VALPARAISO (10-4, 3-1 Mid-Con) at WESTERN ILLINOIS (5-9, 1-2 Mid-Con)
WHEN: Saturday, January 14 at 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: Macomb, Ill. ? Western Hall (5,139)
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 279-217 in his 17th season with the Crusaders and 548-339 in his 29th season as a head coach. Western Illinois is led by Derek Thomas, who is 19-51 in his third season overall and with the Leathernecks.
BEHIND THE SERIES: The only remaining charter members of the Mid-Continent Conference, Valpo and Western Illinois meet tonight for the 54th time since 1982. From 1994-99, the Crusaders and Leathernecks were the two best teams in the conference, with neither team finishing worse than fourth, and Valpo beating WIU three times in the Mid-Con Championship Game. In recent years, the rivalry has become more one-sided, with Valpo winning 10 of the last 11 meetings. The Leathernecks did, however, win the most recent game, 83-79 at Western Hall January 22, 2005.
LAST TIME OUT: The smoldering hot Crusaders scored early and often, downing IPFW for the second time this season 88-72 Wednesday night at the Athletics-Recreation Center. Six Crusaders finished in double-figures and Valpo's lead got as big as 27 late in the second half. It was the Brown and Gold's fifth straight win, with each victory coming by at least 15 points. Mohamed Kone led the way with his fourth double-double of the season (13 points and 11 rebounds) and Dan Oppland chipped in 13 of his own. Valpo shot 61.8% from the floor and 60.0% from three-point range.
EVERYBODY SCORES: The six players in double-figures on Wednesday was nothing new for the Crusaders, who have had an amazing 24 double-figure scoring efforts during their five-game winning streak. Eight different Crusaders have gone for at least 10 points during the stretch, including Shawn Huff, Jarryd Loyd and Urule Igbavboa who have all set or equaled their career-highs in points.
SOME KIND OF A WAKE UP CALL: Since the Crusaders December 27 home loss to UMKC, the team has gone on an unbelievable tear. In five games, all wins, Valpo is averaging 91.4 points/game, shooting 52.0% from the floor, 54.0% from three-point range, averaging 19.0 assists, 11.8 turnovers, and posting an average margin of victory of 22.8 points. Over that span four players, Dan Oppland, Shawn Huff, Ron Howard and Mohamed Kone, are averaging in double-figures scoring, and Huff has made a ridiculous 10-of-13 three-pointers. Making the run more notable is the fact that three of the wins have come over Mid-Con foes.
POINT PARADE: The Crusaders have cracked the top 25 in scoring, clocking in at 24th nationally with an 81.1 point per game scoring average. The last Valpo team to average over 80 points per game was the Gene Bartow coached 1969-70 Crusaders who averaged 84.1 points per game. Senior Bruce Lindner led that club with a school-record 27.8 point per game scoring average.
MR. DECEMBER: Dan Oppland was honored Friday by the Mid-Continent Conference when he was named December's co-Male Athlete of the Month. The award is the first such honor of Oppland's storied career, and came as a result of some exemplary play against some of the best teams in the nation. At the Hawkeye Challenge in Iowa City, Iowa Oppland earned All-Tournament honors, scoring 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds against Tulane before going for 23 points and seven boards against #14 Iowa. Two weeks later, at #1 Duke, Oppland scored at will on 2005 National Defensive Player of the Year Sheldon Williams, totalling 25 points on 11-of-18 shooting and pulling down six rebounds. Valpo went 4-4 during the month.
HUFF AND PUFF: Shawn Huff learned some terrific basketball lessons this summer with the Finnish National Team, and has turned those lessons into a breakout sophomore season for the Crusaders. The 6'6" swing man's biggest improvement has been his shooting touch, making 50% of his field goals this year and shooting 46.7% from behind the three-point line. And while he's played well almost from the start of this season, it's his play during the Crusaders' five-game winning streak that has been particularly inspired. Huff set and then matched a new career-high in points on back-to-back nights (18 against Oakland and Longwood) and has made a mind-boggling 10-of-13 three-pointers, including 4-of-4 against Oakland. Huff's been getting it done on the glass, too, averaging four boards during the run.
BIG MO'S HOUSE: Crusader senior Mohamed Kone has improved leaps and bounds since arriving at Valpo in early September, and is now a dangerous weapon on both ends of the floor. The 6'11" big man struggled with his touch in the early season, making below 40% of his shots through the first nine games of the year. During Valpo's hot streak, Kone is shooting 51.3% from the floor and has posted a pair of double-doubles, against Oakland and IPFW. On the defensive end, Kone comfortably leads the Mid-Con with 33 blocked shots.
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 13.2 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 fifth in rebounding. Since being held scoreless for the first time in his career against Oakland January 2, Howard has scored in double-figures in three straight.
WESTERN ILLINOIS NOTES: Senior Fred Oguns has emerged as Western Illinois' most balanced player since the start of conference play, averaging 15.3 points and 6.7 rebounds against the Mid-Con, including a double-double (13 points and 11 rebounds) Monday against UMKC. Oguns, a transfer from Sheridan (Wyo.) C.C. averaged 8.6 points/game last season.
Western Illinois' main offensive weapon this season has been their ability to shoot the ball from downtown. Their 37.7% three-point shooting is third in the conference and 71st in the country, led by junior Troy Okeson's 43.2% mark from deep. Two others, David Jackson and Chris Gonzalez are also shooting better than 40% from long distance.
The Western Illinois defense has given up some big point totals this season, surrendering at least 80 points six times this year. Additionally, the Leathernecks are forcing only 14.3 turnovers and average just 6.2 steals per game.