The 2010-11 season was a successful one for VU, as its 23 victories, with a pair of those coming against NCAA Tournament teams Butler and Oakland, were the school's most since the 2001-02 season. Overall, the Crusaders were 23-12, with a 12-6 record in Horizon League play. However, Bryce Drew's team was just 6-8 in road action a year ago.
Monday's game will be Drew's first game as the head coach at Valparaiso, as he takes over the job previously held for 22 seasons by his father Homer Drew. Its game against Arizona will be one of the most difficult games VU plays all season along with a November 25th road game in Columbus against Ohio State.
Not much is expected of Drew's team in 2011-12, as the media has tabbed the Crusaders as the Horizon League's fifth best team behind two-time NCAA Tournament runner up Butler, Detroit, Cleveland State, and Milwaukee. His team will be challenged with replacing 60.5 percent of its scoring from a season ago, as only two starters are back from last year's squad.
The Crusaders have struggled so far this season, barely escaping in a 73-71 victory over Hillsdale and adding a 74-65 against Augustana last Thursday. They'll look to get on track against an Arizona team that dropped its exhibition opener to Seattle Pacific and only managed a nine point victory over Humboldt State.
The team's best player is 6-foot-7, 215-pound junior Ryan Broekhoff, a preseason Second Team All-Horizon League selection. The Australian native averaged 10.3 points and 5.2 rebounds as a junior while connecting on 44.8 percent of his attempts from three-point range.
Broekhoff is off to a fast start in the 2011-12 season, as he opened against Hillsdale with a 20 point, 12 rebound performance followed up by a 13 point effort versus Augustana. The forward has the versatility to score from inside and out, and he'll be a nice challenge for Jesse Perry and the rest of the Arizona big men.
Along with Broekhoff, point guard 5-foot-11, 155-pound point guard Erik Buggs is the team's other returning starter. The senior is not much of a shooter, as he averaged only 2.8 points as a junior and has shot only 27.1 percent from three-point range for his career at VU.
He did average 3.1 assists a year ago, and managed to shoot 41.3 percent from the field, making him dangerous in dribble-drive situations for the Wildcats. Josiah Turner and Jordin Mayes will need to stay in front of Buggs and prevent him from entering the lane and force him to try to score from outside, something he likely won't be able to do consistently.
On the plus side for the Crusaders, their three new starters all have game experience. The headliner of the group is Matt Kenney, who in two years with the program has picked up eight starts. In 23.1 minutes per game of reserve action last season, the 6-foot-4, 205 pound junior averaged six points per game on 42.7 percent shooting from the field; although he did shoot just 16 percent from three-point range.
Sophomore Jay Harris averaged 5.1 points in 17.1 minutes of playing time as a true freshman a season ago, but the 6-foot-2, 155-pound shooting guard shot just 32.3 percent from the field. Valparaiso will need him to shoot a better percentage to stay competitive not only against Arizona, but all season long.
The final starter for Valparaiso is 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward Kevin Van Wijk, who will be making the second start of his college career against Arizona. As a sophomore reserve, the Netherlands native averaged 5.1 points in 13.1 minutes off the bench, but has played well in the team's two exhibition games so far.
Against Hillsdale, Van Wijk was the team's leading scorer with 23 points, including the game winner over the Chargers, and also posted seven boards, good for second behind Broekhoff. In the team's final exhibition Van Wijk struggled a little bit, putting in just nine points on 2-6 shooting.
The reserves for VU are short on experience, but big on potential and ability. There are four players who will likely play significant minutes on Monday and impact the outcome of the game significantly.
Its big body off the bench is 7-foot-1, 245-pound Croatian Hrvoje Vucic, who averaged 0.9 points and 0.7 rebounds in 11 games as a sophomore.
The team is still nursing back sophomore guard Tommy Kurth, who missed all of the 2010-11 season with an injury. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound guard averaged 1.9 points and 1.4 assists per game as a freshman back during the 2009-10 season.
Drew is still trying to work a pair of transfers into his rotation, as 6-foot-1, 170-pound guard Will Bogan and 6-foot-7, 220-pound junior Richie Edwards are both trying to get acclimated to the program.
Bogan is a transfer from Mississippi who is immediately eligible after finishing up his bachelor's degree program in three years. For his career at Ole Miss, Bogan averaged 2.3 points, including a career-high 16 against Arkansas. Bogan got the start against Augustana over Harris and had 11 points in the contest, so it will be interesting to see which player gets the nod Monday night.
If Broekhoff is Valparaiso's best player heading into the season, Edwards may be it by season's end. He comes to Valparaiso by way of Lakeland (Fla.) Hillsborough Community College, and he's a player with tremendous upside.
His 20.1 points per game in the World University Games were tops on his New Zealand squad and third overall for the tournament; and he comes to the Crusaders after averaging 18.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest at Hillsborough.
While Edwards comes off the bench now for 20 plus minutes per game, it may not be long until he's inserted into the starting lineup. His 14 points against Augustana led the team, and he displayed the ability to hit shots from the perimeter and inside, which makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing teams.
While Valparaiso is certainly not the toughest out of conference game that Arizona will play this season, it has the players necessary to hang in with the Wildcats considering the team's struggles in its exhibition contests.