VALPARAISO | If Bryce Drew has failed in any area in his first year as the head of the Valparaiso men's basketball program, it's been his lack of saying anything juicy to the media.
Since knocking off Butler in December, Drew has been careful to point out in press conferences and private interviews that every Horizon League game equals one in the same.
Drew didn't get excited about the first road win at Hinkle Fieldhouse in 23 years. He didn't beat his chest after revenge victories against Milwaukee and Wright State, and Drew certainly isn't getting overly emotional about today's huge conference test at Cleveland State.
"As a player and as a coach, you never want to get too high or too low," Drew said. "If you really look forward to just one game, you won't do well in the next game. If we put all of our eggs in the Cleveland State game, we'll have nothing for Youngstown, and that game is just as important."
Drew's insistence of Horizon League equality was once thought of as a mantra to not provide any bulletin board material to the opposition. Thirteen games into the conference season, it's clear that his philosophy represents a team-wide attitude that is carried on by the best players.
"If you can only get motivated for the big games, then you're not truly thinking about the entire season," Valparaiso junior Ryan Broekhoff said. "Each game for me is just as big as the next."
The Crusaders (17-8, 10-3) are the only team in the Horizon League to have beaten every conference opponent this season, including a 72-66 victory over the Vikings on Jan. 15. Cleveland State has beaten every opponent except for Valparaiso but also has a loss to third-place Youngstown State. A season sweep over the Vikings (20-4, 10-2) would give the Crusaders the edge in any tie-breaker involving Cleveland State as well as a solid hold on a double bye in the conference tournament with just four games remaining.
"There is a little bit more appeal (to the Cleveland State game), and there is some significance in the standings, but we can't let that distract us from our routine," Broekhoff said. "Maybe there are a few more nerves before the game, but once the ball is thrown up, it's just like every other game."
The Crusaders have won three of their last five games against Cleveland State, but all three of the victories have come at the Athletics-Recreation Center. If Valparaiso is to pull the upset in Cleveland, Broekhoff will likely have to mirror his performance against Detroit last Thursday (26 points on nine shots) as opposed to Wright State on Saturday (three shot attempts, all in the second half).
"It's a huge strength of our team to have a number of guys who can step up and really score the basketball," Broekhoff said. "It makes it that much tougher to guard, because coaches can't take away everything. Kevin (Van Wijk) and I saw a lot of double teams against Wright State, but it was just as fun for me to watch my teammates carry the scoring load as it was for me to do the scoring against Detroit."