Breaking down the Valparaiso and Loyola Marymount game by the numbers is a contrast in team makeup.
If you look at the Valpo side, the players who were left after last season have all stepped up to fill the void left by Ryan Broekfhoff and Kevin Van Wijk. They moved into the value void, although no one could totally replace Broekhoff, at least not the players at the top of the value chain right now.
The value has really moved outside for the Crusaders as LaVonte Dority and Jordan Coleman went from being just about replacement level last season to being the two most valuable players for Valpo. The two are combining right now for 5.7 wins this season according to HOOPWAR. Now, that won't be quite the level of Broekhoff, but it is does form a solid foundation for what's around them.
Notice there are no negative numbers among those five. It is a group playing together, playing to each other, and making sure that all five on the floor contribute: a real team effort.
Mid-Major Madness Podcast
The Mid-Major Madness Podcast is back after a brief hiatus. We're just about a month in on the season and we touch on the biggest surprises and disappointments thus far this season.
Even the worst player by HOOPWAR right now, Clay Yeo, is barely on track to lose a single win this season. That is establishing a real base for growing beyond this year, a reason why Valpo is likely to return to top of the conference before too long, maybe even this year.
The look on the other side of the court is a little different. It should be no surprise that Anthony Ireland is on pace to equal or slightly better what he accomplished last season, a nearly 7.0 win season, that was a strong combination of offense and backcourt defensive ability.
But the rest of the team is summed up in a single player, a freshman named Gabe Levin.
Levin is hammering the boards and contributing fairly well defensively to be neck in neck with Ireland at the top of the Lions value chain. No one else is on pace to even earn a single win this season. But Levin might just be more valuable than Ireland by the end of the year.
In fact, he might be one of the more impressive freshman so far (not taking anything away from BYU's Eric Mika, just saying this is more unexpected than anything else).
Levin was just a two-star prospect out of high school, same as most mid-majors. He had several scholarship offers, but the best was George Washington. He was barely a top-50 player at his position in Illinois, and I think a lot of that had to do with him being undersized when he was in high school. In short, he wasn't going to a major program, no matter what.
But this isn't that Gabe Levin. This is a guy who packed on 35 pounds between senior year and now, and that mass increase has given him the power he has to play well inside, which will be needed in the WCC season.
If you had to look at the two teams, my head will lean a little toward Loyola Marymount right now. They have two players who have proven difficult to stop no matter who the opponent was, and all they need is a little more from one other player in that lineup. Valpo just needs too much of a contribution from everyone to pull this off.
It will be close, but this one should go to the Lions.