Valparaiso fans should not feel too sad after their team’s overtime loss in the Horizon League semi-finals to Green Bay. That is because the Crusaders had a great season, essentially clinching an at-large bid in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. The other bid will obviously be an automatic one, going to the winner of the Horizon League Tournament final between Green Bay and Wright State. If anybody has any doubt as to Valpo being in the field of 68, let me state the case clearly.
Valpo is 26-6 and finished 16-2 in regular season league play. Prior to the start of conference play, I said that they needed to finish at least 15-3 in league play to secure the automatic bid. Their only two losses were against Wright State, the league’s #3 seed who is a very good team and is playing in the league’s title game. Valpo’s only loss that is a “bad loss” was falling at Ball State by three points. Even though Ball State tied for the regular season MAC West title (with only a 10-8 league record), the MAC is still a weaker conference from top-to-bottom than the Horizon League, and Valpo had no business losing that game. A quality loss for Valpo was when they traveled to Eugene and lost by six points to Oregon, who is currently #8 in the country. Valpo did not have any spectacular non-conference wins. But winning at Rhode Island, Oregon State, and Belmont were all good wins. And their blowout win over Iona suddenly looks good after the Gaels won the MAAC title.
Keep in mind that Valpo is one of the best defensive teams in the nation. They only allow about 61 points per game, which is good for sixth in the nation. Another glaring stat is that Valpo is third in the nation in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to only shoot 37.8% from the field. Stats can and do tell a lot of the story. But the eye-test is important in determining if a team is deserving of a tournament berth, and Valpo certainly passes it. They are so dangerous because they have so many players that can hurt you offensively, as eight players average at least 5.8 ppg. It is known that Alec Peters will lead their charge, as the versatile forward averages nearly 18 ppg and over 8 rpg. But teams still cannot stop him because he can score from the perimeter just as effectively as around the basket. Center Vashil Fernandez leads a great team defense, as he is one of the best shot blockers in the nation.
It is laughable when people think that 4th and 5th place teams from “Power Conferences” are always more deserving to get the Big Dance than the best mid-major teams. But since the H-League is finally getting some much deserved national respect, Valpo should not worry at all when Selection Sunday comes along.