The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team learned Sunday evening that it had received an at-large berth in the 2017 National Invitation Tournament (NIT) and will open tournament play as a seventh seed versus second-seeded Illinois Tuesday night at 6:15 p.m. in Champaign, live on ESPN2. Valpo is appearing in the NIT for a second straight season, following the Crusaders’ run to the NIT championship game at Madison Square Garden last year.
Overall, this is the program’s fourth appearance all-time in the NIT, where it holds a 4-3 record. This is also the Crusaders’ second at-large berth into the NIT, joining the 2002-03 squad which won the Mid-Con regular season title and dropped a two-point decision at Iowa in the first round of the NIT that season.
This year’s Crusader squad earned a share of the Horizon League regular season championship – the program’s fifth league regular season title in the last six years – and will enter the NIT with a 24-8 overall record. While Valpo will be without the services of star senior Alec Peters, senior guard Shane Hammink (Millingen aan de Rijn, Netherlands/Oakley College [LSU]) – who averages 15.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game – and junior guard Tevonn Walker (Montreal, Quebec/Vanier College) – who averages 11.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game – will lead the Crusaders into the tournament. Both Hammink and Walker set career highs in the scoring column over the last three games as Valpo played without Peters.
Illinois enters the NIT at 18-14 overall and posted an 8-10 record in Big Ten play this year. The Illini, who announced on Saturday that former head coach John Groce had been relieved of his duties, are led by senior guard Malcolm Hill, who averages 16.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.
Valpo and Illinois share three mutual opponents this year in Northern Kentucky, Detroit Mercy and BYU – the Illini won all three games against the trio of teams, while Valpo posted a 4-1 record against the three squads. The Crusaders will be in search of their first victory all-time over the Illini – the programs have met on six previous occasions, with Illinois picking up wins in all six matchups. Valpo last played at Illinois on Nov. 13, 2013, a 64-52 win for the Illini.
The winner of the Valpo-Illinois game will face either third-seeded Utah or sixth-seeded Boise State in the second round of the tournament. Future game dates and times will be determined after the completion of each round.