| MESSAGE BOARD
RECORD: 20 - 11
REGION: Mideast SEED: 15
COACH: Keith Freeman CONFERENCE: Horizon
Road to the Final Four ...................................................................................
|PLAYER TO WATCH|
With such balanced scoring -- seven players average at least 6.5 points -- it's tough to pick just one to watch. But Stangler gets our vote after leading Valpo in scoring (10.7 points) and rebounds (5.0). The 6-foot-2 junior forward also shoots 43.8 percent from the field and 80 percent at the foul line. And the honorable mention All-Mid-Con pick's 131 rebounds are split nearly down the middle, which means Stangler gets on the glass at both ends.
ANALYSIS BY ESPN'S STACEY DALES-SCHUMAN
It was a wicked Mid-Continent race this season, but the Crusaders prevailed.
Coach Keith Freeman, the all-time winningest coach in conference history, began the conference tournament winning trend last year, taking his squad to its first NCAA Tournament berth. The trend shall continue as Valparaiso defeated Oral Roberts by just one point to advance.
The Crusader's plight is commendable, particularly because they have endured a rash of injuries and illness that has induced an array of different starting lineups. In fact, only five players have played in every game this year.
One of the top Crusader scorers is 3-point specialist Suzie Hammel. The 5-foot-8 senior guard ranks second all-time in the Mid-Continent record books with more than 231 triples. She also drains 36 percent of her long-range tries, and is one of the best thieves in the conference, pocketing almost two steals per game.
Although Hammel possesses a good long stroke, sophomore teammate Jamie Gutowski raises the bar to 38 percent accuracy from downtown.
Valpo indeed poses a great threat from deep, but good shooting only stems from having a solid point guard. Junior Katie Boone, a 5-7 guard, averages four assists to just two turnovers, giving her team good discipline and poise.
The Crusaders have excelled in league play largely because of a stingy defense that has allowed only 55 points. Without great size and scoring velocity, defense and firm blockouts will be critical to the team's success.
Valparaiso also treats the ball as a precious commodity, averaging slightly more than 14 turnovers per game. That's a pretty impressive number considering the team carries a combined 10 freshmen and sophomores -- and has experienced a mixed starting group all season.
To Valparaiso's credit, the Crusaders withstood an incredibly tough nonconference schedule against the likes of Oregon, which was ranked early on, deliberate Villanova, ascending Notre Dame and Purdue, which only beat Valpo by 11 points. Be aware that this club will come to play.