VALPARAISO (11-5, 4-2 Mid-Con) at SOUTHERN UTAH (4-14, 3-3 Mid-Con)
WHEN: Saturday, January 21, 2006 ? 8:00 p.m.
WHERE: Cedar City, Utah ? Centrum Arena (5,300)
RADIO: Valpo Sports Radio Network (95.1 FM, WVUR, 95.9 FM, WEFM, and 1500 AM, WAKE). Todd Ickow will handle the play-by-play with Brent Whitlock providing the color commentary.
THE COACHES: Valparaiso is led by Homer Drew, who is in his 29th season of coaching, and 17th with the Crusaders. He is 549-340 overall and 280-218 at Valpo. Southern Utah is led by Bill Evans, who is 187-203 in 13th season overall and with the Thunderbirds.
BEHIND THE SERIES: Since joining the Mid-Con in 1997, Valparaiso and Southern Utah have met 18 times on the basketball court, with the Crusaders holding a 13-5 advantage all-time. In Cedar City, easily Valpo's longest trip in conference, the Crusaders are just 4-4, losing four of their last six games at Centrum Arena. Last season, however, Valpo dominated in Cedar City, winning 93-77. The two teams have met twice in the Mid-Con Tournament, with the most infamous meeting coming in the 2001 Championship game, won 62-59 by the Thunderbirds.
LAST TIME OUT: For the third time in school history, but the second time in as many meetings, the Chicago State Cougars beat the Valparaiso Crusaders. Thursaday's 90-76 defeat came on the heels of last season's shocking 72-67 loss to the Cougars in the first round of the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament. Royce Parran led Chicago State Thursday with 20 points, pacing five players in double-figures, with Kourtney Calvin posting a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds. Seth Colclasure was Valpo's best offensive weapon, hitting a career-high six three-pointers and scoring 20 points. Ron Howard led all scorers with 23, 15 in the second half, and Dan Oppland scored 13 on 5-of-16 shooting.
POLL WATCHING: In the latest Spike TV Collegeinsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll, the Crusaders come in at 25, the only Mid-Con team ranked in the poll. Valpo picked up 96 points, just 20 points away from the top 20, and cracked the poll for the first time this year.
STILL SCORING: While the Valpo defense faltered Thursday night, the Crusader offense continued on a torrid seven-game stretch, beginning with Valpo's 89-74 win at Centenary. In that seven-game stretch the Brown and Gold are 6-1, and scoring an average of 87.9 points per game, with a scoring margin of +16.3. It's the three-point shooting, however, that's been most impressive, with Valpo knocking down a blistering 50.8% of their triples, including a jaw-dropping 22-of-34 (64.7%) from Colclasure. Five other Crusaders are hitting at least 50% from deep during the run, during which Valpo is averaging 19.0 assists and 13.9 turnovers.
NO, YOU SHOOT IT: No team in the Mid-Con shares the ball like Valpo, with the Crusaders averaging a league-leading 18.4 assists per game, 10th in the country. Five times this year Valpo has racked up at least 20 assists in a game, including a school-record 36 in the Brown and Gold's rout of IUSB. Ron Howard and Ali Berdiel are each averaging better than 3.5 assists per game.
MR. EVERYTHING: Three days after being named the Mid-Continent Conference's December co-Male Athlete of the Month, Crusader senior Dan Oppland was honored as Mid-Con Player of the Week Monday, guiding the Brown and Gold to three wins last week. The marquee performance came Saturday, when the Saint Louis native exploded for a career-high 35 points at Western Illinois. But the week began strong too, when Oppland led the Crusaders to their biggest win of the season, posting a 23 point-11 rebound double-double in Valpo's 80-60 win over Oral Roberts. Oppland's play last week also vaulted him up the record books, where he is now one of only three Crusaders with at least 1,500 career points and 650 career rebounds. Oppland scored his 1,500th point early in Saturday's game, and is now five points out of fifth place all-time.
HE'S HEATING UP: Seth Colclasure's 2-for-15 start to the season from three-point range seems like a distant memory, as the senior has rounded nicely into form now making 47.1% of his three-point attempts, good for second in the Mid-Con. Colclasure's hot shooting has also vaulted him into some exclusive company at Valpo. He became just the 10th Crusader with 125 career three-point makes Thursday at Chicago Sate, and he's moved within 1.3% of Bryce Drew's career three-point percentage mark. But this season hasn't been just about threes for Colclasure, averaging 8.8 points per game, as the senior has done a sound job of securing the ball, with nine turnovers in 358 minutes.
HOWARD FILLS IT UP: No player on the Crusaders fills out a stat sheet quite like Ron Howard, and this year has been no exception. Averaging 13.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.9 steals per game, he leads the team in assists and steals, is second in points, and fourth in rebounding. Since being held scoreless for the first time in his career against Oakland January 2, Howard has scored in double-figures in five straight. Howard's best scoring night of the season came Thursday, when he poured in 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
LOYD FOR THREE: After quietly making 41.0% of his three-pointers last season, Jarryd Loyd is making a team-leading 55.6% from deep this season. The sophomore point guard has hit 15-of-27 triples, including a career-high four January 2 against Oakland. Loyd's also continued his strong work running the offense too, ranking third on the team with a 2.8 assist per game average and leading Valpo with a 1.9 assist-to ratio.
SOUTHERN UTAH NOTES: Historically one of the Mid-Con's top three-point shooting team, this years incarnation of the Thunderbirds are leading the conference and fifth in the country, shooting 42.4% from behind the arc. Eight different Southern Utah players are shooting better than 38.0% from long range, and the T-Birds make 7.4 three-pointers per contest.
Southern Utah point guard Steve Barnes is the engine that makes the Thunderbird machine run. The 5'10" junior leads the Mid-Con averaging 4.6 assists per game and is tops in the conference with a 1.8 assist-turnover ratio. And Barnes can shoot it too, with a team-leading 45.5% three-point percentage (25-of-55), tied for fourth in the Mid-Continent.
While the Thunderbirds can shoot the ball with the best in the country, they've struggled on the inside throughout the season. Southern Utah ranks 322nd in the country, out of 326 teams, with a -8.8 rebounding margin.