VALPARAISO | Experience has been one of the key factors that has driven the Valparaiso men’s basketball team to a second straight Horizon League title this season.
Now the top-seeded Crusaders are hoping that their experience in hosting the conference tournament last season will aid in giving Valparaiso a return trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003-04.
The Crusaders rolled to an easy semifinal victory over Butler last year before dropping a heartbreaking championship game to Detroit at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
One year older and one year wiser, Valparaiso seems intent on not falling short again.
“We’ve definitely talked about it,” Valparaiso senior Matt Kenney said. “It’s now or never for the seniors. Last year we had a week off (between games), and we just kind of coasted through the week. We didn’t get better in practice. It felt like we took a step back instead of going forward. I feel like we’ve gotten better every day of practice this week.”
The Crusaders are in the same position this year that they were last season, having not played since an impressive 75-56 victory at Green Bay last Saturday. Valparaiso will play either the No. 4 Phoenix or No. 5 UIC on Saturday night. Bryce Drew’s squad beat the two teams four times this season by a combined 61 points.
“I don’t think there is really anything that will change in our preparation,” Drew said. “Hopefully the guys will be more comfortable in the routine. From a coaching standpoint you hate having a week off. The guys are ready to play games.”
Regardless of the opponent, the Crusaders will be attempting to beat the Phoenix or Flames for the third time this season. The common way of thinking is that beating an opponent a third time becomes increasingly more difficult.
“By the third time you both know so much about each other,” Kenney said. “As far as players we don’t really buy into that. We view it as a brand-new season. We did our job, we got first place and now it’s just time, no matter who we play, it’s time to take care of business.”
No. 2 Detroit will play the winner of No. 3 Wright State and No. 6 Youngstown State in the opposite semifinal. The winners of the two semifinal contests will meet on Tuesday night with a NCAA berth on the line.