Checking in on MSU's first-round opponent with those who know Valpo best.
It's tournament time. Nathan Atkins from the fine Valpo blog Beyond The Arc was kind enough to answer some questions about the Crusaders and this first round matchup. There are some fine previews and scouting reports over at Beyond The Arc, and I highly recommend you check it out. I answered some questions for them here.
1. Give me a rundown of how Valpo's season has gone this season. For most of us in Michigan, we've only seen Valpo perhaps when they played Oakland and Detroit or late in the Horizon League Tournament. What have been some storylines throughout the year?
This season for Valpo was more or less par for the course. They were the conference champ last year and had a number one seed heading into the HL tournament before they choked to Detroit. I think by not scheduling a big non-conference opponent like Ohio State or Purdue in the past the thought was Valpo could knock one off and help their RPI. Nebraska, New Mexico and and St. Louis steam rolled us. Nebraska game looks close because they were starting a freshman PG and ran a slower tempo.
The main storyline of the year has been redeeming last year's collapse in the conference finals and making the NCAA tourney.
2. What's the story with Ryan Broekhoff? He certainly appears to be your best player and is a matchup nightmare. What does he take advantage of? What kind of player matches up well against him?
Broekhoff has been a stud since his sophomore year. He was lucky I guess to be paired with Brandon Wood and we were curious to see how he would do with the top billing after B Wood went to MSU. He made the transition easily, making huge jumps in the statistical categories. Ever since Brandon left it has been his team and everyone knows it.
He doesn't really take advantage of anything. He will shoot the 3 in transition if its there. He typically gets open on set plays a lot of screens, believe it or not teams will help over and leave him open on the wings.
He's not one to force a shot. He has a solid mid-range game and if need be can drive to the lane but he's not one to beat someone off the dribble. The best way to stop him is to be physical with him. He's not that strong physically and can be knocked off of rhythm during games - Detroit has done it to him quite a bit.
3. Offensively, this team shoots a lot of 3s, but are very efficient on 2s. Given MSU's size inside, is Valpo going to knock down a load of three-pointers to win this thing?
Your guess is as good as mine. Valpo is as good as Kevin Van Wijk is believe it or not. He and Rowdy as we call Broekhoff are our 1-2 punch. He's not necessarily a physical post player as much as he is chippy and scrappy. He tends to get a lot of fouls called in his favor and scores a lot of his points at the free throw line. Last year he nearly averaged 7 attempts, its down a bit this year because of Lavonte Dority the conference 6th man of the year.
They will shoot a lot of threes no matter what, it all depends on if they go in. If they shoot like the Valpo team that showed up against Nebraska, Loyola, St. Louis or Youngstown State then they'll get blown out. Valpo is a pick and roll, 1-4 high team most of the time when they go to the post they try to make the entry passes from the corner to increase the chance for a 3-pointer against an aggressive defense.
4. Defensively, it looks like this team has had some struggles. Are they simply going to need to outscore MSU to win this? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the defense?
Given the talent of MSU a shoot out sounds like a good plan especially since it doesn't seem like the Spartans have the shooting depth that Valpo does. Believe it or not they have the 2nd best defense in the Horizon League behind Wright State. The thing that hurts Valpo the most isn't their lack of defense its turnovers and their inability to get stops at key points.
They race out to early double digit leads against teams and then ease up on defense and get sloppy on offense. Its how they lost to Detroit last year, and its how they almost lost to Green Bay and Wright State this year. They have a hard time guarding quick slashing PGs - Buggs plays good defense but Ray McCallum, Keifer Sykes, and Jordan Arceneaux all exploited him. The problem is fatigue - Buggs might not just be the best perimeter defender on the team, he might be the only one.
Matt Kenney can be a defensive stopper but his performance each game varies.
5. What are three keys to victory for Valpo?
Make your 3-pointers/ don't get caught up in the spray and pray. They'll have stretches where they just launch contested 3-pointers....another way teams get back into games/score quickly in transition.
Protect the ball. As a team they're averaging 14.5 per game in 4/7 losses they have they were pushing the 20 turnover mark and against New Mexico or St Louis I believe they had 22.
Establish a post presence. If Payne and Nix shut down the paint and force Valpo to stay on the perimeter and get into that spray and pray, the game will be over quick. They might have to cycle Van Wijk, Capobianco and Vashil Fernandez to keep fresh legs, but they're going to need to score in the paint with some success.
6. Give me a score prediction and why.
62-49 Michigan State - in terms of PF and PA, MSU most resembles SLU who beat Valpo by that exact same score.
But the optimist says 75-70. We've won 54% of our games when we score 70 or more.
Thanks again to Nathan for taking the time to answer some questions. Make sure you check out Beyond The Arc for stuff from the Valpo side of things.
The Spartans kicks things off at the The Palace of Auburn Hills this weekend. We've received some interesting data from TiqIQ on the ticket market for the games. TiqIQ has teamed up with Primesport, the official exchange of the tournament, for NCAA tournament tickets.
The Palace of Auburn Hills (Auburn Hills, Mich.)
- Session 1: $140 average
- Session 2: $143 average
- Session 3: $233 average
- Memphis vs. Middle Tennessee State/St. Mary's (session 1)
- Michigan State vs. Valparaiso (session 1)
- Michigan vs. South Dakota State (session 2)
- Virginia Commonwealth vs. Akron (session 2)