Game of the Week
|Sunday, November 15, 2:30 PM||
Valparaiso Crusaders (0-0)
Iona Gaels (0-0)
Athletics Recreation Center
Valparaiso enters the season as the overwhelming favorite to take a very stacked Horizon League. The Crusaders will be looking to return to the NCAA Tournament this year, after pushing Maryland to the brink during the Round of 64 in 2015. Bryce Drew's team returns all of their key players from last season, while also welcoming back Lexus Williams who tore his ACL in September, 2014, and missed the entire season. His return just extends the depth of a very good bench.
The Crusaders have one of the best interior defenses, led by Vashil Fernandez, who should repeat as the defensive player of the year, and Alec Peters, a strong candidate for the overall player of the year in the Horizon League. That defense will be a major strength against Iona as they try to penetrate and score.
Player to Watch | Alec Peters
By all accounts Alec Peters had an impressive freshman year at Valparaiso, which he followed with an even better sophomore season. He got better at working against defenses that seemed stacked to stop him, he improved his ability to handle the ball, and he became a more tenacious rebounder. All of that came while sporting one of the best shooting touches in the conference. This is a big man that can do it all, including knocking down a 3-point shot when needed. That versatility will be on display, and makes him as the top threat against Iona.
Iona comes into the 2015-16 season looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. Despite winning 48 games combined the last two seasons, Tim Cluess' Gaels have seen their season ended by the Manhattan Jaspers two years in a row. This years the Gaels come in as a heavy favorite in a weaker MAAC and check in as our preseason eleventh ranked team in the Mid-Major Power 15.
Cluess comes into the year with the MAAC's best player, A.J. English, and the best backcourt when you add in sophomore Schadrac Casimir, last season's MAAC Rookie of the Year, and monster guard Isaiah Williams. The frontcourt is Iona's weakness as they need Ryden Hines to step up and need immediate contributions from newcomers Aaron Rountree III (Wake Forest transfer) and Jordan Washington (JUCO). The new look, David Laury-less frontcourt will have their hands full with Alec Peters from Valpo.
Player to Watch | A.J. English
A.J. English was the runaway pick for MAAC Preseason Player of the Year and was named a preseason Mid-Major Madness 1st Team All-American. The senior 6'4 guard averaged over 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists a year ago and should put up similar numbers this year. Simply put, English is one of the most well-rounded mid-major players in the country and he can do a little bit of everything. While Valpo definitely has the advantage in the frontcourt, Iona has a big advantage in the backcourt because of English alone.
Ben: Valparaiso has so many weapons that they can bring to bear against Iona that is seems unlikely that any scheming by Tim Cluess can slow them down. The Crusaders have the chops to eliminate the Gaels' inside game with their tough defense, and should be difficult to handle on the offensive end. Never count out Iona, but this one seems difficult to handle.
Parks: While I love AJ English and pretty much everything Tim Cluess does, I have to go with the Crusaders in this one...barely. I like the fact that Valpo gets a bit of a tuneup game against IPFW before this one while Iona is going in cold turkey. Valpo just better not be looking ahead to their College Hoops Marathon match up at Rhode Island.