Sunday afternoon will feature the Valparaiso Crusaders and Iona Gaels in the first Mid-Major Madness Game of the Week for this season. We spent Tuesday previewing the contest from both sides, and making our picks, but now having seen some action this season, it is time to look at three things that will be important in this early matchup.
1. Battle in the Backcourt
During its opener against IPFW, Valparaiso had a difficult time containing the backcourt of the Mastodons. The five guards for IPFW shot 20-for-37 from the floor, and 8-for-15 from 3-point range.
No offense to the Mastodon players, but they are not as good as what Iona is putting on the floor at the guard position, especially when you talk about A.J. English. He shot almost 39 percent from 3-point range last season and is a master distributor of the ball. He is going to have a field day if the Crusaders cannot improve their coverage away from the basket.
Valpo didn't have any issues with foul trouble in their backcourt in the opener, and they will certainly need to press the ball handlers a little more during this game.
2. New rules
As everyone saw Friday, it is going to take some time to adjust to the new rules regarding contact on defense and zone of control for all players on the floor. This isn't just about fixing moving screens which were a major issue. This is about opening up the game. No players have had a harder time with the new rules than guys who play near the basket.
In the opener, Vashil Fernandez, who only won the defensive player of the year award in the Horizon League last season, played just 19 minutes because of foul trouble. He picked up two in the first half and then had to sit, and was dinged again quickly in the second, forcing Valpo to go with a slightly smaller lineup.
Maybe Fernandez has learned from that game, but he hasn't had a lot of time to make the adjustments necessary to keep him on the floor and not on the sidelines. But maybe it is just more important to have played a game with the new rules and understand what is going to be called this season during actual play against a Division 1 foe. That could give Valpo the advantage when it comes to the whistle as Iona has yet to experience this change in action.
3. X-Factor David Skara
David Skara found himself forced into action early because of the foul trouble of Fernandez and he acquitted himself well. He stay out of trouble himself while scoring 14 points and grabbing seven rebounds in the win.
This is a player that as a freshman averaged just 5.4 points and a little more than three rebounds in some serious minutes on the floor. His emergence as a real threat with these kinds of numbers should bode well for the Crusaders moving forward this season, and beyond.
The Valparaiso Crusaders and Iona Gaels tip off at 2:30 p.m., Eastern, on Sunday and can be seen streaming live on ESPN3.