Monday, December 26, 2005
UMKC (3-5, 0-0 Mid-Con) at VALPARAISO (5-3, 0-0 Mid-Con)

WHEN: Tuesday, December 27, 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, 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: WYIN 56, Channel 56 in Valparaiso and WHME, Channel 46 in South Bend. Dick Harlan will handle the play-by-play alongside Joe Arredondo and Todd Medland.

THE COACHES: Valparaiso is led by Homer Drew, who is in his 29th season of coaching, and 17th with the Crusaders. He is 543-339 overall and 274-216 at Valpo. UMKC is led by Rich Zvosec who is 180-222 in his 15th season overall and 61-62 in his 5th season with the Kangaroos.

BEHIND THE SERIES: One of the best seasons in UMKC history last year was highlighted by a pair of tight wins over Valpo, including their second win in the last three years at the Athletics-Recreation Center. The Kangaroos won 84-78 January 13 at the ARC and followed it up with a 80-79 victory in Kansas City on February 28, Valpo's last regular season game. Overall, the Brown and Gold hold a commanding 19-6 lead all-time over the Kangaroos, in a series dating back to the 1994-95 season. The Crusaders have won nine of 11 meetings in Valparaiso.

LAST TIME OUT: The Longwood Lancers came smoking out of the halftime break to turn a nine-point deficit into a nine-point lead before Valpo roared back and held on late for an 82-79 win. Shawn Huff hit a cold-blooded jumper from the baseline to make it 80-77 with 30 seconds left, and then drained a pair of free throws on the next possession to ice the game. Senior guard Ron Howard led the Crusaders with 20 points, his second straight night with 20, and Dan Oppland chipped in 19 points and seven rebounds.

RETURN TO DOMINANCE?: Finally back from a month long six game road trip, the Crusaders open their Mid-Continent Conference schedule tonight. Last season, Valpo finished 10-6 in league play, good for third place, but their worst conference finish in 12 years. This year's Valpo club is the only team in the Mid-Con currently above .500 (5-3) and poised to return to the form that won them nine regular season titles in the previous 10 years.

OPENING CONFERENCE PLAY RIGHT: The Brown and Gold have won five straight Mid-Continent Conference openers, and 11 of their last 12 to open their conference schedule. The only blemish came in 2000 against none other than UMKC, falling 63-49 in Kansas City. Last season, Valpo opened conference play at home and picked up a 54-51 win over Western Illinois.

TWO-HEADED MONSTER READY TO STRIKE: Preseason All-Conference seniors Dan Oppland and Ron Howard have led Valpo offensively through much of the non-conference slate, and with conference play beginning the duo is ready to build on big efforts last year. Both averaged more points in conference play than in non-conference action a last season, earning each player All-Conference accolades. Oppland averaged 20.1 points, third in the Mid-Con, and 7.3 boards in league action last year, shooting 57.5% from the floor. Howard scored 16.6 points and dished out 4.6 assists/game, both in the top 10 in the conference.

OPPLAND IN EXCLUSIVE COMPANY: Senior forward Dan Oppland's career is steam-rolling along at a staggering pace, as the Saint Louis native continues his assault on Valpo's record books. Oppland is averaging 20.8 points/game and has a shot to become the seventh Crusader in history to average at least 20 points/game in a season. It's been 13 years since the feat was last accomplished, when Tracy Gipson led the 1992-93 Valpo squad with 21.3 points/game. Oppland had another strong night Tuesday at Longwood, piling 19 more points onto his career total of 1,373, now just 57 points out of the top 10. Perhaps more significantly, Oppland collected his 600th career rebound four minutes into Tuesday's game, making him only the seventh Crusader with 1,300 points and 600 rebounds in a career. Only three players, Harry Bell, Raitis Grafs and Lubos Barton, have 1,500 points and 600 rebounds.

HOWARD SEEING 20-20: For the first time since February 14 of last season, Ron Howard has scored 20 points in back to back games, totalling 20 at both Duke and Longwood. Howard's stretch last year lasted four games, when he put 20+ points on the board against four straight Mid-Con foes. So far this season, the Chicago native has done much of his damage from three-point range, shooting a team-leading 47.6% from behind the arc. In his last four games, Howard has made 7-of-14 triples and is averaging 16.5 points/game.

BIG MO ANCHORS THE D: Mohamed Kone came off the bench for the first time this season and played a solid defensive game, pulling down 12 rebounds and blocking four shots at Longwood. Kone grabbed two giant defensive rebounds in the last minute of the game, both times leading to Crusader points. His 12 rebounds were the most by any Valpo player this year and moved him into the conference lead with an 8.9 rebound/game average. Meanwhile, the four blocks gave the senior 22 on the season, tops in the Mid-Con, and only 16 shy of cracking the Crusaders' single-season top 10 list.

BERDIEL'S BACK: Senior guard Ali Berdiel is starting to look like the player who earned preseason all-conference accolades before last year when a foot injury turned his 2004-05 season into a redshirt year. In the last four games, all starts, Berdiel is averaging 9.0 points, 4.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.3 steals/game. The Andrean grad is just one steal away from joining Bryce Drew, Lubos Barton, Scott Anslem and John McIlvain in the top 5 all-time in steals and assists.

UMKC NOTES: At 0-7 heading into conference action last year, the Kangaroos turned their season around in the Mid-Con, winning 11 straight games and finishing 12-4 in conference. This year's team is looking for a similar resurgence, sitting at just 3-5 through their early slate.

Last year's surprising Kangaroo team went 2-0 against Valpo, but this year's group is not nearly the same team. Gone are the three leading scorers (Mike English, Carlton Aaron and Brandon Temple) who combined for 60% of the team's scoring and only two of the team's returnees averaged more than 3.6 points per game a year ago.

The Kangaroo offensive is averaging just 65.6 points/game, but it's through no fault of careless play. UMKC is turning the ball over just 12.6 times/game and have a +3.0 turnover margin. Conversely, the ?Roos are not passing well either, with only 97 assists in eight games.