Chesterton Tribune

VU basketball team has eyes on the Big Dance

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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 last Tuesday.

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 NCAA tournament.

“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 team.

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.”

Team-by-Team

1. Valparaiso

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.

2. Cleveland State

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.

3. Detroit

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.

4. Milwaukee

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.

5. Butler

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.

 

 

Posted 3/2/2012