Tiny Dancers: Valparaiso

Ryan Broekhoff is the type of player who can help lead Valparaiso to a round of 64 upset. (USATSI)
Ryan Broekhoff is the type of player who can help lead Valparaiso to a round of 64 upset. (USATSI)

There’s never a bad time for a 16-0 run, but Valparaiso picked the absolute perfect time for one on Tuesday night. Down six to Wright State with 5:30 left, the Crusaders ran off 16 straight points over the next five minutes to help give them a 62-54 win in the Horizon League title game.

Erik Buggs, who averaged just 6.3 points during the season, erupted for 22 points to help overcome struggles from leading scorer Ryan Broekhoff, who shot just 2-for-8 and finished with seven points. The Crusaders shot nearly 54 percent from the field, which helped them make up for 24 turnovers.

Valparaiso had lost in the conference championship game the past two seasons, and came into the season as a co-favorite along with Detroit. After an up-and-down nonconference campaign, the Crusaders established themselves as a potential NCAA tournament upset pick with 16 wins in their final 18 games. They have plenty of guys who can make shots, and they are efficient offensively.

If they face a defense that struggles to consistently contest shots, Valparaiso and head coach Bryce Drew -- yes, NCAA tournament legend Bryce Drew -- could be a good pick.

Players to know: Ryan Broekhoff. The 6-foot-7 forward from Australia is one of the most underrated players in the country, and despite struggling in the title game, he’s the type of player who can carry Valparaiso. He hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Green Bay in the semifinals, capping off a 25-point effort. Broekhoff racked up seven double-doubles this season, and scored at least 20 points on nine occasions. He creates matchup problems with his ability to score inside and out.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 26-7 overall, 13-3 Horizon
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2004
  • Jerry Palm predicts: 14 seed
  • KenPom ranking: 67
  • Sagarin ranking: 66
  • RPI: 60
  • Best wins: Detroit, Eastern <span data-shortcode=" data-canon="Kentucky Wildcats" data-type="SPORTS_OBJECT_TEAM" id="shortcode0">
  • Worst losses: Loyola (Ill.), Youngstown State
  • Notable stat: The Crusaders are one of the best shooting teams in the country, ranking No. 7 nationally in field-goal percentage at 48.8 percent. They shoot 55.8 percent from 2-point range, which ranks No. 5 in the country. Moreover, Valparaiso knocks down 37.7 percent from behind the arc. Simply put, you can’t leave the Crusaders open.

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