At first blush, the offensive story appears to be bombs away for Valpo, as the Crusaders fire off threes like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Valpo has attempted 290 threes in just twelve games, and have eight players that have attempted more than ten threes on the season. Heading the parade is 6-8 forward Lubos Barton, who has hit 28 of his 70 three point attempts.
With such a high number of threes, it's tempting to think that Valpo is a short team that doesn't operate much inside. The numbers don't bear that out, however. Valpo has five players who see the floor at 6-8 or taller, and the Crusaders also get to the foul line with regularity, averaging 23 trips per game.
The Crusaders' style is more like a European team than anything, which is borne out by the seven foreign players on this year's roster. Valpo plays the inside out team game to perfection, with lots of drives and kick outs to players camped behind the three point line.
Valpo's balance shows up across the stat board, but nowhere more so than in scoring. Five Crusaders average between 12.9 and 9.7 points per game, which attests to the efficiency of Valpo's offensive scheme.
WVU's perimeter defense vs. Valparaiso's three point shooters
With Valpo's team oriented concept and host of three point shooters, it's almost impossible to pick out a single matchup that will tell the tale of the game.
WVU 0-0, 7-2
Valpo 0-0, 9-3
|Fri 12/28 5:45 PM|
|Line: Valpo -3|
WVU has typically been a "prove it" sort of defense when it comes to threes - the Mountaineers won't often contest those shots by an entire opposing team until they make a few.
In this game, however, that strategy might not work. Valpo will fire, follow and fire again from long range, and even on a subpar shooting night the Crusaders can rack up points due to the sheer number of treys they launch.
WVU's guards and forwards will be forced to cover a range of ground from the three point line to the blocks, and that is difficult to do for an entire game. The Mountaineers' scrambling ability will be under the gun as Valpo shoots from every point of the compass.
WVU must contest the Crusader three point attack and force them to go inside for their offense, where they are less effective. If that goal can be accomplished (and it won't be easy), the Mountaineers will have a leg up on an opening-round win.
WVU: Jonathan Hargett (Knee) - Probable
This game will likely be the best barometer of WVU's NCAA Tournament chances that we've seen so far this year. Valpo is a tough, disciplined, team oriented squad that doesn't figure to self-destruct or wither under pressure. The Crusaders' crisp passing and ball motion attack will test WVU's perimeter defense to the limit.
Valpo is one team that WVU likely won't be able to wear down with the substitution patterns that are so dear to head coach Gale Catlett. Valpo has nine players with double figure averages in minutes played, so look for a chess match as Catlett and Crusader head coach Homer Drew shuffle their players to create favorable matchups.
Valpo is the sort of disciplined club that figures to give the freewheeling Mountaineers some problems. Valpo will make the extra pass to get a better shot, and likely won't make a lot of unforced errors. WVU, likewise, must be disciplined in their defense, deny cuts, and simply play fundamental basketball. That's something that has been lacking somewhat this year, but it will be tested to the maxium on Friday evening.
The key to the game is likely to come down, as did the Tennessee game, to three point shooting. If the Mountaineers defend the three well and don't give up open looks, a WVU victory could be in the offing. But if the Crusaders are on target and WVU doesn't contest the three well, Valpo will be ont heir way to the finals.
Eleven of Valpo's 14 players are either juniors or seniors.
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By compiling a 23-10 record in 1997-98 and a 23-9 mark in 1998-99, Valpo became one of just seven schools to win 20 or more games from 1993- 99. The other six were Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, College of Charleston, Cincinnati and UCLA.
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WVU and Valpo are two of only five schools to win at least 6 straight conference tournament championships. The list: Kentucky-7 (1944-50), North Carolina A&T-7 (1982-88), North Carolina State-6 (1947-52), West Virginia-6 (1955-60) and Valpo-6 (1995-2000).
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WVU is shooting 64.6% from the free throw line in its seven wins, but improves to 70.7% in its two losses.