NIAGARA (10-14, 7-9 MAAC) at VALPARAISO (15-9, 8-6 Mid-Con)
WHEN: Saturday, February 18, 2006 ? 7:05 p.m.
WHERE: Valparaiso, Ind. ? Athletics-Recreation Center (5,000)
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. Dick Harlan will serve as the play-by-play announcer alongside Joe Arredondo. Todd Medland is the sideline reporter.
THE COACHES: Valparaiso is led by Homer Drew, who is in his 29th season of coaching, and 17th with the Crusaders. He is 553-344 overall and 284-222 at Valpo. Niagara is led by Joe Mihalich, who is 136-97 in his eighth season overall and with the Purple Eagles.
BEHIND THE SERIES: The Crusaders and Purple Eagles will meet for the fourth time Saturday night, with Valpo looking to even the series up at two. The clubs first met in late 1967 at the Motor City Tournament in Detroit, Michigan, with Niagara cruising to an easy 113-82 win. 25 years later, the two teams met again with a similar result, as Niagara knocked off Valpo 102-68 on the Purple Eagles' home floor. One year later, however, the Brown and Gold got their revenge, playing smothering defense and routing Niagara 90-59 at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
LAST TIME OUT: The Crusaders pulled away early in the second half and held on late for a 70-64 win over Chicago State Thursday, clinching their 10th winning season in the last 11 years. Dan Oppland moved past Lubos Barton into third all-time in Crusader history with 1,682 points by tallying 22, with Ron Howard and Seth Colclasure also finishing in double figures. Mohamed Kone pulled down a career-high 13 rebounds for the Crusaders, who out-rebounded Chicago State 45-34 and made 23-of-28 free throws.
THE SENIOR SIX: Tonight marks the final home game in the fine careers of six Crusader seniors, each of whom is profiled on the next two pages. In the four years since the class arrived, the Crusaders have gone 67-49, won a pair of Mid-Continent Conference Regular Season Titles and made a pair of postseason berths. As freshmen they played in the NIT after losing in the conference title game, and turned things around the next season, earning a spot in the NCAAs.
DAN OPPLAND: One of Valpo's all-time greats, Dan Oppland will start his 87th consecutive game Saturday night. Third all-time in points and fourth in rebounds, Oppland will finish in the top 10 in the Mid-Con in those two categories each of his final three seasons as a Crusader. A two-time All-Conference star, Oppland is having his best season yet as a senior, averaging career-highs of 19.8 points and 7.6 rebounds. With clockwork consistency, Oppland has scored in double-figures in 51 of his last 55 games.
RON HOWARD: A transfer from Marquette University after his freshman year, Howard has been a staple of the starting five over the past two seasons. As versatile as they come, Howard has over 800 points, 250 rebounds and 200 assists in his career, and is rapidly nearing his 100th career steal. Leading the team this season in assists and steals, he ranks second in scoring with a 13.3 point per game average. A Second Team All-Conference selection a season ago, Howard was named to the preseason First Team this year.
SETH COLCLASURE: As potent a shooter as has ever been at Valpo, Seth Colclasure's been on fire from beyond the arc over the past two seasons, compiling 118 three-point makes in the last two years alone. After injuries derailed his sophomore campaign, the one-time Indiana All-Star exploded onto the scene last year, shooting 45.2% from deep and ranking in the top 10 in the Mid-Con in assists, assist-to-turnover ratio and three-point percentage. This year, Colclasure's had seven nights of at least four made triples, and moved into a tie for seventh all-time with 144 career makes.
JIM HOOPER: A team manager as a freshman, Jim Hooper worked his way onto the Crusader roster as a sophomore walk-on. A ferocious scout and practice player, Hooper saw action in 13 games as a junior, scoring seven points on the road against nationally-regarded Arizona State. Earlier this season, he got a chance to showcase his talent in front of a home crowd, making a pair of three-point attempts and totaling a career-high eight points in Valpo's win over Indiana-South Bend.
ALI BERDIEL: After thinking he'd seen the Athletics-Recreation Center for the final time last season, Ali Berdiel will play for the final time at home Saturday. A physical freak, his 6'6" frame and athleticism have made Berdiel a dangerous player since his freshman year. Now third in school history with 490 assists, he can join Bryce Drew as the only players with 1,000 career points and 500 career assists with 58 points and 10 helpers from here on out. A member of the All-Conference Second Team as a junior, Berdiel was granted an injury redshirt after playing in only two games last season.
MOHAMED KONE: The newest of the Crusader seniors, Mohamed Kone's one-year run at the ARC will not come to a close without some notable accomplishments. One of the great shot-blockers to play at Valpo, he should finish with one of the top five shot blocking seasons of all-time. Also a terrific rebounder, Kone pulled down a career-high 13 Thursday night vs. CSU.
REPEAT THE FEAT?: With the Valpo season winding down, it does warrant mentioning that the last time the Crusaders graduated six seniors in one season, the results down through the stretch run were staggering. The senior class of 1998: Bryce Drew, Tony Vilcinskas, Jamie Sykes, Bill Jenkins, Bob Jenkins and Jay Phifer, won 13 straight games through February and March, and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tourney.
PURPLE EAGLE NOTES: Decimated by injuries and with two players pursuing redshirts, Niagara is down to a seven-man roster they're calling the ?magnificent seven." Strangely, since losing leading scorer Charron Fisher, the Purple Eagles are 3-2, including an impressive 67-51 win at Manhattan.
The top rebounding team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and one of the top 25 rebounding teams in the country, the Purple Eagles love to bang around underneath. All five starters are averaging at least 4.0 rebounds per game and four are averaging better than 5.9 caroms per night, led by Clif Brown's 7.8 per game average.
Brown has been Niagara's best player since Fisher's departure, averaging 23.6 points and 10.8 rebounds in the five games since the injury. A junior, Brown averaged only 4.3 points per game through his first two seasons.