Georgia Southern (0-0) at Valparaiso (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, Nov. 9, 8:30 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Athletics-Recreation Center (5,000) -- Valparaiso, Indiana. Television: None. Home Record: GSU 0-0, Valpo 0-0. Away Record: GSU 0-0, Valpo 0-0. Neutral Record: GSU 0-0, Valpo 0-0. Conference Record: GSU 0-0, Valpo 0-0. Series Record: Valparaiso leads, 2-0.
GAME NOTES: The Georgia Southern Eagles and Valparaiso Crusaders both have postseason aspirations for the 2012-13 season, and tonight they'll square off to open their respective campaigns at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Georgia Southern returns a number of contributors from last season, including preseason All-SoCon selection Eric Ferguson. The Eagles tied for second place in the Southern Conference's South Division last year, finishing with a 12-6 league mark after struggling in non-conference play. They'll open this season by playing four of their first five games on opponents' hardwoods.
Valparaiso was crowned the Horizon League regular-season champion last season but fell to Detroit in the title game of the league tournament. Former point guard Bryce Drew, the buzzer-beating hero of the Crusaders' Sweet 16 run in 1998, earned Horizon League Coach of the Year honors in his first year after taking over the head coaching position from his father, Homer Drew. The younger Drew now enters his second year at the helm with lofty expectations.
Valpo leads the all-time series, 2-0, with both of those meetings taking place in the past three years. This is the first time the teams will meet up in Indiana. The Crusaders notched a 90-81 win at Georgia Southern last November.
Three starters return for Georgia Southern, and coach Charlton Young is hopeful his team can build on its late-season momentum. Young's first order of business is cleaning up the sloppy play, as GSU averaged 15 turnovers per game and as a result, struggled to score with any consistency. It all starts with Ferguson, a consensus First-Team All-SoCon forward who led the team in scoring (15.4 ppg) and rebounding (7.2 rpg) last year as a sophomore. Assuming Ferguson continues along his current path, it's quite possible he'll enter next year's NBA Draft. However, there are some holes in the rest of the lineup. Starters Willie Powers and Ben Drayton were lost to graduation, and junior Jelani Hewitt (10.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg) is academically ineligible for the fall semester. Hewitt's situation is a real blow, as he was the team's most potent three-point threat a year ago (57-of-144) and also averaged 1.26 steals. Junior Tre Bussey (5.4 ppg) will log significant minutes at the point, while transfer C.J. Reed, a former MEAC player of the year at Bethune-Cookman, will also provide a spark.
Drew did a terrific job in leading his alma mater to a 22-12 overall finish, which included the program's first-ever regular-season Horizon League title. Valpo had to settle for the NIT after being upset by Detroit in the conference tournament, but Drew's first year at the helm was an overall success. The Crusaders return Horizon League Player of the Year Ryan Broekhoff (14.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and Kevin Van Wijk (14.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg) to their frontcourt. Broekhoff posted 12 double-doubles last season, topping the league in rebounding and finishing fourth in scoring. Wijk was also a first-team all-league selection, and his 61.7 field-goal percentage ranked fifth in the nation. Indiana transfer Bobby Capobianco (6-9, 250) and Jamaican freshman Vashil Fernandez (6-10, 220) will provide depth and size in the post, something the team lacked a year ago. Valpo also boasts a deep, experienced backcourt which features Matt Kenney (7.3 ppg), Will Bogan (7.2 ppg), Ben Boggs (4.5 ppg), and Erik Buggs (3.4 apg). As long as they stay healthy, the Crusaders are poised to be even more successful in the second year of Drew's system.
The matchup to watch here is between Ferguson and Broekhoff, two of the top players in their respective conferences. However, Broekhoff has the deeper supporting cast. Give the edge to Valpo playing in front of what promises to be a fired up home crowd.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Valparaiso 75, Georgia Southern 67
11/09 10:35:54 ET