One day after Bryce Drew was introduced as the new head coach at Vanderbilt, Valparaiso has reportedly found his replacement.
Thursday afternoon Valparaiso offically promoted assistant Matt Lottich to head coach. Lottich, who played collegiately at Stanford, spent the last three seasons on Drew’s staff after completing a professional playing career in Japan. What will also help Lottich in his quest to keep things rolling at Valpo is the fact that the school is just over an hour from Chicago, and as a native of the state Lottich has the contacts needed from a recruiting standpoint.
There are questions when it comes to next season’s roster, as defensive linchpin Vashil Fernandez is out of eligibility and redshirt junior Alec Peters has decided to go through the NBA pre-Draft process (without an agent). Fernandez was one of four seniors on this season’s NIT runner-up team, so there will be some holes to fill this spring.
If Peters were to return that would undoubtedly help the Crusaders, as they look to win a third consecutive Horizon League title and return to the NCAA tournament after missing out this season.
News of Lottich’s hire was originally reported by ESPN.com.
Thursday night’s Postseason NIT championship matchup featured two teams, No. 1 seed Valparaiso and No. 4 seed George Washington, that began this season with hopes of playing in the NCAA tournament. Things didn’t work out as either team would have hoped, with the Crusaders falling in the Horizon League tournament and the Colonials not getting the wins needed to earn an at-large bid out of the Atlantic 10, but both had the chance to return home with a championship trophy.
And it was Mike Lonergan’s team that would accomplish that goal, pulling away in the second half to beat Valparaiso by the final score of 76-60.
Kevin Larsen led four Colonials in double figures with 18 points, with Patricio Garino adding 14 points, Joe McDonald 13, eight rebounds and four assists and tournament Most Outstanding Player Tyler Cavanaugh 12 points. Leading by one at the intermission, George Washington outscore Valparaiso 44-29 in the second half with the Crusaders struggling to make shots.
Bryce Drew’s team finished the game 8-for-28 from three, with forward Alec Peters being their lone double-digit scorer with 15 points. Valparaiso shot 39 percent from the field, and the reliance on perimeter shots was one reason why they were outscored 22-6 from the foul line. That margin was the biggest difference, and as a result George Washington is headed home with their first postseason tournament title.
The Colonials join Columbia (CIT) and Old Dominion (Vegas 16) as winners of postseason tournaments thus far. Nevada hosts Morehead State in Game 3 of the CBI Finals Friday night.
Now in his third season as head coach at his alma mater, Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew has led the Crusaders to 55 wins and two consecutive Horizon League regular season titles. The next step for Valparaiso would be to win the conference’s tournament title and thereby earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Valparaiso was picked to finish sixth in the preseason poll, and a group led by guard LaVonte Dority and forward Alec Peters will look to exceed those expectations.
Thus far it’s clear that they’ve got a coach capable of leading them in that quest, and on Wednesday the school announced its commitment to Drew in the form of a 10-year contract extension.
“Bryce Drew has shown himself to be one of the exceptional young coaches in college basketball,” Valparaiso AD Mark LaBarbera said in the release. “His outstanding record clearly shows his ability to recruit and lead talented student-athletes. We are grateful for Coach Drew’s dedication to Valparaiso University and excited that he will continue in a leadership role here for the foreseeable future.”
Valparaiso’s off to a 7-5 start and they’ve won three of their last four games, with the lone defeat being a two-point loss to Saint Louis as time expired on December 7. Green Bay, which beat Virginia last month, and Youngstown State are off to good starts as is Milwaukee, which was picked to finish last in the preseason coaches poll. Add in preseason favorite Wright State and a solid Cleveland State squad, and the Horizon League race will be a competitive one.
Much may not have been expected of Valparaiso, especially when considering the loss of Ryan Broekhoff, but with Drew at the helm the Crusaders are more than capable of factoring into the race.