For the second year in a row, Green Bay’s hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996 have been crushed by Valparaiso.
After winning the 2014 regular season title, Green Bay fell to Valpo in the Horizon League semifinals on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Ryan Broekhoff. This time the Crusaders used a 23-5 run in the final 11:30 to erase Green Bay’s eight-point lead and win 54-44.
Valpo has been one of the few opponents that two-time conference player of the year Keifer Sykes has not been able to dominate. Sykes finished with a team-high 14 points but shot the ball well below his normal percentage and has been held to a combined 11 for 45 from the field in all three matchups this season.
The Crusaders retook the lead with a patented all-around effort from their deep rotation, but David Skara (team-high 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting off the bench) was the star for stepping up big moments while the regular season champs stormed back and took the lead.
When the Phoenix fell behind, they turned to the 3-pointer to try and cut the deficit. The Phoenix are not a great 3-point shooting team, and it showed with a 2-for-15 showing. As Green Bay missed shots on one end, Valpo extended the lead by hitting free throws at the other (13 for 17 for the game). Riding a wave of momentum powered by the home crowd, Valpo closed out the win for its second NCAA tournament bid in three years.
- Record: 28-5 overall, 13-3 Horizon League
- Most recent tournament appearance: 2013 (lost to Michigan State in the Round of 64 as a No. 14 seed)
- Jerry Palm predicts: 12 seed
- RPI: 59
- KenPom ranking: 70
- Sagarin ranking: 73
- Best wins: vs. Green Bay, vs. Murray State, vs. Cleveland State
- Worst losses: at Detroit, at Oakland
- Notable stat: 37.9. The Crusaders are rank No. 30 nationally with 37.9 rebounds per game. Vashil Fernandez, Alec Peters and David Skara anchor a front line that does a great job of cleaning up on the boards, grabbing 35.4 percent of their misses on the offensive end and their offensive rebounding percentage allowed ranks in the Top 40 as well at 27.4, according to KenPom.com.
- Closing quip: Valpo has been absolutely crushed by the injury bug this season. Starting point guard Lexus Williams went down for the year before the first game. Keith Carter (toe) missed a month of conference play and Tavonn Walker tried, but was unable, to make an impact in the title game after suffering a knee injury in the semifinals of the conference tournament. This team only has one senior in the regular rotation and several important underclassmen. Not only will Valpo be a dangerous team for a 4-seed or 5-seed, but Bryce Drew’s squad will bring back enough for this to be the start of a mini-run for the program.