Milo Stovall went through a range of emotions when the sophomore guard saw Valparaiso’s name appear on the screen during the 2000 NCAA Selection Show.
Stovall was thrilled to be playing in Valparaiso’s fifth straight NCAA tournament, but the Michigan native cringed when he saw the Crusaders’ seed as well as their opponent.
“We were projected as a 15, maybe even a 14, but then it was a 16 and it was like there was no way possible that could happen,” Stovall said on Sunday night. “Then it pops up that we’re playing Michigan State and my first thought was excitement because I always wanted to play those guys…then reality set in.”
The reality was that Michigan State was one of the best teams in the country coming into the tournament and the Spartans ran the Crusaders out of Cleveland with a 65-38 first-round victory on their way to an eventual national championship.
“We knew the game wasn’t in East Lansing, it was going to be (on a neutral court) in Cleveland, but they were one of the best out there and they were playing like it,” Stovall said. “We knew right away that it was going to be a war.”
The Valparaiso coaching staff came up with an offensive attack that was designed to slow the game down and allow for the Crusaders to take good shots late in the shot clock. It didn’t take long for Stovall to realize the plan wasn’t going to work.
“They play so good of defense and what we tried to do kind of played into their hands a little bit,” Stovall said. “It was kind of a catch-22. They made it tough for us to execute our offense.”
Stovall was watching on Sunday night when No. 14 Valparaiso was matched up with No. 3 Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Auburn Hills. Stovall, who currently coaches with the Camp Darryl Basketball Academy in Grand Rapids, expects to be at the game and will be pulling for the Crusaders.
“The main thing for Valpo is they need to make shots and just play relentless,” Stovall said. “They can’t make it easy for Michigan State. Make them make outside shots and make it hard for them to move the ball. If State establishes (transition offense), it will be over pretty quick.”
Stovall played in three NCAA tournaments with the Crusaders, falling to Maryland and Michigan State in his first two years and then falling short against Kentucky in his senior season. It was against the Wildcats that Valparaiso was a trendy upset pick on many of the national television broadcasts. A quick survey of social media and television on Sunday night proved that many think Michigan State will make a deep run, possibly to the Final Four, this season and that no one is giving Valparaiso much of a chance to spring the upset.
“The bulletin board material cliché holds true,” Stovall said. “Valpo doesn’t have anything to lose and the pressure will all be on the team that is picked to win. I think with us, that stuff fueled Kentucky to come out and play even harder. The Valpo kids can use this to their motivation. One of the things I’ve always lived by is we all put our pants and shoes on one leg at a time. It’s going to come down to Valpo executing their plan and that’s why we go to the games.”