The Crusaders aren’t going to wow anyone in any particular stats category, but sometimes, that might not be necessary. The Crusaders are effective and have a balance basically everywhere. They are also one of the better defensive teams in the tournament holding opponents to only 59.3 points per game.
Valpo is coming into the dance pretty hot with only two losses in their last 12 games, both by just three points or less. The Crusaders also boast three players currently shooting higher than 45 percent from beyond the arc. One of those hot shooters is a 6’9” forward by the name of Alec Peters. While Peters may not quite be to the level of Kevin Durant, he’s still a tough matchup for anyone in the country.
It’s worth mentioning too that Valpo thumped Murray State by 35 when the teams met in November. It’s been a few months, but Murray State had a case to make the dance as well, which would’ve made the win even better.
Of all the potential cinderella teams listed, though, the Crusaders may have the toughest opening round matchup with Maryland. The Terps don’t have any particular issues Valpo could take advantage of, but if they could get by, they’d most likely face West Virginia, which could be a similar situation.
Here’s an interesting scenario -- two potential cinderella teams could meet in the round of 32. It’s a scenario that could easily happen as the Eagles of Eastern Washington could end up playing Stephen F. Austin if both teams pull off their 2nd round upsets.
Eastern Washington takes on fourth-seeded Georgetown, and it seems like, in recent years, Georgetown is always on upset alert going into the tournament. In the round of 64, the Hoyas were the 3-seed in 2010 when they lost to Ohio, the 6-seed when they were upset by VCU in 2011, and the 2-seed when FGCU sent them packing in 2013.
Looking past Georgetown’s tourney woes though, Eastern Washington is good, really good. The Eagles are 26-8 and rank 3rd in the nation in points per game with a whopping 80.8. That doesn’t mean they’re launching the ball too many times to get those points though, as they’re 8th overall in 3-point percentage. Oh yeah, did I mention Eastern Washington is home to the nation’s leading scorer in Tyler Harvey. That 13-seed versus 12-seed 3rd round matchup doesn’t seem like too far of a stretch now, does it?
Okay, okay, you’re probably thinking this is too ridiculous. A 16-seed has never beaten a 1-seed; they’re not even guaranteed a spot in the field of 64 and they would eventually have to play Duke! I know all that, but hear me out.
The Ospreys of North Florida are not going to be an easy win. It’s their first tournament appearance and they are the only team representing the state of Florida, which is kind of a big deal.
The Ospreys are averaging 75.7 points per game, which is good for 25th overall in the country. They have seven players that shoot over 35 percent from the 3-point line. North Florida has already beaten a tournament team in Purdue this season. Oh, and they’re from the Atlantic Sun conference, the same conference that gave us those Florida Gulf Coast Eagles that had us all amazed in 2013!
They’re the favorite to beat Robert Morris in the first round, so that would make them the Blue Devils’ opening matchup. Duke is coming off a loss to Notre Dame where the Irish basically dominated for most of the contest. Also, Duke is no stranger to opening round upsets. The Blue Devils were bounced in the round of 64 as a 6-seed by VCU in 2007, as a 2-seed by Lehigh in 2012, and as a 3-seed by Mercer in 2014. Maybe this is an extreme stretch; maybe I just want this to finally be the year a 16-seed knocks off a 1-seed, but this madness could happen! It’s March, right?
The Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin were 32-3 and on a 28-game winning streak entering the 2014 tournament when they upset VCU 77-75 in the 2nd round last year. SFA lost their leading scorer from that run in Desmond Haymon, but they didn’t lose much more than that and are an almost equally impressive 29-4 heading into this year’s dance.
Junior guard Thomas Walkup has stepped up to replace Haymon. Walkup leads the team in points and rebounds per game and was named the Southland Conference Player of the Year.
The Lumberjacks are averaging a solid 79.5 points per game which is good for 9th overall in the country. Even more impressive -- SFA shares the ball and shoots well to get those points. They also lead the nation in assists per game and are 5th in field goal percentage.
The Lumberjacks’ first opponent is a Utah team that is currently struggling. Four of the Utes eight losses have come in their last seven games. If Stephen F. Austin can knock off fifth-seeded Utah, they'll face the winner of Georgetown and Eastern Washington, so there’s no reason to think that the Lumberjacks couldn’t make at least a run to the Sweet Sixteen, where Duke will most likely be looming.