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Osipoff: Most important work still ahead for VU

The Valparaiso Crusaders meets center court after winning 73-64 over Youngstown State Valparaiso University Tuesday night. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times

The Valparaiso Crusaders meets at center court after winning 73-64 over Youngstown State at Valparaiso University Tuesday night. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 1, 2013 12:06PM



VALPARAISO — The celebration was enthusiastic, yet still relatively subdued.

Because even having clinched the right to host the Horizon League Tournament for the second straight season, by virtue of yet another winning senior night, even amid all the joy in Valparaiso, the smiles and laughter, even some heartfelt tears, the overriding message emanating from Tuesday was this: There’s still more work for the Crusaders to do.

To say this scenario was inevitable would be understating the accomplishment (of note, Valparaiso has wrapped up back-to-back regular-season conference titles for the first time since the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons). But even after the Crusaders’ meltdown against Detroit at the ARC, it wasn’t all that difficult to predict that they would still secure the No. 1 seed, holding virtually every tiebreaker. They would sweep their three remaining league games, or at worst go 2-1; 1-2 would have been almost impossible to envision, especially after they cleared that first hurdle at Loyola.

So all that matters — has mattered — for Valparaiso is winning the next two games on its home floor. Again, this title can never be taken away from the Crusaders. But it won’t mean nearly as much, not by a longshot, if they don’t take advantage of this favorable position in which they have put themselves.

In between, there is that not-inconsequential matter of winning the regular-season title outright, which Valparaiso can achieve by beating Green Bay on the road on Saturday.

“Tonight’s great, but in the end, it is just another game,” Ryan Broekhoff was saying after the conclusion of the senior night festivities, following Valparaiso’s 73-64 win over Youngstown State on Tuesday. “We still want to take momentum into the conference tournament. We don’t want to come out flat at Green Bay, and kind of take one step forward, two steps back sort of thing. We’ll take tonight and enjoy tonight and what happened. But come tomorrow, we’ll focus on Green Bay.”

Win or lose against the Phoenix, Valparaiso obviously is the favorite to represent the Horizon League in the NCAA Tournament. The Crusaders should win the league tournament.

With those six seniors, they have the experience. With what happened last season, they have the extra motivation. When their offense is clicking — and excessive turnovers, a surprising issue given the team’s composition, really is the only thing that derails it — it’s gorgeous to watch, with their ball movement, unselfishness and shot-making ability. They occasionally have lapses on defense, but they usually regain their senses to thoroughly clamp down on opponents.

They also have demonstrated a startling propensity to both build and blow leads, and to fall far behind and rally. Basketball is a game of runs and momentum, but their season has seemed extreme in that regard.

Of course, the most salient examples are Valparaiso’s two games against Detroit. Upsets certainly can happen, but those two teams appear headed for a third meeting of the season, for the league tournament championship.

By the time the title game ends on that Tuesday in less than two weeks, the true status of Valparaiso’s work will have been revealed.



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