Tuesday, December 6, 2005

WHEN: Wednesday, December 7, 7:00 p.m.

WHERE: Milwaukee, Wis. ? Bradley Center (18,850)

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.

TV: None.

THE COACHES: Valparaiso is led by Homer Drew, who is in his 29th season of coaching, and 17th with the Crusaders. He is 541-337 overall and 272-214 at Valpo. Marquette is led by Tom Crean who is 126-67 in his seventh season overall and with the Golden Eagles.

BEHIND THE SERIES: Separated by a little less than 150 miles, Valpo and Marquette meet tonight for the 25th time in a series that dates back to the 1950's. The Golden Eagles hold a decisive 19-5 advantage all-time, beating the Crusaders in their last meeting, November 22, 2003. Valpo, however, drew first blood in the series, winning their inaugural tilt in 1951 by a 63-60 score. The Crusaders went on to lose each of the next three years in Milwaukee, before finally tasting victory on the road in 1958. Since then, Marquette has taken eight straight home games.

LAST TIME OUT: Dan Oppland single-handedly kept Valpo close to #14 Iowa, but in the ended poor shooting doomed the Crusaders to a 72-59 loss in the finals of the Hawkeye Challenge. Oppland had 22 points and seven rebounds to earn All-Tournament honors, but shot only 1-of-5 from three-point land where Valpo made a meager 3-of-18 shots on the night.

SHARING THE ROCK: Through the first four games of the season, the Crusaders have been better than anyone else in the Mid-Con at finding open teammates, averaging 19.75 assists/game. The pinnacle game came November 28, when Valpo set a school record with 36 assists in a win over IUSB. And while the Crusaders are sharing the ball and playing smartly (14.5 turnovers/game), they're driving opponents mad with a tough pressure defense. Crusader foes have a nearly 1:2 assist-turnover ratio, handing out just over 11 assists/game and committing over 21 turnovers.

TOUGH SCHEDULE: Tonight's game at 5-2 Marquette is the second game of a difficult four-game stretch for the Brown and Gold. It began Saturday with a 72-59 loss to #14 Iowa, and concludes with games at Charlotte and #1 Duke. The four Crusader opponents, all of whom Valpo will play on the road, have a combined 24-6 record and boast some of the best players in America.

CLIMBING THE CHARTS: Several Crusaders are moving up some impressive all-time record lists in the early season including Dan Oppland, who stands currently 14th all-time in Valpo scoring and 11th in rebounding. Opp1and's 1,300 career points place him 485 out of second place at Valpo, and 278 away from cracking the top 20 in the Mid-Con. Oppland's senior teammate Ali Berdiel is also making a push up the charts, firmly entrenched in third all-time in Valpo assists with 412, Berdiel is 51 helpers shy of making the Mid-Con's all-time top 10, and his 147 steals are seventh-best at Valpo and 44 away from the Mid-Con top 10.

STEADY TWENTY KEEPS ON ROLLIN': No matter the competition, Dan Oppland scoring early and often has become a relative certainty at Crusader games. Oppland has scored 20+ points in each of the season's first four games, and eight straight dating back to last year, against competition ranging from NAIA IUSB to 14th-ranked Iowa. His points have also come quickly, helping the Brown and Gold shake off a few sluggish starts. In the first five minutes of Valpo's four games, the Saint Louis native has scored 26 of the Crusaders' 46 points. If you leave out the IUSB game, when Oppland scored 20 first-half points, but only six of Valpo's 17 in the first five minutes, the senior's accounted for 20 of 29 points, nearly 70% of the offense.

OPPONENTS FEELING REJECTED: When Crusader competition has ventured into the paint this year, they've met firm resistance in the form of 6'11" senior Mohamed Kone, whose 13 swats through four games lead the Mid-Con. Kone was feeling especially cruel in Iowa City, turning away eight shot attempts in Valpo's two games. The native of the Ivory Coast is just 25 blocks away from breaking into Valpo's single-season top 10 and, while it is early, on pace to obliterate Raitis Grafs' single-season school record of 67 blocks.

THE RETURN OF ALI: So far, fifth-year senior guard Ali Berdiel is making the most of his second senior season as a Crusader. Berdiel's storied Valpo career came to an abrupt halt last season when he missed all but two games with a foot injury. After being granted a medical redshirt, he's back for 2005 and picking up right where he left off, filling the stat sheet on a nightly basis. The lanky native of Puerto Rico is averaging 6.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals a night. His return has also brought a more patient Berdiel, with only five turnovers through the first four contests.

?TIS THE SEASON FOR CHARITY: Some of Ron Howard's early offensive play (15 turnovers in four games) may not be up to the senior's All-Conference reputation, but he's still finding ways to help his team, most notably from the free throw line. The Chicago native and Marquette transfer made a school-record 18 free throws in a game last season, and has started this year 14-of-20 from the charity stripe. Howard's biggest scoring output of the year, 18 against Tulane, came in large part from the line, when he made 10-of-13 free throws to help Valpo hold on to a late lead and win.

MARQUETTE NOTES: With Travis Diener, one of the all-time great Golden Eagle stars now in an Orlando Magic uniform, Tom Crean's club brings a lot of youth into the 2005-06 season. The senior class of Steve Novak, Joe Chapman and Chris Grimm is the only remaining link to the 2002-03 team that went to the Final Four and this year's group returns only 48% of the scoring from last season's 19-12 NIT team.

The Golden Eagles won their second Great Alaska Shootout November 26 with a 92-89 (ot) win over South Carolina. Marquette took care of preseason Mid-Con favorite Oral Roberts in the semis with a 73-70 victory.

Steve Novak is not your typical big man. Standing 6'10", the senior still prefers to spend most of his time away from the rim, where's he's deadly accurate. A 45.3% shooter from three-point land, Novak was sixth in the nation from deep last year, shooting 46.1%.