After last season's 1-15 record in conference play, the feeling around LMU was that the Lions would be better this year. Not just because being worse than 1-15 would be difficult, mind you.
Do-it-all senior Anthony Ireland has a supporting cast better than any he's had in his career. Head coach Max Good brought in a strong freshman class, as well as Binghamton transfer Ben Dickinson, to help take some of the weight off the shoulders of the 5' 10" Ireland.
This balanced approach proved immediately to be effective. The Lions began the season with four straight wins, only one of which came at home. Other than that one home game, November 17th against Northern Arizona, the Lions have been a racking up frequent flier miles.
Valparaiso is the last stop on an lengthy road trip that saw the Lions play in the U.S. Virgin Islands, UC Riverside and Pittsburgh. The total mileage on the trip: 14,842 miles. They've gone 2-3 on the trip so far.
The Lions' Game
An up-tempo, offensive minded and guard oriented attack makes LMU a prototypical West Coast Conference team. Anthony Ireland leads the way with 19 points per game. He's joined in the back-court by freshman Evan Payne and junior Chase Flint. Payne won the starting job over Flint five games into the season thanks in large part to his 12.8 points per game and true shooting percentage of 56%.
The greatest improvement between this year and last comes in the front-court. Despite neither having played a single game for the Lions before this year, Ben Dickinson and freshman Gabe Levin have been invaluable. An automobile accident in the final days of the off-season sidelined Godwin Okonji, who was projected to be a starter, and forced Levin and Dickinson into action from the first tip.
Levin is averaging nearly a double-double with 12.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. His partner, Dickinson, leads the team at 56.4% shooting from the field (10.8 ppg).
The Lions love to get up and down the floor quickly, much more so than the Crusaders. LMU averages 73.5 possessions per 40 minutes while Valpo is below the national average with just 70.1. One team will be forced to play at a tempo they aren't comfortable with.
LMU's bigs have been a surprising bright spot for the team, but they're nowhere near as big as the Crusaders'. Valparaiso is one of the tallest teams in the nation. The Crusaders' two starting bigs stand 6' 10", the Lions starters are 6' 9" and 6' 7".
With a disadvantage in terms of height, this game may come down to Anthony Ireland. Luckily for the Lions, he's used to that.