VALPARAISO (3-2) AT CHARLOTTE (5-3)
WHEN: Saturday, December 10, 6:00 p.m.
WHERE: Charlotte, N.C. ? Halton Arena (9,105)
RADIO: Valpo Sports Radio Network (95.1 FM, WVUR, 95.9 FM, WEFM, Relevant Radio 1270 AM, WWCA, 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 541-338 overall and 272-215 at Valpo. Charlotte is led by Bobby Lutz who is 321-177 in his 15th season overall and 140-86 in his eighth season with the 49ers.
BEHIND THE SERIES: Meeting for the fourth time in the last five years, the Crusaders are looking to remain undefeated all-time at Halton Arena. Valpo leads 3-1, dropping their only contest last year at the ARC to the 49ers. The series began back in the 1971-72 season when the Crusaders beat Charlotte on the road 70-60. The two teams did not meet again for 30 years, when again Valpo prevailed in Charlotte 70-63, December 5, 2001. After another Crusader win in early 2003, Charlotte picked up a 85-71 win on November 27 of last season at the ARC.
LAST TIME OUT: The Crusaders squandered a second-straight opportunity for a marquee road win, struggling mightily to shoot the basketball and falling to Marquette 69-54. Valpo hit only 35.1% of their field goal attempts, and made just 6-of-23 three-pointers. The Crusaders jumped out to a 12-3 lead, but saw the hosts open up a 13-point advantage by the half and cruise to the victory.
COLD AS ICE: True, the Crusaders are shooting 44.8% from the floor this season, but those numbers are quite deceiving. Take out Valpo's 111-41 win over NAIA IUSB, when they shot 61.6%, and the Brown and Gold are making just below 40% of their shots from the floor and a mystifying 23.4% of their three-point attempts. The numbers become more puzzling when considering Valpo lost no main three-point threats from last year's squad, a team that made 41.6% of their shots from deep. Every returnee this season is shooting worse from three-point land than they did last year.
TOUGH SCHEDULE: Tonight's game at 5-3 Charlotte is the third game of a difficult four-game stretch for the Brown and Gold. It began Saturday with a 72-59 loss to #14 Iowa, continued with Wednesday's 69-54 loss at Marquette, and concludes with a game at #1 Duke next weekend. The four Crusader opponents, all of whom Valpo will play on the road, have a combined 26-7 record.
NEW STARTERS THRIVE: Homer Drew rearranged the starting five before Wednesday's game at Marquette and it worked, only perhaps a little too well. Ali Berdiel, Dan Oppland, Mohamed Kone, Ron Howard and Shawn Huff scored all 54 of Valpo's points, with the Crusaders reserves going scoreless in 38 minutes, combining to shoot 0-for-11 from the floor. Valpo's bench had been playing well leading up to Marquette, averaging nearly 22 points/game including a 55-point outburst against Indiana-South Bend. Berdiel and Huff, the two new Valpo starters, had been the two leading bench scorers, averaging 12.6 points/game combined.
STREAK BUSTED: For the first time since February 19 of last season, senior forward Dan Oppland was held under 20-points Wednesday at Marquette, scoring 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting. Oppland's eight-game surge included four outstanding efforts to open this season, like his 23-point showing against #14 Iowa last weekend. Oppland's play is also moving him up the all-time record lists at Valpo, with the Saint Louis native fifteen rebounds away from becoming only the sixth Crusader with at least 1,300 career points and 600 career rebounds. If he maintains his current pace, Oppland will leave Valpo in the top five all-time in points and rebounds, joining Raitis Grafs as the only player to accomplish that feat. Oppland now stands 10th all-time with 585 rebounds, and his 1,310 points are 14th best.
OPPONENTS FEELING REJECTED: Juco transfer Mohamed Kone is blocking shots at a record pace through the early going, averaging a league-best 3.4 swats/game. Kone has blocked at least two shots in every game this season, including a career-high five against Tulane on December 2. Kone is nearly halfway to cracking Valpo's single-season top 10 in blocks, 21 shy of Raitis Grafs' 38 in 2000. ?Big Mo'" is on pace to block 92 shots this year, 25 more than the standing school-record, set by Grafs in the 2000-01 season.
BACK WHERE HE USED TO BE: Ali Berdiel found himself in familiar spot Wednesday night for the first time this season. He found himself in the starting lineup. Berdiel, among Valpo's all-time leaders in assists and steals, made the 64th start of his career, but first since the second game of last season. Berdiel would miss the rest of the 2003-04 campaign with a foot injury and return for a fifth season after being granted a medical redshirt. The native of Ponce, Puerto Rico took advantage of his opportunity as a starter at Marquette, playing 32 minutes and posting nine points, seven assists, two blocked shots and three steals.
EARNING SOME McMINUTES: Freshman Brandon McPherson earned the first significant playing time of his career Wednesday night, seeing two minutes in the first half before starting the second half and playing the first seven minutes. McPherson did not score, but also did not turn the ball over, grabbing one rebound and handing out an assist in his nine minutes. The Indianapolis, Ind. native is was proven winner as a prep star, leading Lawrence North High School to back-to-back state championships and a 73-7 record.
CAHRLOTTE NOTES: After a slow 1-3 start, Charlotte has ripped off four straight wins, picking up road victories over Georgia State and Louisiana-Lafayette and downing Portland and Davidson at home. Now a member of the Atlantic 10, the 49ers have three non-conference games remaining after tonight before opening league play January 9 against Rhode Island.
With all of Valpo's early shooting woes, they're not the only team struggling to make shots this year. In fact, the 49ers have been even worse than the Crusaders, shooting a frigid 36.7% from the field, 29.9% from three-point range and 61.7% from the free throw line.
NBA prospect Curtis Withers leads the Charlotte offense, averaging 16.8 points and 10.9 rebounds so far this year. At only 6'8", Withers makes up for his height with a bulky frame and non-stop effort on the inside. The Charlotte native averages 4.4 offensive rebounds/game.