Just when everything looked like it was going Valparaiso's way last weekend, A.J. Pacher had to throw a wrench into the mix.
Pacher's game-winner with 1.6 seconds left gave Wright State a much-needed road win at Oakland and put the Raiders within striking distance of the Crusaders for third place in the Horizon League.
Had Oakland held on, the Crusaders would've had essentially a three-game lead over the rest of the conference with four games to play. Wright State has just three games remaining including home contests with Detroit and Valparaiso as well as a road contest against UIC in the regular-season finale.
With the Raiders having beaten Valparaiso earlier this year at the Athletics-Recreation Center, Wright State currently holds the tiebreaker over the Crusaders. The tiebreaker won't likely come into play if Valparaiso beats Wright State in Dayton next Tuesday, but could certainly be a major factor in the final standings if the Crusaders fall on the road.
The difference between third and fourth place is huge in the Horizon League as the third place team receives a first-round bye and is on the opposite side of first place (currently Green Bay) and wouldn't have a true road game until the championship game (if at all). Fourth place will match up against UIC on Tuesday Mar. 4 and will have to win on Friday against the 5/8 winner in order to get a road game against the well-rested No. 1 seed in Saturday's semifinals. If the No. 4 seed wins, they'll likely have to travel for another road contest in the championship game in what would be there fourth game in seven days.
All of this talk about third and fourth place could be irrelevant if the Crusaders take care of business down the stretch. Valparaiso controls its own destiny for the No. 2 seed and the double bye that comes along with a second place finish. Not bad for a team that was projected to finish seventh this season.
Valparaiso can still win the league with a little bit of help. The Crusaders would need to beat Green Bay on Thursday night and then need the Phoenix to lose one of their remaining games (at Detroit/Oakland) while Valparaiso would need to sweep its remaining three games. The Crusaders host Youngstown State before traveling to Wright State and then wrapping up the regular-season with Cleveland State at the ARC on March 1.
As we sit on Feb. 17, here is how I see the rest of the Horizon League shaking out
1. Green Bay (13-3)
2. Cleveland State (11-5)
3. Wright State (10-6)
4. Valparaiso (10-6)
5. Milwaukee (7-9)
6. Youngstown State (7-9)
7. Oakland (7-9)
8. Detroit (6-10)
9. UIC (1-15)
No. 4 Valparaiso vs. No. 9 UIC
No. 5 Milwaukee vs. No. No. 8 Detroit
No. 6 Youngstown State vs. No. 7 Oakland
So yeah, A.J. Pacher's game-winner was just about the worst thing that could've happened to Valparaiso this weekend. Looking forward to seeing out this ride plays out.