First place in the Horizon League is on the line tonight when Cleveland State hosts Valparaiso at the Wolstein Center. Tip-off is 7:00 p.m.
CSU (20-4, 10-2 Horizon League) leads Valpo (17-8, 10-3 HL) by half a game.
The winner most likely will have the inside track to the top seed and home-court advantage in the Horizon League Tournament. No other team has fewer than five-league losses.
If CSU wins, it will give them some breathing room at the top of the standings as the Crusaders will have two more losses than the Vikings.
If Valpo wins, it will give them the tiebreak against CSU because the Crusaders have already defeated the Vikings (72-66) on January 15 at the ARC.
"It's the biggest game (of the year) for us," said CSU Head Coach Gary Waters.
Both teams are coming in hot.
The Vikings have won five in a row and eight of their past nine. The Crusaders have won three in a row and seven of their past eight.
Waters was quick to point out that Valpo is only 7-6 on the road. Two of Valpo's three losses in the league have come on the road.
Both teams are a little banged up.
CSU could be without its best defender, D'Aundray Brown who is "day-to-day" with a groin injury.
"There's a possibility that he may not play," said Waters.
"If he shows me Thursday he can play, he's in the game. But we're preparing as though he's not playing."
If Brown can't go, freshman Anton Grady will make his second-straight start.
According to NWI.com, Valpo's Kevin Van Wijk (wrist) and Ryan Broekhoff (ankle) missed some practice time this week, but are expected to play tonight.
Van Wijk (15.1 points, 5.3 rebounds) and Broekhoff (15 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists) are the top scoring duo in the league, combining for 30.1 points per game. They combined for 37 points in the first meeting against CSU.
Waters had high praises for Valpo's two-star players. He called Broekhoff: "The best player in the league." And Van Wijk: "The best post player in the league."
"Broekhoff reminds me of former Ohio State (star) Evan Turner," said Waters.
"He can score inside, can score outside, can bring the ball up, can pass the ball and is tough as nails."
The Crusaders also scored 38 points in the paint in the first meeting.
"We know what hurt us the last game," said Waters.
"We can't let them score much in the paint."
Van Wijk did most of the damage in the paint, scoring 23 points on 10-of-13 from the field.
In the first meeting, Aaron Pogue (thigh) was injured and "limping" badly. Waters is hoping a healthy Pogue will be able to contain Van Wijk.
So what are Waters keys to victory?
"We have to be who we are," he said.
"They have an advantage with their quickness, but (I think) we have an advantage inside. Their whole defense is predicated at taking away you big guy and forcing you to shoot it from the outside.
"So we have to do a better job of getting it inside to Aaron and Anton, rather then settling (on outside shots)."
Tom Mieskoski is a contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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