#4 VALPARAISO (16-11, 8-8 Mid-Con) vs. #5 SOUTHERN UTAH (10-19, 8-8 Mid-Con)
WHEN: Sunday, March 5, 2006 Â? 6:00 p.m.
WHERE: Tulsa, Okla. Â? John Q. Hammons Arena at the UMAC (5,662)
RADIO: Valpo Sports Radio Network (95.1 FM, WVUR, 95.9 FM, WEFM, 1230 AM, WWCA, and 1500 AM, WAKE). Todd Ickow will handle the play-by-play with Brent Whitlock providing the color commentary.
TV: None. Video is available online at www.mid-con.tv on a pay-per-view basis.
THE COACHES: Valparaiso is led by Homer Drew, who is in his 29th season of coaching, and 17th with the Crusaders. He is 554-346 overall and 285-224 at Valpo. Southern Utah is led by Bill Evans who is 193-208 in his 14th season overall and with the Thunderbirds.
BEHIND THE SERIES: A rematch five years in the making, the Crusaders and Thunderbirds meet tonight in the Mid-Con Tournament for the first time since March 6, 2001. On that day, Fred House and Jeff Monaco led Southern Utah to a 62-59 win in the conference title game, giving the Thunderbirds their first and only NCAA Tournament berth. Overall, the Crusaders hold a 14-6 advantage in the all-time series, including wins in three of the last four meetings. The two teams split a pair of meetings this year, with both team notching victories on their home courts.
LAST TIME OUT: Mid-Con Player of the Year Caleb Green cemented the top seed in the conference tournament for the Golden Eagles with a 27-point, 15-rebound night, pacing a 87-78 ORU win. The Crusaders led through much of the first half, but a late 8-4 run from the hosts sent them into the locker room on top 38-35. Oral Roberts sealed the win early in the second half, opening a 50-41 lead five minutes in and never looking back. Dan Oppland led Valpo with his fourth double-double in the last five games, finishing with 25 points and 12 rebounds. Ron Howard added 16 points.
THREE'S COMPANY: The Crusaders placed three players on the 2006 All-Conference teams, more than any other school in the Mid-Con. Oppland earned First Team All-Conference honors for the second straight year, and Howard repeated on the Second Team. Mohamed Kone, who transferred from the College of Southern Idaho, placed on the Honorable Mention and All-Newcomer teams.
BIRDS ON THE BOARDS: Valpo has done an excellent job on the glass this season, boasting a +4.0 rebound margin, second in the league. But strangely, the one team they haven't done well on the glass against is Southern Utah, statistically one of the weaker rebounding teams in the country. The Thunderbirds out-rebounded Valpo in both meetings, the only team in the Mid-Con to twice beat the Crusaders on the glass this season. In their last five games, Valpo has out-rebounded each opponent by an average of 8.0/game.
NO, YOU SHOOT IT: The best passing team in the Mid-Con, Valpo leads the league with an 18.0 assist per game average. That average also puts the Crusaders among the nation's elite, ranking eighth in the country, less than two assists behind national leader Texas A&M Corpus-Christi. Ali Berdiel, one of three Crusaders with over 500 career assists, leads the team with 107 helpers (4.0 per game), which ranks fourth in the league. Ron Howard is next at 3.5 per contest, with Jarryd Loyd chipping in 2.6 each night.
THE ONE AND ONLY: Already one of the most decorated players in Valpo basketball history, Dan Oppland was selected First Team All-Mid-Con earlier this week, the second straight First Team nod for the senior, and the third all-conference commendation of his career. One of only six Valpo players to earn All-Conference honors three or more times, Oppland is the only player in Crusader history with 1,700 and 700 rebounds in his career, and one of only two players in Mid-Con history to do so. The Saint Louis native is averaging career-highs of 19.9 points and 8.1 boards this year, and has scored in double-figures 54 times in his last 58 games.
HOWARD'S END: The Crusaders' other repeat all-conference selection, Ron Howard is second on the team in scoring this season at 13.6 points per game. A terrific man-to-man defender, Howard has 40 steals this season, tops on the team, and 100 in his collegiate career. One of the best shooters on the team at 48.6% on the season, the Marquette transfer picked up his game in the final month of the regular season, scoring in double-figures all eight games and averaging 14.6 points and 4.4 rebounds, and making an impressive 43-of-76 field goals (56.6%). The senior posted a double-double, 13 pts. and 10 rebs., against SUU February 4.
SUPER SETH: Senior sixth man Seth Colclasure is having his best season in a Crusader uniform, averaging a career-high 9.3 points per game and shooting 46.8% from three-point range, also a career-best. The former Indiana All-Star has scored in double-figures 12 times this year, including dropping a career-high 24 points on 8-of-9 shooting December 10 at Charlotte. One of the best shooters in Mid-Con history, currently 12th all-time in three-point percentage, Colclasure has knocked down four or more triples in a game seven times this year, including a six Jan. 19 at Chicago State.
KEEP ON CHUCKIN': While Colclasure is the most decorated shooter on the Crusaders, percentage wise he's not the best. That distinction goes to sophomore Jarryd Loyd, who's hit 53.3% of his three-point attempts this season and 47.6% in his career. In fact, Loyd is a better shooter from beyond the three-point arc than he is inside it, making only 39.6% of his two-pointers this year and just 40.0% in his two seasons. Not only does Loyd not take bad shots from three-point range, he also makes sound decisions with the ball, committing only 35 turnovers in 25 games. The Lincolnwood, Ill. native also boasts a team-best 1.89 assist-turnover ratio.
SCORER/SCHOLAR: Not only is Dan Oppland one of the best players to ever don the brown and gold on the court, he's also one of the strongest in the classroom. For the third straight year, the Saint Louis native has been named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District V Team. A Third Team Academic All-American last season, Oppland, who carries a 3.55 GPA in sports management, is averaging 19.9 points and 8.1 rebounds this year.
THE LEAGUE'S ELITE: Aside from Dan Oppland's move up Valpo's all-time charts, he's closing in on some exclusive company in the Mid-Con. The senior is 12th all-time in the conference in scoring and 9th in rebounds. Oppland is only one of two players in the top 11 in Mid-Con history in both career points and rebounds. Additionally, Ali Berdiel stands 8th all-time in the Mid-Con in assists and is in 14th place all-time in career steals.
BUSTIN' BRACKETS: For the second straight season, the Crusaders were selected to be a part of the ESPN BracketBusters presented by eBay pool, defeating Niagara Feb. 18 in a game arranged through the program. As a result, the Crusaders will travel to Niagara University, N.Y. next season to meet the Purple Eagles in a non-conference game. Additionally, the Brown and Gold will host their 2005 BracketBusters opponent, Butler, during 2006-07, a game mandated by the BracketBusters program.
REPEAT THE FEAT?: Valpo's six seniors ended their careers at home winners back on February 18, but would love to go out the same way the last six-person Crusader class did. In 1998, seniors Bryce Drew, Antanas Vilcinskas, Jamie Sykes, Bill Jenkins, Bob Jenkins and Jay Phifer won a Mid-Con Tournament Title and advanced to the Regional Finals of the NCAA Tournament as a 13 seed, downing Mississippi and Florida State.
THE INJURY BUG: Since a six-game winning streak through the early stages of January, a rash of misfortune has befallen the Crusaders. After a January 14 win at Western Illinois, three of Valpo's top six players missed the next two games and the Brown and Gold have not been fully healthy since then. Five different Crusaders have missed time this year with various ailments, and Valpo has gone only 5-7 since their win on the road in Macomb.
NON-CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS: For what it's worth, the Crusaders were easily the best team in the Mid-Con during their non-conference schedules this year. In fact, they were the only team to finish with an above .500 record, going a very solid 8-3. That record includes wins over Charlotte and Tulane, and losses to #2 Duke, #14 Iowa and Marquette. IUPUI had the league's next best non-conference mark, posting five wins in 11 games.
DR. DREW'S DEAN OF THE MID-CON: The winningest coach in Mid-Continent Conference history, Homer Drew's made a little bit of history himself this season. The Crusader mentor coached his 500th Valpo game January 26 at Oakland and the 900th of his 29-year coaching career February 25 at Oral Roberts. Drew's 554 career wins are 12th among active Division I coaches, and his 285 wins at Valpo account for roughly 25% of the men's basketball program's more than 1,100 wins since 1917.
HAWKEYE CHALLENGE: In early December, Valpo competed in the two-day Hawkeye Challenge, hosted by the University of Iowa. After defeating Tulane in the opening round, the Crusaders fell to #14 Iowa in the Championship Game. Valpo forward Dan Oppland was named to the all-tournament team after averaging 22.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in the two games.
WINNING BIG: The Crusaders' 70-point win November 28 over Indiana-South Bend was the second-largest margin of victory is program history, bested only by a 132-53 victory the Crusaders had over Western Ontario in 1964. The only game in the last 40 years that came close to the IUSB laugher was a 100-49 win the Crusaders picked up over Trinity International in 1999. The 70-point margin is the biggest of Homer Drew's tenure.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON(S): When Homer Drew retired from coaching in 2002 to let his son Scott take the reigns, it meant the Valpo bench had only one Drew for the first time in a decade. Since then, Scott has begun a major rebuilding effort at Baylor and Homer has returned to the sidelines. Now, with his NBA and international playing career over, Scott's brother Bryce is back at Valpo this season, reuniting father and son. Bryce, Valpo's most decorated and well-recognized former student-athlete, played six NBA seasons and one international year after being drafted by the Houston Rockets in the 1998 NBA Draft.
RUNNING OUT OF FINGERS: After filling one hand with rings, the Crusaders are two Mid-Continent Conference Tournament titles away from moving on to the toes. All eight of Valpo's tourney wins have come in the last 11 years, going 25-3 in the league's premier event since 1995. Last season's upset loss in the first round of the tournament was the first time since the 1994 tourney that the Crusaders did not play in the title game, and first time since 1990 they lost their first game in a tournament. Valpo's most recent tournament title came in 2004 when they defeated IUPUI 66-64.
HOME OF CHAMPS: While the Crusaders fell short this season in their quest for another Mid-Con regular season title, they have wrapped up their 15th winning season in the last 16 years under Head Coach Homer Drew. Valpo had claimed at least a share of nine of the previous 11 Mid-Con Regular Season Titles. Over those past 11 seasons, the Crusaders have also made seven trips to the NCAA tournament, more than any other team in the Mid-Con. Valpo's nine regular season and eight tourney titles are also the most in the Mid-Con.
SIX SEED JINX: It's been six years since a third seed in the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament has won a game, including last season's Crusader loss to Chicago State. The Cougars used a 30-8 run to start the second half to erase a Valpo lead and send Valpo home from the Mid-Con Tournament. Chicago State shot a tournament record 53 free throws in that game, making only 29 of them, and giving the Crusaders a chance late. Valpo closed within three in the final five minutes, but could not get over the hump and fell 72-67. The last time a #3 seed won a tournament game, in 2000, the first round matchup was the same as this year's 3-6 game, with UMKC beating CSU 62-61.
HEY, IT COULD HAPPEN: If past precedent is any indicator, the winner of Sunday's Valpo-SUU game will meet Oral Roberts in the tournament's second round. That's because a #8 seed, which Western Illinois is this year, has never won a Mid-Con Tournament game, going 0-15 all-time. By contrast, #1 seeds are 42-10 and have won it all 11 times.
THUNDERBIRD NOTES: Southern Utah shoots the ball from beyond the three-point line better than any team in America, leading the nation by making 42.9% of their attempts from long distance this season. The Thunderbirds make 7.4 triples per contest and are shooting an even more impressive 44.6% from three-point range in 16 conference games this year.
Junior Steve Barnes, the Mid-Con's leading three-point shooter at an even 50.0%, earned Honorable Mention All-Conference honors from the league this season. Also the league leader in assists per game, Barnes has 142 helpers this season and only 70 turnovers. In Mid-Con play, Barnes is shooting 58.1% from deep and averaging 5.5 assists.
Henry Uhegwu, in his first year in the Mid-Continent Conference, has racked up the hardware since the end of the regular season. The Houston, Texas native was named to the league's Second Team and All-Newcomer Team.