2016-2017 Overall Rank: #70
Conference Rank: #1 Horizon
Valparaiso had a very successful 2015-2016 campaign, going 30-7 overall and 16-2 in Horizon League action, but a loss to Green Bay in the conference tournament sent the Crusaders to the NIT. They certainly made the most of their trip though, beating Texas Southern, Florida State, Saint Mary’s and BYU before falling to George Washington in the championship game. The offseason was very busy too. Bryce Drew left to take the head coaching job at Vanderbilt and Valpo brought in Matt Lottich to take over the head coaching duties. He has been an assistant with the Crusaders for the past three years. There was also speculation that forward Alec Peters would leave for the NBA or possible follow his former coach as a graduate transfer. Peters returned to Valparaiso for his senior season though and he will lead this team again in 2016-2017. The 6-9 forward led the squad with 18.4 points and 8.5 rebounds last year and could boost those already impressive numbers. Peters is a great outside shooter and extremely efficient inside the arc. Whether he plays at the small forward or the power forward spot, he is a nightmare for any defender to guard.
2015-16 Record: 30-7, 16-2
2015-16 Postseason: NIT
Coach: Matt Lottich
Coach Record: 0-0 at Valparaiso, 0-0 overall
Unlike last year, this group has some significant players to replace. Keith Carter was second on the team with 10.3 points per game and he dished out a team high 4.5 assists. Replacing him at the point guard spot could be a season long issue. The backcourt also loses Darien Walker. His production dipped to 8.0 points per game during his senior season. Like Walker, E. Victor Nickerson was not as productive during his senior season, but the losses do add up. The frontcourt must replace Vashil Fernandez and David Skara. Fernandez was never much of a scorer, but he averaged 7.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game. Skara, who has opted to transfer, averaged 6.5 points and 3.1 rebounds during his sophomore season.
The Crusaders will need some production from their four freshmen. Micah Bradford could step right into the team’s starting point guard spot. Whether he starts or not, Bradford will have to handle quite a few minutes at the point and he has the talent to be productive as a freshman. John Kiser, a 6-5 wing, will add depth on the perimeter. The frontcourt adds 6-11 Jaume Sorolla and 7-2 Derrik Smits. Smits is the player who should have an immediate impact. He is a smart player and his year redshirting in 2015-2016 should have him ready to contribute. Like Bradford, Smits may not start right away, but the talent is there if Coach Lottich needs him in the starting five.
Who to Watch:
Valpo will need some players to step up and play much bigger roles this season. Shane Hammink and Tevonn Walker have plenty of starting experience though. Hammink is a big 6-7 guard who can get past bigger defenders and shoot over small defenders. He was third on the team in scoring with 8.9 points per game last season. Walker had an off year in the shooting department, but he is capable of putting up bigger numbers than his 8.8 points per game from last season. Lexus Williams hopes to regain his freshman form when he averaged 6.5 points and 2.4 assists. He missed the entire 2014-2015 campaign and much of last season as well. However, if he can stay healthy, Williams could be the answer at the point guard spot. Max Joseph is a potential point guard too, but he needs to improve his shooting and defense before he will see too much action.
The frontcourt will rely heavily on the newcomers and Jubril Adekoya. He is not a shot blocker like Fernandez, but Adekoya can score inside and out and will do a decent job on the glass. The development of Smits and Sorrola will be a very important factor for Valparaiso. Peters will ideally play at the three spot, but that means the freshmen will have to pick up quite a few minutes at the five spot with Adekoya playing at the four. Coach Lottich should have that flexibility this year and the ability to play very big depending on the opposition and the situation. Even playing small with the 6-7 Hammink on the wing and the 6-9 Peters at the power forward spot is not particularly small, especially by Horizon League standards. With that talent and flexibility, this is the team to beat in the Horizon League and Peters did not come back to go to the NIT. He came back to lead this team to the NCAA Tournament and he has the pieces around him to do just that.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Lexus Williams, Junior, Guard, 1.5 points per game
Tevonn Walker, Junior, Guard, 8.8 points per game
Shane Hammink, Senior, Guard, 8.9 points per game
Alec Peters, Senior, Forward, 18.4 points per game
Jubril Adekoya, Senior, Forward, 6.1 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 75.2 (122nd in nation, 6th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 62.8 (9, 1)
Field-Goal Percentage: 44.3 (169, 6)
Field-Goal Defense: 38.4 (4, 1)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 8.1 (79, 3)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 35.9 (116, 6)
Free-Throw Percentage: 72.3 (81, 3)
Rebound Margin: 8.8 (7, 1)
Assists Per Game: 14.2 (112, 4)
Turnovers Per Game: 12.9 (202, 6)