Originally posted on Just Cover Blog  |  Last updated 3/6/12

(1) Valparaiso (22-10, 14-4) vs. (3) Detroit (21-13, 11-7) Line: Valpo -2, 9 p.m., ESPN 

A lot of people are saying Valpo can be this year’s Butler.

Having just knocked out Butler over the weekend, it’s easy to see why people would jump to this conclusion. But before the Crusaders try to make a run in the NCAA tournament, they have to win the Horizon League tournament, and that means getting by the Detroit Titans in the championship game Tuesday night.

As was just mentioned, Valpo ended any hopes of a third straight NCAA tournament run by (5) Butler when the Crusaders blew past the Bulldogs, 65-46 in the semifinal — the first tournament game for Valpo. Ryan Broekhoff was a monster for Valpo, scoring 19 points and grabbing 16 rebounds — including five on the offensive end. Broekhoff was named conference player of the year, and averages 14.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game this season. The Crusaders also dominated the glass with a 37-20 margin. Valpo had 10 offensive rebounds, meaning they grabbed 1/3 of their missed shots. Butler’s offense isn’t great, but Valpo held the Bulldogs to 33.3 percent from the floor, while shooting 53.5 percent for themselves.

Detroit didn’t have the luxury of the double-bye awarded to the top two seeds. The Titans got past (10) Loyola 80-71 and disposed of (6) Youngstown State by a 93-76 score, with both games coming at home. Detroit met Cleveland State in the semifinal at Valpo on Saturday. The Titans led by six at half, and extended the lead to 12 midway through the second. But Cleveland State fought back to tie the game at 49 with three minutes left. The Titans made 10 free throws in the final 1:45 and won the game 63-58. Detroit guard Ray McCallum led all scorers with 26 points and five assists. He shot 7-for-10 from the floor and 11-for-13 from the free-throw line. The top scoring offense in the Horizon only shot 40 percent, but the league-worst scoring defense also held Cleveland State to 35.7 percent.

These two teams have met in the last two Horizon League tournaments. Detroit eliminated Valpo in 2010, but the Crusaders returned the favor in 2011. This season, Valpo won both regular season meetings, but by a total of seven points, suggesting this game should be close. The teams first met on Jan. 6 in Detroit, where Erik Buggs scored on a driving layup as time expired to give Valpo a 73-71 win. Detroit led by three at halftime, but Valpo led by one with two minutes to play. The lead changed four times in the final two minutes, ending with Buggs’ layup at the end — which came after a charge called on Detroit with 4.6 seconds left. Valpo was led by 23 points from Will Bogan on 8-for-9 shooting, including 7-for-8 from three-point range. McCallum scored 22 points for Detroit, but shot 5-for-12 from the floor. The Crusaders won despite 17 turnovers.

That loss came while was Detroit struggled in the early part of the season. The Titans started off 7-10, culminating with that first loss to Valpo. For the rest of the season, Detroit has gone 14-3, but one of those three losses came at Valpo on Feb. 2, again in heartbreaking fashion. The Titans led by 10 points early in the second half, but couldn’t hold on. The Crusaders slowly chipped away at the lead, eventually taking the lead on a three-pointer by Broekhoff with 5:41 to play. Valpo won 78-73. Broekhoff scored 26 points and was 8-of-9 from the floor, including a perfect 6-for-6 from three-point range. The Crusaders shot 54.5 percent for the game and went 12-for-22 from behind the arc. The Titans had five players score in double figured, but McCallum was 5-for-15 shooting and 2-for-8 from three.

These are the top two scoring teams in the Horizon League. Detroit is No. 1 at 72.9 points and Valpo was at 69.5, but Valpo took the top spot in field-goal percentage. Detroit and Valpo are No. 2 and No. 3 in rebounding margin, respectively, with Butler taking the top spot — but Valpo destroyed Butler on the glass on Saturday. Detroit was last in the Horizon in scoring defense, but gets 7.5 steals per game, which is second in the conference. Valpo is in the middle of the pack in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense.

Both of these teams are on a roll entering this game, but I’m going with Valpo because of the home-court advantage. Detroit has depth, plus some rest, so playing its third game in six days shouldn’t be an issue with the legs. I’m expecting Broekhoff to have a monster game on the boards and the scoresheet. McCallum will get his points, but the Crusaders need to make sure other players don’t beat them.

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