Auburn Hills — The first thing Michigan State coach Tom Izzo noticed about Valparaiso is the same thing everyone notices — the strong senior presence.
Valpo has six seniors, including two fifth-year seniors among the team's top eight players, and all five starters are seniors.
The Horizon League champions are the No. 14 seed and will face No. 3 Michigan State on Thursday at 12:15 p.m. in a second-round NCAA Tournament game at the Palace.
Earlier in the week when Izzo was asked the first thing that jumps out to him about the Crusaders, he mentioned the senior depth.
"This was their big goal, they wanted to make the NCAA Tournament," Valpo coach Bryce Drew said Wednesday during a news conference advancing the game. "We had a tough loss last year against Detroit in our conference finals, and I think they had a chip on shoulder all year to get back to that point and have the opportunity to come to the NCAA Tournament.
"They know this is their first and only NCAA Tournament, and I think we're all excited to get to the game tomorrow."
Valpo (26-7) is led in scoring by 6-foot-7-inch senior Ryan Broekhoff, who is averaging 15.9 points and 7.3 rebounds.
Broekhoff said the Crusaders are enjoying the fact they're in the NCAA Tournament, but there's more to it than just being here.
"I think the closer the game comes, the more I seem to enjoy it," Broekhoff said. "It's kind of sunk in that we have completed one of our goals. Obviously, we still have goals in mind that we set at the start of the year.
"It is a business trip in the end. We'll enjoy the experience, but once you walk over those lines and the ball's thrown up, it's all about business. We're out here to really give it a good effort and do our best. Anything can happen in games like this."
Fifth-year senior guard Erik Buggs, named to the Horizon League All-Defensive team and the MVP of the Horizon League championships, said he's looking forward to the matchup with MSU guard Keith Appling.
Appling is averaging 13.6 points and has 117 assists.
"He's a great player," Broekhoff said of Appling. "He has a great feel for the game. Watching film, he's very quick, and he's a really explosive scorer.
"I think he's one of the big keys for them, so I think that matchup will be pivotal."