State ousted them in the national quarterfinals.
A year later, Kriston was anointed one of 11 college captains who were coached by Virgil Sweet in high school. He averaged 21.2 points in his senior season at VU, then toiled at such high schools as North Montgomery, Wheeler, Seeger and Knox.
Kriston presided over six sectional champions, Knox’s 21-3 team in 1970-71 topping the list. He spent 22 of his 29 years as athletic director at North Montgomery, where he racked up four sectional titles.
Little known fact: Kriston tried out for the Boston Celtics after VU, but was a late cut.