Team preview: Valparaiso

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

It seems like forever since Valparaiso was in the NCAA Tournament. Or even the Mid-Continent championship game.

Records show it has been only two years. But with back-to-back MCC Tournament disappointments, the Crusaders have fallen on hard times, at least in comparison to the glory days of yesteryear, 2004. Injuries, for the second straight season, decimated Valparaiso's roster and sent the program into the second tier of conference teams after a long run at or near the top.

With Shawn Huff (7.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and Jimmie Miles (4.9 ppg, 1.7) hampered and limited to only 34 games combined, Homer Drew's crew struggled to find stability in 2005-06.

"That really changed our program the rest of the year," Drew said. "Their injuries really hit us hard. We never could get over the hump."

The season unraveled shortly after the turn of the new year. Huff missed the final 14 games with a broken foot and Miles missed most of January because of illness and injuries.

"We were 11-4 and had just won six in a row and were playing very, very well," said Drew, who had considered it his most talented team in almost a decade.

Four straight losses later, Valparaiso's hyped season came crashing down. The Crusaders even lost second-half leads of 22 points and 15 points to IUPUI and UMKC, respectively.

Valparaiso stumbled to a .500 conference record (eight conference wins were its lowest since 1991-92) before being blown out by eventual champion Oral Roberts in the MCC Tournament semifinals. The 19-point loss was Valparaiso's worst in the league tournament since Drew's first season in 1988-89.

Now, without the five leading scorers back on the nation's 13th-highest scoring team (79.6 points per game), Drew has got to wonder where the offense is going to come from.