VALPARAISO | There are no secrets in the Horizon League.
Past the midway point of the conference season, the Valparaiso men’s basketball team has played every team at least once and has put enough on tape that the opposition won’t be surprised by anything the Crusaders put on the floor.
That’s what makes Saturday afternoon’s nationally-televised tilt with Cleveland State so difficult for Valparaiso.
“They’re not even the same team that we played earlier this season,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said of the Vikings. “When you look at film, it looks like they’ve aged two years and now they’re all juniors and seniors.”
The Crusaders (18-6, 8-2) were dominant in a 74-50 victory over Cleveland State at the Athletics-Recreation Center on Jan. 4. The Vikings struggled for much of January with the exception of a home victory over Detroit. Since the calendar turned to February, Cleveland State put forth a strong performance in a road win at UIC and then got a career-performance from Devon Long (23 points, three steals) in a 66-60 home win over Youngstown State.
The challenge for the Valparaiso coaching staff will be making sure their players know Cleveland State is every bit capable of beating a team that won by 24 points in the first meeting.
“Hopefully (our players) understand what’s at stake,” Drew said. “Everyone is aware of how good Cleveland State is.”
The Vikings (12-12, 4-6) were just learning to play without star forward Anton Grady when conference play started and now a team that starts two sophomores and a freshman is starting to click, especially at home. Cleveland State is 8-2 at the Wolstein Center and plays four of its next five games at home.
With Saturday’s road contest, the Crusaders begin their longest stretch of travel in back-to-back games with a stop home in between. The team left Valparaiso on Friday morning and will return late Saturday night before leaving Monday afternoon for another trip to Ohio when the Crusaders face Wright State on Tuesday. All of this before arguably Valparaiso’s biggest game of the season next Saturday at home against Detroit.
“This is really our first time going through (the travel), so we’ll see what we learn from it,” Drew said. “The nice thing is we have an afternoon game on Saturday which allows us to get back earlier.”
The Crusaders could be short-handed again on Saturday as Matt Kenney (back) didn’t practice following a strong return performance against UIC and will be a game-time decision. Alex Rossi (heart) returned to practice on Thursday and traveled with the team, but he is not expected to dress against Cleveland State.