ORAL ROBERTS (15-7, 7-0) at VALPARAISO (10-11, 4-3)
ATHLETICS-RECREATION CENTER - VALPARAISO, IND.
FEBRUARY 1, 2007 - 7:05 p.m.
TODAY'S MATCHUP: The Crusaders look to bounce back from a loss at Southern Utah as they host Oral Roberts Thursday night at the ARC. Valpo will be trying to slow down an ORU team that has won nine consecutive games, including each of its first seven in Mid-Con play. The Golden Eagles defeated the Crusaders in Tulsa earlier this year, 75-60, and hold a 13-11 edge in the all-time series, but Valpo is 9-1 against ORU at the ARC.
LAST TIME OUT: Valparaiso placed three players in double figures and was within six points with 2:26 to play, but Southern Utah pulled away late for a 76-60 victory Saturday night in Cedar City, Utah. Jarryd Loyd had a chance to cut the lead to five, but missed his second free throw, and Justin Allen got a putback bucket on the ensuing Southern Utah possession, giving the T-Birds a 65-57 lead with 2:13 to go. Samuel Haanpaa split a pair of attempts from the charity stripe on Valpo's next time down, but seven points was as close as the Crusaders could get. Brandon McPherson led the Crusaders with 17 points, but connected on just 2-of-8 attempts from behind the arc, as Valpo shot just 21.7% (5-of-23) from downtown.
LAST MEETING: Oral Roberts turned a 36-31 halftime lead into a 53-34 advantage six and a half minutes into the second stanza and cruised to a 75-60 victory over Valpo on January 6, 2007 in Tulsa, Okla. Valpo hit just one of its six shots and turned the ball over five times during the critical run, allowing the Golden Eagles to pull away. Calum MacLeod finished with a game-high 17 points, just one off of his season high. The junior college transfer hit 6-of-7 shots from the floor, including a 3-pointer, and also hit 4-of-5 from the charity stripe. Urule Igbavboa was the only other Crusader in double figures with 12 points.
ON THE AIR: Today's game, like every game this season, can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, a three-station entity carrying Crusader athletics all over Northwest Indiana, and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics. Originating from WVUR, 95.1 FM in Valparaiso, the Valpo Sports Radio Network also includes WEFM, 95.9 FM in Michigan City and WAKE, 1500 AM in Valparaiso. Veteran broadcaster Todd Ickow returns for his 16th season on play-by-play, while WVUR's Mike Haase will handle the color commentary. The game will also be televised on Lakeshore Public Television and videocast online at www.valpo.edu/athletics, with Dick Harlan and Joe Arredondo on the call.
ATMOSPHERE AMONG THE BEST: ESPN.com writer Kyle Whelliston named Valparaiso as one of his five best college basketball game atmospheres last week as part of ESPN's Student Spirit Week. In conjunction with Student Spirit Week, ESPN.com had seven experts select five schools apiece based on the best game atmospheres. Valpo was one of 22 schools named by the writers, with other selections including Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Indiana, among others. Whelliston said about Valpo, Â?...The crowd can be so intense it can be both a sixth and a seventh man (as in a heroic near-miss versus ranked Marquette in November)..."
CRUSADERS AND BRONCOS FACING OFF: Valpo's final non-conference opponent was determined earlier this week, as the Crusaders will travel to Western Michigan to take on the Broncos on Saturday, February 17 in a matchup derived from the O'Reilly ESPNU BracketBusters pool. WMU owns an 8-11 record on the season, including a 4-3 mark in Mid-American Conference play. The matchup renews one of Valpo's oldest rivalries, as the two squads first faced off in 1920 and have met a total of 62 times, with the Broncos holding a 36-26 edge in the series.
BALANCED ATTACK: One of the trademarks of this year's Crusader squad has been balance, as no one player can be keyed upon by opposing defenses. Four Valpo players are averaging double figures, with sophomore Brandon McPherson leading the way with 11.8 points per game. Freshman Samuel Haanpaa is close behind at 11.2 ppg, while sophomore Urule Igbavboa is averaging 10.6 ppg, and junior Shawn Huff is contributing 10.0 ppg. Those four have combined for 47 games in double figures, with McPherson leading the way with 13 double-digit efforts. McPherson has paced the Crusaders in six games this year, while Huff and Igbavboa have each led Valpo five times and Haanpaa on four occasions.
USING THE FREEBIES: Valpo has taken advanatage of its trips to the free throw line much more over the last ten games than the Crusaders did to start the season. Valpo was hitting at just a 64.9% clip from the charity stripe over its first nine games, but has connected on 81.3% of its free throws since. The improvement coincided with the Crusaders' trip to Hawai'i, where they hit 90.6% of their free throws, a tournament best. Included in that trip was a perfect 13-of-13 effort from the foul line against Charlotte.
PRESEASON POLL PLACES VALPO FOURTH: The Crusaders received 156 points in the Mid-Continent Conference's preseason polling of coaches, sports information directors, and selected media members, placing them fourth out of the league's eight teams. Projected league champs Oral Roberts registered 260 points. IUPUI and UMKC are projected second and third, respectively, while Oakland, Western Illinois, Southern Utah, and Centenary round out the fifth through eighth spots.
CRUSADER ALUMNI RETURN TO THE BENCH: Valpo head coach Dr. Homer Drew has always found places for former players as assistant coaches, and this year is no exception. Bryce Drew is back for his second year on the bench, having been promoted to the title of associate head coach during the offseason. Jason Hawkins, who served as the director of basketball operations during the 2003-04 campaign, returns for his first year as an assistant coach, while Tarrance Price, who played for Valpo from 1998-2000, returns as the director of basketball operations.
A LOT OF HANDS TO SHAKE: Pregame captains meetings at center court will be crowded on Valpo's side this year, as five Crusaders have been designated as captains by Coach Drew. Senior Moussa Mbaye, juniors Shawn Huff and Jarryd Loyd, and sophomores Jake Diebler and Brandon McPherson will share this year's captaincy.
THE POST PRESENCE: Sophomore forward Urule Igbavboa has stepped up this season as Valpo's top threat in the interior. Igbavboa shared team-high scoring honors last Thursday night against UMKC, pouring in 16 points while also pulling down a game-best 14 rebounds. The double-double was his sixth of the season, ranking him second among all Mid-Con players in the category. For Igbavboa, it was his second straight game pacing Valpo in points and rebounds, as he registered 14 and 8 against IPFW. Through Valpo's first half of conference play, Igbavboa has cored 13.0 points per game and grabbed 7.4 rebounds per contest, both marks ranking among the top-10 in the league. He also ranks fourth in the Mid-Con with a .586 field goal percentage in league play.
TAKING THE FLOOR: Sophomore guard Brandon McPherson has led the Crusaders on the court this year, both by his presence at point guard and by his actual amount of time on the floor. McPherson is averaging 35.6 minutes per game in conference play, sixth-most among all Mid-Con players. The sophomore has used his time on the court well, as he ranks 12th in the conference in scoring (12.1 ppg) and seventh in assists (3.1 apg) during league play. McPherson also boasts an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.22 against Mid-Con opponents, seventh-best in the league.
FRESHMAN SENSATION: Freshman guard Samuel Haanpaa has stepped up his game in conference play and become one of the Mid-Con's most potent threats. Haanpaa is among the top-10 in the Mid-Con in league play in both scoring (13.1 ppg) and rebounding (6.1 rpg), while remaining lethal from behind the arc, making 2.7 triples per game in conference play, good for second in the league, while connecting at a .528 clip from behind the arc, tops in the Mid-Con. The freshman has nailed at least one 3-pointer in six of seven conference games this year, including three consecutive games with five triples.
MacLEOD MATCHES UP: 7'1" New Zealander Calum MacLeod seemed to enjoy matching up with fellow Kiwi Alex Pledger at UMKC last Thursday, coming through with one of his best games of the season. MacLeod registered 16 points and six rebounds, his fourth time reaching double digits this year. He nailed all seven of his free throws, including a pair with 40 seconds to play in regulation, and also hit a triple to put Valpo ahead for good early on in overtime.
GOLDEN EAGLE NOTES
SEASON TO DATE: Oral Roberts has gone undefeated through its first seven Mid-Con games this season and is on a nine-game win streak entering tonight's contest. The Golden Eagles' 7-0 start in Mid-Con play is the best by any team since the Crusaders began the 1996-97 conference slate with the same record. ORU boasts marquee wins this year at #3 Kansas (78-71) and vs. Seton Hall (76-74), and was recently awarded one of 14 nationally televised games as part of the O'Reilly ESPNU BracketBusters. The Golden Eagles will host Utah State in that contest Feb. 17.
SENIOR LEADERSHIP: Forward Caleb Green and guard Ken Tutt comprise one of the best duos in Mid-Con history. The two were both named to the First Team All Mid-Con as freshmen, and both have remained major threats. Green, who is averaging 19.9 ppg and 9.7 rpg, enters tonight's game as the NCAA's active career leading scorer, with 2,195 points. Tutt sits not far behind Green with 1,822 points, and if he were to reach the 2,000 milestone, they would become just the seventh set of teammates in NCAA history to reach the mark in the same season.