VALPARAISO | The Valparaiso men’s basketball team can do little more than wait over the next five days until the Crusaders get a chance to fulfill their dreams.
The Horizon League tournament tips off today with three games around the Midwest. By virtue of their double bye into Saturday’s semifinals, the Crusaders will be curious observers of the first-round games tonight and the quarterfinals at the Athletics-Recreation Center on Friday.
“When you’re playing well you want to keep playing, but right now we’ve got a week break and a little time to rest,” senior Ryan Broekhoff said. “You never really know how to take a week break and how it will affect the team. We’ll prepare the best we can and then hopefully come out on Saturday with the passion we’ve been playing with this season.”
One thing is certain regardless of Valparaiso’s Saturday opponent: The Crusaders will need to beat a team three times to advance to the Horizon League title game. The Crusaders are 8-0 against their side of the bracket, which features Green Bay, UIC, Cleveland State and Milwaukee.
All three of Valparaiso’s losses come from teams on the other side of the bracket.
“You’re going to see everybody’s best in the conference tournament regardless of who you’re playing,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said. “We can’t control who we play. The big thing for us is we feel like we can improve as a team. That will be our focus this week.”
The Phoenix (16-14) appear most likely to be Valparaiso’s opponent. Green Bay has beaten first-round opponent Milwaukee by an average of 18.5 points in two games this season and also swept No. 8 Cleveland State. The No. 4 Phoenix split with No. 5 UIC this year.
“It’s definitely going to be a little more difficult,” Green Bay junior Alec Brown said of playing on Valparaiso’s side of the bracket. “We know that we can beat anyone in whatever route we take.”
UIC and Loyola are the only teams Valparaiso has yet to play in the Horizon League tournament since joining the conference in 2007. The Crusaders beat Green Bay and lost to Cleveland State in the semifinals in their inaugural season.
Valparaiso’s only postseason meeting with Milwaukee came two years ago when the Panthers beat the Crusaders in the semifinals.