Ryan Broekhoff didn’t know much about Bryce Drew when he was growing up in
Australia and he knew even less about Valparaiso, but the junior forward
certainly knew about the NCAA tournament.
Broekhoff, the Horizon League Player of the Year, didn’t get the chance to
see many college basketball games in his youth, but when the tournament was
on, Broekhoff found a television.
“You have to pay to get the games, but we figured out a way to watch it,”
Broekhoff said. “I always had my brackets going and I was watching the
bigger teams like Duke and Carolina. Playing in the tournament was something
that I always wanted to do, but it wasn’t something I ever thought I’d have
the chance to do.”
Broekhoff and his Valparaiso teammates are just 80 minutes away from the
goal of getting their school back to the NCAA tournament for the first time
since 2004. The Crusaders will be at home for as long as they are still in
the Horizon League tournament as Valparaiso won the right to host the
tournament when it clinched the regular season championship against Loyola
The top-seeded Crusaders will play the winner of Friday night’s nightcap
between No. 4 Milwaukee and No. 5 Butler. Cleveland State finished second in
the conference and will play the winner of Friday’s opener between No. 3
Detroit and No. 6 Youngstown State.
The Bulldogs made it to the national title game in each of the last two
seasons, but have fallen on hard times this season as players such as Gordon
Hayward (Utah) and Shelvin Mack (Washington) are now playing in the NBA.
With a 71-59 loss to the Crusaders last Friday, Butler went from securing
the No. 2 seed and a double bye to the semifinals to finishing in a
three-way tie for third place and earning the fifth-seed and a tough road
that will include four games in a week if the Bulldogs are to return to the
“Making it to the Final Four was pretty tough too,” Butler coach Brad
Stevens said after being asked about the difficult road in front of his
While a Final Four appearance would be outstanding, the Crusaders are only
concerned with hearing their name called on Selection Sunday for the time
being. Valparaiso swept Butler in the regular season and split with
Milwaukee, including a 57-55 loss at the Athletics-Recreation Center on Dec.
29. The Panthers are the only team in the Horizon League to have won a game
at the ARC this season.
If the Crusaders are going to move to the championship game and beyond, it
will likely be on the shoulders of Broekhoff to take them there. Even on the
nights when he isn’t scoring – Broekhoff only had six points against Butler
– the junior forward finds ways to contribute. Broekhoff had nine rebounds
against the Bulldogs and led the conference with 8.4 boards per contest.
“It takes a lot of pressure off me or off Kevin (Van Wijk) when we don’t
have to lead the team in scoring every night,” Broekhoff said. “We have
plenty of guys who can lead the team. It’s got to be frustrating for
opposing coaches to try and figure out which weapon to try and take out. We
have a great mix and it’s hard to take it all away.”
Record: 21-10, 14-4
Scoring leader: Ryan Broekhoff 14.8 ppg
Rebounding leader: Broekhoff 8.4 rpg
Assist leader: Erik Buggs 3.2 apg
Outlook: The Crusaders can win two games in four nights if they have some
secondary scoring. Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk (14.4 ppg) handle the bulk
of the scoring, but a third scorer will be needed to win in the tournament.
Will Bogan has been heating up as of late and Richie Edwards had a stretch
in February where he scored 16 or more points in 16 straight games.
Record: 22-9, 12-6
Scoring Leader: Trey Harmon 13.1 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Anton Grady 6.3 rpg
Assist Leader: Jeremy Montgomery 3.1 apg
Outlook: The Vikings looked set to run away with the conference title
earlier this season before D'Aundray Brown suffered a groin injury. The
Vikings lost five straight games before winning their final two regular
season games to climb back into the No. 2 seed. With Brown back, the Vikings
could be a very dangerous team in the tournament.
Record: 19-13, 11-7
Scoring Leader: Ray McCallum 14.9 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Eli Holman 7.0 rpg
Assist Leader: McCallum, 3.8 apg
Outlook: The Titans are as likely to blow teams out as they are not to show
up. McCallum is one of the best point guards in the country and he always
brings his top game. If players like LaMarcus Lowe and Chase Simon can stay
focused, Detroit is capable of going the distance.
Record: 20-12, 11-7
Scoring Leader: Tony Meier 11.1 ppg
Rebounding Leader: James Haarsma 5.5 rpg
Assist Leader: Kaylon Williams 6.5 apg
Outlook: The Panthers have three of the best seniors in the league and next
to McCallum, could have the best pure point guard in Williams. Meier is a
matchup nightmare and Ryan Allen takes care of the dirty work in the post.
The Panthers are the only Horizon League team to win at the
Athletics-Recreation Center this year.
Record: 19-13, 11-7
Scoring Leader: Andrew Smith 11.1 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Roosevelt Jones 6.2 rpg
Assist Leader: Ronald Nored 5.3 apg
Outlook: The Bulldogs have played in the last two national championship
games and it will take a strong effort to end their season. The Crusaders
swept Butler this season and have beaten the Bulldogs in three straight
games. Ronald Nored is the emotional leader of this group and the senior
point guard has plenty of big game experience.
6. Youngstown State
Record: 16-14, 11-7
Scoring Leader: Kendrick Perry 16.8 ppg
Rebounding Leader: Damian Eargle 7.5 rpg
Assist Leader: Perry 3.9 apg
Outlook: The Penguins are just not built for a marathon. Youngstown State
has started the same lineup in all 30 games and the quintet all average more
than 30 minutes a game. On top of that, Youngstown shoots a ton of
3-pointers. If the Penguins get hot, they'll win. If they get tired or lose
their legs, they'll lose. It's that simple for Youngstown State.