Oakland Grizzlies vs. Valparaiso Crusaders
Athletics-Recreation Center (Valparaiso, IN)
Friday, January 6th at 9:00 PM ET (ESPN2)
With no power five conference match-ups scheduled for Friday night, the ESPN family of networks has decided to air an epic mid-major doubleheader. First on ESPN2 at 7:00 PM ET, the Rhode Island Rams will travel to Ohio to go up against fellow A-10 rival the Dayton Flyers. Immediately following that one will be the Horizon League dogfight between Oakland and Valparaiso which will also be broadcasted on ESPN2.
Considered to be in the upper tier of the Horizon League, the Grizzlies hold a 12-3 record which includes a convincing seven point home win against Georgia on December 23. On the other hand, the Crusaders sit at 11-3 on the year with their best wins both being decided by three points against Rhode Island at home and BYU in Las Vegas.
According to KenPom, both teams are very even with Oakland ranked 85th and Valparaiso at 84th.
With conference victories at home against Wright State and Northern Kentucky, the Grizzlies are sitting at 2-0 in conference play and are looking to steal a victory at the ARC Friday night. Coach Greg Kampe’s squad is led by junior guard Martez Walker who is the team’s leading scorer at 17.7 points per contest including a dominating 30 point performance in the Georgia game. Walker is not known for his outside shooting, 32% on the year from three, but has the strength and ability to get fouled inside and convert at the free throw line at a high rate of 87% (53-61).
As for Valpo, their star is senior forward Alec Peters. In their win over UIC on December 30th in Chicago, Peters put up 18 points and was 7-8 from the free throw line. Earlier on in the season, much of Valpo’s offense was centered around Peters and was relied on heavily to score the ball as much as he could. Since being manhandled by Kentucky in early December, Coach Lottich has started going deeper into his bench looking for a spark plug and it is paying dividends for his team. Freshman big men Jaume Sorolla and Derrik Smits are starting to get more comfortable being on the floor for 20-25 minutes a game which gives guys like Peters and Shane Hammink more time to catch their breathe on the bench.
Another surprise is senior guard Nick Davidson. During his first three years at Valpo, including the first part of this season, Davidson was the last or second to last guy on the bench and only saw the floor in garbage time. With the suspension of guard Max Joseph for the Kentucky game, Davidson’s number was called and he showed Lottich and the coaching staff that he could keep up with the speed and quickness of Kentucky and make an impact on the game doing the little things. In the victory on the road against Missouri State, Davidson played a career-high 21 minutes while he dished out six assists.
Key for Oakland: Speed Valpo up
Valparaiso’s average offensive possession lasts roughly 16.9 seconds which is 155th in comparison with other teams this year. Along with that, Valpo struggles from the three point line averaging 32.7% (256th in the nation) this year. The key for Oakland is to make Valpo uncomfortable by forcing them to play fast which will make them become prone to making mistakes. The Crusaders are at their best in the half-court and the Grizzlies can give them fits if they cause havoc on the defensive side of the ball.
Key for Valpo: Play YOUR game
With this game being on national TV, which doesn’t happen very often at Valpo, the emotions are going to be sky-high and players are going to be very anxious. Valparaiso is a very experienced team and has played on big stages before in last year’s NIT so I expect the nerves to be lower than one might think. As long as Valpo runs their stuff the way they know how to and play their game, then I don’t see why they won’t be able protect their home floor and come away with the victory.
Both groups shoot at an unbelievably exceptional from the free throw line. These teams are both in the top 10 for free throw shooting in the country as team with Oakland shooting 78.1% (9th) and Valpo 83.1% (3rd).
These two teams are so similar statistically it nearly impossible to identify which team has the edge in any category. But in this one, I like Valpo pulling it out in the end. I think the experience and the Alec Peters factor will be too much for Oakland. The atmosphere at the ARC Friday night will be absolutely electric and college basketball fans of every team won’t want to miss this one.
Photo via ESPN