Oakland entered Sunday’s action needing both a win and a Valparaiso loss to claim a share of the Horizon League regular season title and the No. 1 seed at Motor City Madness.
They got exactly what they wanted.
Valparaiso came into the final weekend of regular season play clinging to a one-game lead over Oakland. The Crusaders dealt a serious blow on Friday night when it was revealed Alec Peters had suffered a leg injury and would be day-to-day. They managed to defeat Wright State without Peters on Friday night. But, they were not so lucky on Sunday afternoon, falling to Northern Kentucky by a final of 82-78.
The Valparaiso loss opened the door for Oakland to sneak into a first place tie. The Golden Grizzlies took advantage of the opportunity, defeating Milwaukee 86-75 behind Sherron Dorsey-Walker’s eight three-pointers. The win also secured the top seed in the Horizon League Tournament as a result of Oakland’s regular season sweep of Valparaiso.
Oakland appears to have moved beyond their late January struggles. Between Jan. 13th and 27th, the Golden Grizzlies dropped four of five games and were on the brink of falling out of the conference title race. Since then, they ripped off nine consecutive wins and roll into the Horizon League Tournament on a hot streak. Given the way they handled Valparaiso with relative ease both times they met, the Golden Grizzlies should be favored if the two meet again in the conference championship game.
Valparaiso, on the other hand, enters the tournament facing a great deal of uncertainty. The injury to Peters will be a major factor. While the Crusaders fared well without Peters this past weekend on the offensive end, they may not go far without his firepower.
Given the events of last year’s tournament, it would be a mistake to only focus on the top two seeds. A year ago, fourth-seeded Green Bay surprised everyone to win the inaugural Motor City Madness. The same could happen again if Oakland goes cold and Valparaiso is without Peters.
Leading the contenders from the rest of pack is repeat-minded Green Bay. The Phoenix hold wins over both Oakland and Valparaiso. Furthermore, they have last year’s experience under their belt.
Outside of Green Bay, Northern Kentucky is a team to watch. Like Oakland, the Norse struggled early in conference play. But, after a 3-4 start they went 9-2 to close out their regular season campaign. In their most recent win over Valparaiso, the Norse shot 57.8 percent from the field. If they carry that hot shooting into the tournament, they could be a threat for the title.
The tournament stays at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit but has a new format. The double byes for the one and two seeds have been eliminated. Instead, the bottom four seeds will play on Friday evening with the winners advancing to take on the top two on Saturday. Should the top seeds win on Saturday, they will be rewarded with an off day on Sunday while the remaining teams play to meet them in the semifinals. The championship game will take place on Tuesday night.
Another format change is that the women’s tournament will be taking place at the same time as the men’s. Check out the bracket below for the times and television schedule of the tournament.