Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans look to produce another deep run in the NCAA Tournament as they tip-off against the Valparaiso Crusaders at the Palace of Auburn Hills in second-round action of the Midwest Region.
The Crusaders' head coach Bryce Drew knows a thing or two about upsets in the Big Dance. Drew's game-winning 3-pointer in the 1995 NCAA Tournament that lifted the then 13th-seeded Crusaders to an upset win over Ole Miss has been shown on highlight reels ever since. Now he will lead his Valpo squad into the Big Dance seeking another upset. The Crusaders claimed their first Horizon League regular-season title a season ago, winning the crown by two games. They were unable to translate that success into the conference tourney and ended up in the NIT instead of the Big Dance. It took a few spectacular finishes, but Valpo punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament this season with a 62-54 win over Wright State in the Horizon League title game.
Ryan Broekhoff (15.9 ppg) is not only the top rebounder for Valpo with 7.4 rpg, he is also first on the squad with 43.2 percent shooting behind the 3- point line, adding 73 assists and 26 blocked shots for good measure. Kevin Van Wijk checks in with 12.7 ppg and 5.5 rpg to form a very tough front line. Lavonte Dority and Matt Kenney are valuable role players for Drew, who was named the HL Coach of the Year after his team's stellar performance.
Michigan State leads the all-time series with Valparaiso, 4-1. The Spartans have won the last three meetings, with the lone MSU loss coming in 1922. The two schools last met in the Breslin Center on Nov. 22, 2009, a 90-60 Spartan win. The winner of this game will advance to take on the victory of the Saint Mary's/Memphis matchup.
The Spartans may have flown under the radar this season in the overly competitive Big Ten, but still finished tied for second in the conference. The Spartans have key wins over Kansas, Boise State and Texas in non-league play, as well as Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa in conference. Coach Tom Izzo's club did however lose to regular-season champ Indiana twice and also to Ohio State, 61-58, in the Big Ten Tournament.
Michigan State has been getting it done at both ends of the court this season, scoring nearly 70 ppg, while allowing fewer than 60. The Spartans are led by standout performers Keith Appling (13.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.7 apg) and Gary Harris (12.9 ppg, .413 3-point FG percentage), the latter of which was tabbed as the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year. Adreian Payne (10.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg) rounds out the unit's double-digit scorers. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, Michigan State has advanced to the round of 32 (new third round) 16 times.