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Horizon League Tournament 2013: Valparaiso enters as the favorite

Valparaiso enters as the No. 1 seed in the Horizon League for the second-straight year. Can they reach the NCAA tournament this time?

Michael Hickey

The Valparaiso Crusaders are the favorites to grab their first NCAA tournament bid since 2004 when they take on the field at the 2013 Horizon League Tournament. The Crusaders won the regular season title, and they join Detroit as teams with a bye to the semifinals. The rest of the league will be faced with the prospect of winning four games in a week, with the exception of Wright State (who gets a bye to the quarterfinal).

Valpo found itself in the exact same position in 2012, as it rolled through the conference schedule to a 14-4 record. However, it was Detroit who would grab the automatic bid as it took down the Crusaders in the championship game.

Detroit has a good shot at defending its title this year, as it is much improved over the the squad that needed to win four straight to go dancing last season. The Titans and Crusaders are the favorites to meet in the title game once again.

On top of the byes, regular season success is vitally important in the Horizon League as the first round games are hosted by the higher seeds. After that, the quarters and semis are at the No. 1's site (Valpo), with the championship game played on the home court of the highest remaining seed.


Mar. 5 (first round), Mar. 8, 9 (quarterfinals/semifinals), Mar. 12 (championship)


Valparaiso and Detroit are the first pair of Ken Pomeroy top-100 teams in the tournament since 2011, and the first two not involving recently-departed Butler since 2009. At No. 65, the Crusaders have the slight edge over No. 77 Detroit, and that is amplified if the two meet on Valpo's home court in the championship. Pomeroy's log5 estimations give the Crusaders a 60.4 percent chance to take home the title.

Detroit does face longer odds at 28.8 percent, but they do have recent history on their side. On top of beating Valpo on its home court in the championship last season, the Titans look down the Crusaders on the road just three weeks ago. Detroit is also the hottest team in the league, as it won seven of its last eight league games in conference play to grab second place.

Wright State could sneak in and grab a surprising bid. It's already into the quarters, where it will face either Youngstown State or Loyola. It narrowly beat Loyola Chicago twice and split with Youngstown State, so meeting Detroit in the semis will be no guarantee. However, if Wright State can get there, it did beat Detroit on the road in January.

Loyola may be the lower-half team most likely to rise up and steal a bid. It tied for seventh, but was the fifth-highest rated team according to Pomeroy. The Ramblers already defeated Valpo this season, so they have the ability to rise up and take down the better teams in the league.

Would take a miracle

Wisconsin Milwaukee is far and away the lowest-rated team in the Horizon, checking in at 295 on The Panthers finished eighth (out of nine teams) in both conference offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. They had the lowest free throw and defensive rebounding percentages along with allowing the highest effective field goal percentage.

Just one starter finished with an above average offensive rating (Austin Arians). Milwaukee's most voluminous shooter (Jordan Aaron) was 12.5 percent worse than average offensively. It truly would be a miracle for the Panthers to come out of the tournament with an automatic bid.

Players to watch

Ray McCallum, Detroit: The versatile point guard is more than a distributor, he also led the Horizon League in offensive rating (12 for those that used more than 24 percent of possessions while they were on the floor. McCallum did most of his offensive damage inside the arc, knocking down 57 percent of his twos and shooting 46 free throws for every 100 field goal attempts. He did all this while taking care of the basketball, turning it over just 13 percent of the time.

Ryan Broekhoff, Valparaiso: Posting the best offensive rating among all players in the Horizon League who played at least 40 percent of the minutes is impressive enough, but Broekhoff also did it while grabbing nearly 24 percent of the available defensive rebounds while he was on the floor. He is deadly from long range, hitting on 43 percent from three, and nearly automatic (88 percent) from the free throw line.

Kevin Van Wijk, Valparaiso: The other half of Valpo's formidable frontcourt duo is far-more interior-oriented. Van Wijk took just one three-pointer all year, but knocked 65 percent of his two-pointers. He also took 75 free throws for every 100 field goal attempts, knocking down 76 percent from the charity stripe. At 6'8 and 240 pounds, Van Wijk is a big body that is tough to defend in a mid-major league.

Kendrick Perry, Youngstown State: If McCallum is No. 1 on the list of top points guards in the Horizon League, then Perry is 1A. He is an excellent penetrator, evidenced by his 51.4 free throw rate. When reaching the foul line, he knocks down 85 percent. Perry also shares well (25.4 assist rate) without turning the ball over (14.0 turnover rate).

Keifer Sykes, Wisconsin Green Bay: Another solid point guard with a decent stroke. He assists on 29 percent of his team's baskets while on the floor and also has a nice shooting stroke. Sykes knocked down 82 percent of his 174 free throw attempts and hit 42 percent of his 57 three-point shots.

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