CHICAGO | Bryce Drew barely blinked when the Valparaiso men's basketball team was picked to win the Horizon League last year.
The third-year coach showed even less emotion when the Crusaders were tabbed to finish sixth at the annual Horizon League Media Day at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Chicago on Wednesday afternoon.
Green Bay edged out Wright State as the preseason favorite in the closest vote in conference history. Youngstown State's Kendrick Perry was named the preseason Player of the Year.
"We're always concerned more with postseason rankings," Drew said. "We've been picked to finish near the top and been picked to finish near the bottom. Wherever we're picked, it's just the preseason. We talk more about the postseason."
Five teams received first-place votes as Cleveland State, conference newcomer Oakland and the Penguins rounded out the top five. The Crusaders finished 14 points behind Youngstown State and 54 points ahead of seventh-place UIC. Last season's runner-up Detroit was selected to finish in eighth with 2011 champion Milwaukee a distant ninth.
"We want to approach this year with a chip on our shoulder," Valparaiso senior Lavonte Dority said. "We're looking to win games, possibly repeat and get back to the (NCAA) tournament."
The Crusaders lost six seniors from last season's conference championship team, including all five starters. Drew must replace 75.9 percent of minutes played and he'll be doing it with a large group of untested newcomers.
"We wish we had names on the back of our practice jerseys because we have so many new faces," Drew said. "We have four seniors with only three years of playing experience for us. Experience is something that we'll have to overcome."
Each of the Horizon League coaches addressed the media along with a player from each team. Where teams like Valparaiso, Detroit and Butler have dominated the preseason rankings in the past, Wednesday's discussion centered around the balance of the league.
"That's a credit to our players and our coaches,"Horizon League commissioner Jon LeCrone said. "I've been here for 22 years and just about every league member has won a championship. What that shows is that everyone has an opportunity."