Horizon League Championship Preview: Valparaiso Will Take Out Wright State

Michael Hickey

Valparaiso will be bringing a lot of talent to the floor Tuesday night to face Wright State. It isn't the matchup expected, but nothing about Wright State's season has been.

There was a point this season when Wright State was undefeated in the Horizon League at 4-0. No one knew how it was happening; in some ways, it still doesn't make sense.

Yes, the Raiders were playing three of the bottom four teams in the league, but the run of four wins began against Green Bay, a team that had multiple all-conference candidates, a very talented newcomer, and a strong defensive squad.

Wright State wasn't supposed to be able to compete with that.

And yet the Raiders started 5-1 in the league before collapsing down to the No. 3 (10-6) seed overall, and leaving a two-horse race between Valparaiso and Detroit.

But in the end, the season included two wins over the Titans, and the Raiders are playing against Valparaiso in the Horizon finals, not Ray McCallum and team. That is better than overachieving. That is one step from making the most of this season, by clinching that Tournament spot.

Standing in the way of the Raiders is Valparaiso, a team that beat them twice this season, both time with rarely a doubt. Sure, the meeting including the Crusaders making a run from seven points down over the final seven minutes. But the second meeting left no doubts.

There are just too many weapons for Valparaiso at play in this one, including the two big men: Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk. But the list continues, and it ends even longer than the impressive set that Green Bay put togethers (and almost used effectively to be facing the Raiders instead of Valpo).

Matt Kenney, Erik Buggs, or Ben Boggs can all beat you as the third man for the Crusaders. They can get the extra contribution from any of these guys. It doesn't just have to be the two big men.

That depth is the real difference maker here. Valpo placed two players on the two all-conference teams, had another on the defensive team, and Broekhoff was no ordinary first teamer. He only finished second in a very close race for the player of the year (and may have at least played McCallum equally in the league).

Wright State placed just one player on that roster, Cole Darling, who may not even be available for the final.

Even with Darling, the Raiders were six or seven points behind the Crusaders. Without him, Ken Pom has the game up to an 8-point advantage, but this could be even more by the end of the night.

Wright State still has weapons, but nothing like they did with Darling in the lineup, and nothing like what its opponent will put on the floor Tuesday.

This one will be going to the Crusaders, by 10, in a game that is rarely close.

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