On Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis, in only his eight game at the helm, Bryce Drew accomplished something his father couldn't in nine tries over his legendary tenure as Men's Basketball Coach. Bryce took the Crusaders into Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse and walked out with a win.
Saturday's win is indicative of a change of mindset throughout the program, both in terms of X's and O's and mental approach. Bryce has done a 180 in on both sides of the floor, and game planning seems to be influenced heavily by his experience in the NBA. Gone is Homer's beloved 2-2-1 set, as Bryce has proven more willing to use a man defense, regardless of the situation.
Additionally, the offense has smoothly transitioned from operating on the perimeter (focusing on guards like Brandon Wood) to running inside-out (with the focus moving Valpo's strong interior players, Kevin Van Wijk and Richie Edwards).
More important than any strategic changes has been the way the 2011-12 Crusaders have been performing between the ears.
As much as I love Homer, it became clear over his final years that he was beginning to have trouble motivating the team. Valpo would no-show games and find themselves on the losing end against teams that they should have defeated by double digits. The team would mail it in if it got behind early and sleepwalk to a certain loss. Large halftime leads would disappear and the team would be forced to battle to survive games down the stretch. The most glaring example of the team's mental instability came down the stretch last season, when losses at Green Bay and at home against Loyola cost Valpo its first Horizon League crown.
In the early stages of his tenure as Men's Basketball Coach, Bryce has instilled a mental toughness in his team that I haven't seen in nearly a decade of following the Crusaders. Valparaiso fought back from a pair of seven-point deficits in front of a hostile Butler crowd, something I have a hard time believing even the talented 10-11 squad could have done.
Even more impressive was VU's performance in the Valparaiso Subregional of the 2KSports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. In spite of a slow start against a solid Akron team, VU battled for 40 minutes and walked away victorious on a night in which they were shorthanded and didn't play their best basketball.
Two days later, the Crusaders came out and won their third game in as many days, an 84-68 throttling of Duquesne.
Overall, there are many things for the Valpo community to look forward to in the coming years.