VALPARAISO, Ind. (AP) — At least Valparaiso is back in the NCAA tournament after a nine-year hiatus.
Now they have to contend with what amounts to a road game against third-seeded Michigan State.
The Crusaders (26-7), seeded 14th in their first NCAA appearance since 2004, are headed to Auburn Hills, Mich., on Thursday for a game against the Spartans.
“Michigan State is a very, very good team, and I’m sure the coaches are already preparing, watching film,” forward Ryan Broekhoff said less than an hour after the pairings were announced Sunday. “It will be a real challenge, obviously, but we’re excited and prepared to play.”
There was little suspense for the Crusaders (26-7), who knew they were in after clinching the Horizon League’s automatic bid with a win over Wright State in the tourney title game last week. But it was unclear who, when and where they would play. More than 400 people registered to celebrate with the team inside its home gym, and they didn’t have to wait long for answers.
Valpo’s name popped up in the bottom half of the Midwest Region, the first one revealed during the selection show.
Coach Bryce Drew then grabbed a microphone to speak to the crowd.
But before he could start speaking, the TV show cut to a commercial and it just happened to be playing Drew’s incredible buzzer-beater from 15 years earlier.
“It came at the perfect time,” Broekhoff said. “It was a huge part of NCAA tournament history and I guess if we can draw anything from that, it’s that anything can happen in these games.”
Broekhoff has his own penchant for hitting big shots.
He made the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to knock off Green Bay in the Horizon League semifinals and another key 3-pointer late in the championship game victory that turned a one-point lead into a four-point lead.
They’ll need him to do that again as the stakes increase and the games get tougher, starting with the Spartans (25-8) who spent most of the season chasing a Big Ten crown and then reached the conference tourney semifinals before getting knocked out Saturday against eventual tourney champ Ohio State.
They’re out to prove they’ve been underrated all season.
“I think we’re very focused right now. We see where we’re at. We see who we’ve got to play. And we know what we’ve got to do to get better,” Spartans forward Adreian Payne said. “We’re excited. We finally get to play somebody else, get to see some new faces and, hopefully, beat up on some other teams.”
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