Crusaders still have a chance at the big dance

Six. That’s the number of games the Valparaiso men’s basketball team has lost this season. And yet, it feels like the sky is falling and the ARC is about to blow up, based on reactions from fans and students alike following last Friday’s loss to Oakland.

Though cause for concern is almost always warranted when a team battles adversity, jumping the gun and assuming that the Crusaders are NIT-bound for the second straight year would be very foolish.

A small minority of Division I teams have six losses or fewer this season. Most schools, inside of the Horizon League and out, would love to trade places with Valpo. Six losses on the year for a first-year head coach is a really good start for a team in transition.

Two of Valpo’s six losses have come on the road playing powerhouses Oregon and Kentucky, nationally ranked No. 4 and No. 6, at the time. Give credit to Valpo for challenging itself and playing two top-tier teams on their respective courts. The Crusaders weren’t supposed to win either of those games.

Valpo ran out of gas against Santa Clara in double-overtime just a few days before Christmas for loss No. 3. It was only the team’s third game playing without Jubril Adekoya, during a stretch in which it had to figure itself out in some ways, playing without its primary big man. Still, the Crusaders have lost just three games since.

Splitting a two-game series with Green Bay, the team that soiled Valpo’s postseason hopes last year, is not shabby at all.

Losing in double-figures to Oakland on ESPN 2 twice does not look pretty. I think right now the glaring concern from fans is that the Crusaders are showing signs of vulnerability against a tough conference foe, but it’s important to look at the bigger picture.

Jubril Adekoya’s ruling from the NCAA came just hours before tip. Adekoya is clearly loved by his teammates. He’s been around the program a long time, and finding out that his collegiate career was over had to have hurt team morale. The Crusaders looked distracted in Rochester last weekend. They just didn’t look themselves.

I will not attempt to make excuses for Valpo, as that is not my job. The Crusaders lost plain and simple. However, were these two losses really that telling or important?

Might I remind you that last year’s Horizon League champ lost both of its regular season games to a certain juggernaut team that it would beat in the conference playoffs, the matchup that mattered most.

Anybody that has played or watched sports should know that it is extremely difficult to beat a good team three times in a row, especially a conference rival. The law of averages naturally finds a way to play itself out and the postseason is entirely different than the regular season.

Though no team ever wants to lose games, I would prefer to be the team who lost the first two times. When two really good teams collide, someone has to win and someone has to lose. But when that same matchup is played two more times over, the team that loses is due for a win at some point.

This phenomenon occurs again and again, and Valpo was on the bad end of it last year. Maybe things will shake out differently for them this time around.

At the end of the day, after a pair of wins this weekend the Crusaders will collect a third-straight regular season conference championship and a No. 1 seed. The team has positioned well to do damage this March and things could certainly be a lot worse.

The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch.

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