March 5-12, Campus sites (Valparaiso hosts quarters/semis) | Bracket
Valparaiso (13-3) won the league's regular season crown by a game over Detroit, and those are the league's two best teams. In the nine-team event, both teams get double-byes, with one win for each separating them from a rubber match after two crazy regular-season encounters (with each road team winning). The format makes it more likely that one of the top two teams will dance, but don't count out a couple of sleepers, especially the one sitting in the No. 3 seed.
Key Matchup: No. 3 Wright State vs. First-round winner
The Horizon's tournament setup gives the Raiders a bye into the quarterfinal, and places them on Detroit's side of the bracket. Wright State is a very legitimate threat to Detroit, and the Titans have handled Youngstown State and Loyola (Ill.) well this season aside from the recent one-point win over the Ramblers. If Wright State is Detroit's opponent, we could miss out on the anticipated rubber-match between the Titans and Valpo.
Team to Watch: Wright State
If there's a team outside the double-bye teams that can win the auto bid, this is probably your best bet. Wisconsin-Green Bay, the other 10-6 team in the league, was manhandled twice by Valpo, their potential semifinal opponent. You never say never in March, but that doesn't look very favorable on paper.
Hottest Storyline: Continued validation of Father/Son Models
Detroit's star is Ray McCallum Jr., son of the Titans' coach and a former highly-regarded prep recruit who shunned bigger programs to play for his father. A similar situation, Trey Ziegler at Central Michigan, worked out poorly, with the father being fired and the son transferring to Pitt as a hardship, but this one has steadily become more fruitful. The Titans won four straight games in the conference tournament last season to make the NCAAs. They're now two games away from a repeat trip, and this team is athletic and talented enough to give someone a problem if they get there. The potential foil is Valpo, coached by former Crusader hero Bryce Drew, son of program legend Homer Drew, who had two stints at the helm wrapped around a run from another son, Scott Drew (now at Baylor).
The Pick: DetroitThe Titans had the first matchup with Valparaiso well in hand before blowing a late 11-point lead when the Crusaders scored the game's final 12 points. Then they stormed back at Valpo from 15 down midway through the second half to win by 10. I like the Titans' athleticism and their knowledge that they can win at Valpo, if needed, as the Crusaders would host the final if they advance to it. Detroit got Valpo to play at their preferred high-octane pace in both regular-season meetings, and I like their chances if they can do it again.