Previewing Maryland-Valparaiso with a Valpo beat reporter

To start gearing up for Maryland's NCAA tournament opener against Valparaiso, we traded emails with Paul Oren, who covers the Crusaders for The Times of Northwest Indiana.

You can check out more of Paul's coverage here, as we inch closer to the tip-off between the No. 4-seeded Terps (27-6) and No. 13-seeded Valpo (28-5) Friday at 4:40 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio.


Tracking the Terps:
The first thing anybody thinks of when hearing Valparaiso is the Bryce Drew shot against Ole Miss in 1998. But the Crusaders haven't won in the tourney since then (starting with a loss to Maryland in '99). Why hasn't Valpo been able to repeat that magic?

Paul Oren: That kind of magic -- speaking of The Shot -- is once-in-a-lifetime magic. That said, Valparaiso has had plenty of opportunities since the Sweet Sixteen run. Bad draws have consistently hindered the Crusaders, starting with the Terps and Stevie Franchise in '99. Valparaiso played eventual champion Michigan State in 2000 and then a 27-2 Gonzaga team in Seattle in the '04 tournament.

Valparaiso's best chance for a tourney win looked to be in 2002 when all the freshmen from the '99 game against Maryland were seniors. Much of the nation picked the Crusaders in a 4-13 contest, but Kentucky put aside its "Team Turmoil" nickname and rolled to the Sweet Sixteen before falling to the eventual national champions, Maryland.

The Crusaders had a nine-year drought from the NCAA tournament while they transitioned from the Mid-Continent Conference to the Horizon League. Valparaiso finally broke through in 2013 and looked like a trendy upset pick before the committee matched it up with Michigan State. The Crusaders just didn't have the size to compete with the bigger Spartans.

Speaking of Drew, what's his style now that he's the head coach?

Drew has certainly earned his stripes as a coach, having been named the Horizon League Coach of the Year for the second time this season. Drew has had to deal with a variety of injuries this year and his strength has been his ability to reinvent the team at every turn.


Valparaiso lost its starting point guard (Lexus Williams) in the summer to a torn ACL. Keith Carter took over as floor general, sliding over from shooting guard before suffering a dislocated toe in the second game of the conference season. Drew was forced rely on Charlotte transfer E. Victor Nickerson at the point just several months after Nickerson was coming off double hip surgery.

The Crusaders were a fast-moving offensive-minded team early in the season as evidenced by a 35-point win over Murray State. Drew reinvented the team several times and the Crusaders started to rely on defense into the latter stages of conference play. Instead of winning games in the 70s or 80s, Drew was now content to win games in the 50s and 60s.

Star sophomore Alec Peters seems to do a little bit of everything, leading Valpo in scoring and rebounding and shooting a high percentage from the floor and the line. What can the Terps do to bother him?

This is lofty praise, and I'm sure I'll get blasted for even making this comparison, but Peters is probably best described as a mid-major version of Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky. He's got plenty of range from the outside and a variety of moves on the inside. Peters will let it fly from the perimeter if he gets any daylight.

Gluing a defender to Peters' hip and keeping him there for 40 minutes is key to shutting down the sophomore.

Obviously Maryland has made its turnaround this season behind its guard play. Does Valparaiso have the type of guards who can stay in front of Dez Wells and Melo Trimble?

Valparaiso has done well with talented guards this season, including Green Bay star Keifer Sykes and Cleveland State's (and Penn State transfer) Trey Lewis. That's not to say those players are equals to Wells and Trimble.

Sykes, the Horizon League Player of the Year and a projected NBA draft pick, had arguably his three worst games of the year against the Crusaders. Lewis was an All-League selection and struggled against Valparaiso.

The Crusaders are a strong defensive team and will count on all five players to help stop Wells and Trimble. If the guards get to the basket, Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year Vashil Fernandez has the ability to alter shots.

Fans here are quite unhappy with Maryland getting a No. 4 seed despite being ranked No. 8 in the latest AP poll. Are fans out there a bit perturbed that they drew a Top 10 opponent?

It's deja vu of 2013 for Valparaiso. The Crusaders were thought to be a 13-seed that season and instead were pushed down to a 14 while Montana was elevated to a 13 for geographic reasons. Michigan State was one of the top teams in the country and the Spartans were dropped to a four. The trade-off was Michigan State played Valparaiso in Detroit.

I'm sure Maryland fans are upset with seeing Kentucky waiting in the Sweet Sixteen, especially when many thought (myself included) that the Terps should be a three.

Geography plays such a big part in seeding. Valparaiso, in all honesty, should be a 12-seed. Wyoming gets the nod and was sent out to Seattle. In exchange for getting bumped down to a 13 the Crusaders get to stay closer to home.

If there was one thing that really surprised me about Maryland's draw it's that I thought Notre Dame would get sent to Columbus and Maryland to Pittsburgh. That should be the bigger gripe than anything to do with seeding.

And finally, a prediction?

Maryland 72, Valparaiso 60. Trimble makes a big impression on a national stage. Peters holds his own and gets a lot of "respect" hugs in the postgame handshake.