Team preview: Valparaiso

Blue Ribbon Illustrated previews the 2004-05 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.

Updated: October 27, 2004, 5:02 PM ET
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Homer Drew has achieved much throughout his long career.

But no accomplishment might be bigger than the job he turned in last season.

First of all, he wasn't hired until late August.

Homer had been working the previous year for the university president after stepping down in April of 2002. But when his son Scott was hired by Baylor to restore some sense of dignity to its program, the elder Drew returned to the floor.

Suffice to say there wasn't much adjustment time.

"The majority of guys playing hadn't played for him," assistant coach Matt Bowen said. "So they had about a month to figure it all out."

Valparaiso, playing its usual killer non-conference schedule, lost three of its first four games (including to ranked foes Marquette and Cincinnati). The Crusaders then dropped another three of four games; only this time, it was to lesser opponents.

Something wasn't right.

"It wasn't anything the coaches or players were doing wrong," Bowen said. "The kids were just trying to find their way."

After opening conference play with a win, the Crusaders lost three in a row. Suddenly, they saw themselves at 1-3 and using what Bowen called "a million different lineups."

Feeling pressure, Valparaiso won nine of its next 10 games.

Two consecutive losses were followed with five straight victories – with the latter three coming in the Mid-Con Tournament.

"You have to give coach Drew a ton of credit," Bowen said. "He stayed the course."

Clearly, Drew demonstrated why he is the 15th-winningest active Division I coach with 523 wins. His run with the Crusaders has been as dominant as any coach has had in any conference during the last decade.

Valparaiso has won the Mid-Continent regular-season or tournament title the last 10 years. The Crusaders have won both in all but three of those years.

Should this pattern continue, Drew will have to make do without the services of departed senior forward Kikas Gomes (13.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg), who was selected to the all-conference second-team last year.