VALPARAISO (16-9, 8-6 Mid-Con) at UMKC (11-13, 9-5 Mid-Con)
WHEN: Thursday, February 23, 2006 ? 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: Kansas City, Mo. ? Municipal Auditorium (9,827)
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.
TV: WYIN 56 in Merrillville, Ind. and WHME 46 in South Bend, Ind.
THE COACHES: Valparaiso is led by Homer Drew, who is in his 29th season of coaching, and 17th with the Crusaders. He is 554-344 overall and 285-222 at Valpo. UMKC is led by Rich Zvosec, who is 172-218 in his 15th season overall and 69-70 in his sixth season with the Kangaroos.
BEHIND THE SERIES: In the 27th all-time meetings between the two teams, Valpo will try to pick up win number 20 in the series for the fourth time, holding a 19-7 advantage but losers of three straight to the Kangaroos. Surprisingly, the Crusaders have actually been better in the series on the road, losing their first game in Kansas City in early 1995 before winning seven of the next eight. Recent history, however, has been less kind, with the Brown and Gold riding a two-game losing skid at Municipal Auditorium, dropping a pair of one-point games in the last two years.
LAST TIME OUT: Valpo sent six seniors out of the ARC on final time as winners, dropping Niagara 88-82 in a game arranged through the BracketBusters presented by eBay pool. The Brown and Gold led by 14 at the break and held on despite 25 second half points from Clif Brown. Dan Oppland posted a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds, while fellow seniors Ron Howard (15), Mohamed Kone (12) and Ali Berdiel (10) also scored in double-figures. The Valpo bench also stepped up, out-scoring the Purple Eagle reserves 33-14 led by nine from Urule Igbavboa.
SHOOT TO WIN: While certainly not a shocking statistic, the Crusaders have been winning (with a 13-1 record) when out-shooting their opponents. The Brown and Gold lead the Mid-Con with a 48.0% shooting mark from the field, and have made better than 50% of their attempts 12 times this season including last time out against Niagara. The Crusaders have also made better than 60% of their shots twice.
HOME OF CHAMPIONS: While the Crusaders will come up short this season in their quest for another Mid-Con title, they have wrapped up their 15th winning season in the last 16 years under Head Coach Homer Drew. Valpo had claimed nine of the previous 11 Mid-Con Regular Season titles and eight of the last 11 tournament championships. Over those past 11 seasons, the Crusaders have also made seven trips to the NCAA tournament, posting a pair wins in a run to the 1998 Sweet 16 in Saint Louis.
SHARING IS CARING: The latest edition of the NCAA's stat rankings finds the Crusaders fifth in the country in assists, averaging 18.1 per game. This year's team features two of the top assist men all-time at Valpo in Ali Berdiel and Ron Howard. Berdiel, who is third all-time with 494 assists, leads the team this year at a 3.8 assist/game mark. Howard is second on the team at 3.6 assists/contest and ranks 14th all-time with 225 career helpers. The Brown and Gold also boast a 1.28 assist-to-turnover ratio.
THE ONE AND ONLY: Dan Oppland closed his career at the Athletics-Recreation Center with one more piece of history, scoring his 1,700th career point with 1:23 left on Saturday and becoming the first Valpo player ever with 1,700 points and 700 rebounds in a career. The Saint Louis native is only the second player in Mid-Con history to compile those numbers, joining Northern Iowa's Jason Reese, who accomplished the feat from 1986-90. Oppland ranks in the top five at Valpo in four career statistical categories and is trying to become the first player since Tracy Gipson in the 1992-93 season to average at least 20 points per game.
KONE ZONE: Senior Mohamed Kone's lone season in a Crusader uniform will be a memorable one, with the 6'11 native of the Ivory Coast leading the club in rebounds and blocked shots and ranking third in scoring. The big man ranks 17th in the Mid-Con in scoring, third in rebounds and leads the way in blocked shots, all while compiling six double-doubles, second only to Oral Roberts' Caleb Green, this season. As for his prowess on the defensive end, Kone's 49 blocked shots this season rank sixth all-time in Valpo history and just six blocks shy of the top 20 for a season in the Mid-Con.
THAT'S MORE LIKE IT: Since playing only 19 minutes February 2 against Centenary, Ron Howard has returned to his preseason All-Conference form, scoring in double-figures each of the last five games. Over that stretch, Howard has shot the ball extremely well, making 53.8% of his attempts from the floor including 40.0% from three-point range. And the senior's not just been scoring, showing his versatility with averages of 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Currently second on the team in both points and assists per game, Howard's continued his career-long trend of thievery on the defensive end, leading the team this season with 39 steals.
MORE HISTORY?: Dan Oppland may not be the only member of this year's Valpo team to finish in exclusive company, as Ali Berdiel could make a run at a very special class. With 952 career points and 494 assists, the Andrean graduate is 48 points and six assists away from joining Assistant Coach Bryce Drew as the only two players in Crusader history with 1,000 points and 500 assists. The 6'6" point guard again leads the Crusaders in assists this season, trying to win the third Dick Koenig Assist Award of his career. A Second Team All-Conference choice two seasons ago, Berdiel is averaging 8.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists this year.
KANGAROO NOTES: An almost surefire member of the All-Conference First Team, junior Quinton Day is having a fabulous second season with the Kangaroos. A member of the 2005 Mid-Con All-Newcomer team, Day leads the league in assists and steals and ranks second in scoring at 20.3 points per game.
The Kangaroos have been successful this season in large part because they don't turn the ball over. Averaging a Mid-Con best 11.9 turnovers per game, UMKC sits 13th nationally in that category. Day leads the team with 91 turnovers, but still has a positive (1.33) assist-to-turnover ratio. The Kangaroos force 15.3 giveaways/game from their opponents and have a Mid-Con best 3.4 turnover margin.
UMKC could use a few big bodies to clean the window, because the Kangaroos have struggled rebounding the basketball this season. UMKC has a league-worst -6.0 rebound margin and has only one player averaging over 3.9 boards.