Scouting Report: Valparaiso

The stars shined again for Vanderbilt last week, as Shan Foster scored 21 points for the second straight game, and AJ Ogilvy added 20 as the Commodores won on Toledo's home court. The 77-70 victory pushes the ‘Dores to 2-0 on the young season.

Once again, Vanderbilt jumped out to a huge early lead, and once again, the Commodores allowed their opponents to sneak back into the game.  After falling behind 18-0 to start the game, Toledo crept to within three in the second half before consecutive steals by Alex Gordon and Ogilvy extended Vanderbilt's lead. 

The Commodores were out-rebounded for the third time in three games this season, but they offset that by shooting 58 percent from the floor. 

On Tuesday, Vanderbilt returns home looking to prolong its undefeated start against the visiting Valparaiso Crusaders. 

Fans not familiar with the Crusaders know them best for Bryce Drew's buzzer-beater that propelled Valpo past Ole Miss in the 1998 NCAA Tournament.  However, Bryce and his father, 19th-year head coach Homer Drew, enter Memorial with a veteran team not to be overlooked. 

Valparaiso returns all five starters from a team that finished third in the Mid-Con despite an early season swoon.  The Crusaders finished 0-3 against ranked opponents but defeated NCAA Tournament participant Old Dominion.  This season, they leave the Mid-Con for the more prestigious Horizon League, a much tougher conference.  So far, Valpo has matched Vanderbilt's 2-0 start with wins over Grace College of the NAIA and Indiana-Purdue-Ft. Wayne. 

Valparaiso has long been known for its international recruiting exploits, and this year's team is no different, as two of the five starters hail from Finland, including leading scorer Samuel Haanpaa.  The term "leading scorer" is misleading when talking about Valparaiso, as eight different Crusaders average between 7.5 and 12.0 points per game, but Haanpaa falls on the high end of that spectrum.  A pure shooter, the sophomore guard converted on 46 percent of his three-point attempts last season, knocking down a team-high 75.  With range beyond the NBA arc, Haanpaa will stretch the Vanderbilt defense.  Standing 6-8, he'll force the Commodores to put a taller defender on him, such as Shan Foster, to prevent him from shooting over the defense.  After struggling to contain Austin Peay's Todd Babington – a shooter with height similar to Haanpaa – the ‘Dores will need to fight through screens more quickly in order to limit the sophomore's looks. 

Also from Finland is senior swingman Shawn Huff.  After averaging just over 11 points per game a year ago, Huff has struggled with his shot in Valpo's first two games this season.  He went 4-of-12 in the Crusader's opener, including a dismal 1-of-6 from three-point range.  At 6-6, the senior has the size to play either wing spot.  Though he's not a great three-point shooter (39 percent career), he shot a sparkling 87 percent from the line last season; if he can manage to drive the lane and reach the free throw stripe more often, he could be a dangerous scorer for Valpo.  Perhaps their best all-around player, Huff leads the Crusaders in rebounds (5.5) and assists per game (4.5). 

Junior Urule Igbavboa gives the Crusaders some offensive balance.  The 6-8 forward is a legitimate scoring threat in the post, averaging 11.6 points on 56 percent shooting last season.  More of a "tweener" than a true power forward, Igbavboa has shown the ability to face up and take defenders off the dribble, a skill that – when combined with his effective post moves – makes him a headache for opposing bigs.  He scored just eight and seven points, respectively, in the Crusaders' first two games, but he could prove to be a test for Ogilvy and Ross Neltner in the paint. 

Running the point for Valpo is junior guard Brian McPherson.  At 6-1, McPherson is the Crusaders' smallest starter, but he's also one of their most talented scorers.  He averaged 11.3 points per game last season while shooting for a high percentage all over the floor.  His 52 percent accuracy rate included almost 45 percent shooting from beyond the three-point line, and his 43 three-pointers were second on the team only to Haanpaa's 75.  While McPherson can certainly stretch opposing defenses, he's had problems keeping the ball away from them at times.  Last season, the junior averaged 2.2 turnovers per game, and this year he's dished out just three assists to three turnovers. 

Junior Jake Diebler is Valparaiso's fifth starter.  The 6-2 guard doesn't offer much in the way of scoring – he shot just 35 percent from the floor last season – but he gives the Crusaders a reliable perimeter defender.  He averaged a team high 1.5 steals per game last season and already has five steals through two games this year.  Diebler will likely defend Alex Gordon, somewhat neutralizing one of the Commodores' primary outside threats. 

Senior guard Jarryd Loyd provides Valpo with some firepower off the bench.  Standing 6-0, he averaged over 20 minutes per game last season and figures to do so again this year.  Through two games, Loyd's 24 points tie him with Haanpaa for the team lead.  The senior is a career 40 percent shooter from three-point distance, giving the Crusaders another guard with good range on his jumper. 

Coach Drew uses senior Calum MacLeod and freshman Bryan Bouchie as a change of pace in the frontcourt.  At 7-1 and 6-10, respectively, MacLeod and Bouchie are bigger than any of Valpo's starters.  To this point, the pair has been effective in limited action, combining for 37 points in the Crusaders' first two games.  MacLeod, a New Zealand native, struggles on the defensive end; he'll have a hard time dealing with Ogilvy down low. 

The Crusaders have plenty of weapons on the offensive end, and their combination of inside and outside scoring will keep most opponents honest defensively.  However, this Valpo squad has consistently struggled defensively, particularly around the basket, where they allow too many offensive rebounds. 

After a hard-fought win at Toledo, Vanderbilt returns home for a final tune-up before playing a pair of games in South Padre Island, Texas.  To grab their third win in as many games, here are the keys for the Commodores:

  • Maintain Intensity:  In each of their first two contests, the ‘Dores have jumped out to big leads only to see their opponents claw their way back to within striking distance in the second half.  On Tuesday, they'll be playing in front of an unusually empty house, as the students are away on Thanksgiving break, so self-motivation is crucial.  If the Commodores fall into a false sense of security as they did against Austin Peay and Toledo, they won't have the crowd to wake them up, and Valpo's shooters could give the Crusaders a fighting chance.
  • Pound away:  As always, Vanderbilt will count on its outside shooting, but against an up-tempo team like Valparaiso, the ‘Dores will be at their best in the half court.  Look for Gordon, Foster, and Beal to defer to the post players early, before the Crusaders' bigger bodies check in.  If Vanderbilt can establish Ogilvy and Neltner in the post before MacLeod and Bouchie hit the floor, its guards will have more room to let loose from the perimeter when that time comes.
  • Killer B's:  Vanderbilt will count on its point guards to impose its tempo on the opponent.  Jermaine Beal and Keegan Bell have been mostly effective at controlling the pace of the game, but each has gotten ahead of himself at times.  When Valpo's shooters are on the floor together, they'll look to get out and run as much as possible; the ‘Dores need Beal and Bell to prevent the Crusaders from dictating the pace.
 

Prediction:  Playing in front of a small crowd after a week layoff is a good recipe for a rusty home team, and Valparaiso has the three-point shooters to keep this game uncomfortably close in the first half.  However, the ‘Dores are more athletic at every position, and Foster and Ogilvy give them an inside-outside combo that these Crusaders can only dream about.  Some sloppiness will again keep the Commodores from coasting to a win, but they'll get the win nonetheless.  Final score: Vanderbilt 80, Valparaiso 68.


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