AUBURN HILLS | Ryan Broekhoff’s entire Valparaiso career has been geared toward today.
The Australian native came to Northwest Indiana with a goal of reaching the NCAA tournament and now that the No. 14 Crusaders are set to take on No. 3 Michigan State, Broekhoff and his teammates want more.
“I think the closer the games come, the more I’ve seemed to enjoy it,” Broekhoff said. “It’s kind of sunk in that we have completed one of our goals. Obviously we still have goals in mind that we set at the start of the year.”
The Crusaders were first up during Wednesday’s practice at The Palace of Auburn Hills and the senior-laden team appeared comfortably focused during the open session. Valparaiso did little more than shooting drills in front of the crowd and then left for a regular practice at former Mid-Con rival Oakland’s campus arena.
“It is a business trip in the end,” Broekhoff said. “We’ll enjoy the experience, but once you walk over those lines and the ball is thrown up, it’s all about business and we’re out here to not just make up the numbers, but to really give it a good effort and give our best.”
There were a few Valparaiso fans scattered among plenty of Spartan green at The Palace on Wednesday. From the moment the draw was announced, Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew implored Crusader fans to make the trip to Auburn Hills to help drown out the Michigan State crowd.
The players went out of their way to limit the distractions that could come with the site only four hours from home. Ticket requests were addressed earlier in the week and by the time the team arrived in Auburn Hills on Tuesday night, it was just another basketball game.
“It’s great because we’re close and it’s easier for our fans to travel, but it’s definitely a business trip,” Valparaiso guard Erik Buggs said. “You enjoy a moment off the court and when you step on the court it’s all about business.”
Valparaiso has never played a game at The Palace, but playing in the Detroit area is nothing new for the Crusaders. Two of their most memorable games have come in the Motor City this year as Valparaiso blew a nine-point lead over Oakland in December by going scoreless over the last 4:51 in a 70-68 loss to the Grizzlies at the O’Rena. One month later the Crusaders rallied from a 22-point deficit to knock off Detroit 89-88 and end the Titans’ 17-game home winning streak.
“We have some bad memories here and obviously some good ones,” Valparaiso senior Kevin Van Wijk said. “We need to think about what’s ahead of us, and we got important games. We don’t need to worry about what we did before here. We just need to worry about what we’re going to do.”