It’s time for the Horizon League championship final. Readers who don’t pay a huge amount of attention to college basketball’s “non-power” conference action will still enjoy this contest. The Green Bay Phoenix and Valparaiso Crusaders are both strong basketball teams and either would be a tough matchup in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
March is guard season in college basketball and there’s no better guard in the Horizon League than Keifer Sykes. The senior is averaging 18.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. His real impact comes when he decides to take over the basketball game offensively. He did exactly that against the UIC Flames in the semi-finals finishing up with 30 points. He’s also an under-rated and disruptive presence defensively. He’s averaging only a shade under two steals per game.
Green Bay entered the season as the conference favorite, but got sidetracked in conference play by losses to Valparaiso and twice losing to Cleveland State. They caught national attention early with a big road victory over the ACC’s Miami Hurricanes.
Sykes enters the final year of a strong college career. Last season the Phoenix were denied their place in the tournament by an upset loss to Milwaukee. They will be looking at their top guard to carry them past a tough opponent in the Crusaders on Tuesday night.
Green Bay’s story might be somewhat “romantic”, especially as it centers around Sykes. However, Valparaiso have played the best and most consistent basketball all season long. They beat out Cleveland State by five points in their semi-final showing off one of the better defenses in the nation.
The Crusaders are experienced and more balanced than their opponents. Alec Peters leads the way from the front line averaging 17.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. The sophomore has an athletic defensive game as well. Valparaiso often runs three-guard sets with Darien Walker, Tevonn Walker and Darius Carter all seeing court time. Carter is the primary facilitator and initiator of the offense out of the three, and both Walkers have some strong scoring ability.
Betting Preview: Green Bay (+3) at Valparaiso
A lot of these conference tournament final games are going to be tight, potentially last possession style contests. However, three points is not a lot of points. Green Bay has a player in Sykes, who might just take them to an NCAA tournament, but this feels like a game where Valparaiso will be able to suffocate the Phoenix’s star player and then control the game offensively from multiple sources. It won’t be a high-scoring, or big win for the Crusaders, but they’ll beat the spread on this occasion.
The Pick: Valparaiso (-3) (www.betonline.ag)
Writer’s Record Against The Spread: 31-25