Friday, February 10, 2006
WESTERN ILLINOIS (7-16, 3-9 Mid-Con) at VALPARAISO (13-9, 6-6 Mid-Con)

WHEN: Saturday, February 11, 2006 ? 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, 1230 AM, WWCA, and 1500 AM, WAKE). Todd Ickow will handle the play-by-play with Brent Whitlock providing the color commentary.

TV: WYIN 56 in Merrillville, Ind. and WHME 46 in South Bend, Ind. Dick Harlan will serve as the play-by-play announcer alongside Joe Arredondo. Todd Medland is the sideline reporter.

THE COACHES: Valparaiso is led by Homer Drew, who is in his 29th season of coaching, and 17th with the Crusaders. He is 551-344 overall and 282-222 at Valpo. Western Illinois is led by Derek Thomas who is 21-58 in his third year overall and with the Leathernecks.

BEHIND THE SERIES: The only two remaining charter members of the Mid-Continent Conference, the Crusaders and Leathernecks meet tonight for the 55th time in the last 24 years. The Brown and Gold hold a 31-23 lead all-time, and have won 11 of the last 12 meetings between the two teams, including five in a row at the Athletics-Recreation Center. The last time the Leathernecks won in Valparaiso was January 22, 2000. On January 14 of this season at Western Hall, Dan Oppland went off for a career-high 35 points and carried the Crusaders to a 82-68 win.

LAST TIME OUT: IUPUI used a 6-0 run to close the first half and another 6-0 run to open the second half to pull away from Valpo and win for the 11th time in their last 12 games, 75-67 at the IUPUI Gymnasium Thursday night. The Crusaders got as close as three in the second half, but never retook the lead after a back-and-forth first 20 minutes. George Hill led IUPUI with 26 points while Ron Howard paced Valpo with 22 points, one off a season-high. The Brown and Gold committed a season-low seven turnovers, but lost the battle of the boards and shot 40.6% from the field, 26.1% from three-point range and made 9-of-17 foul shots.

PLAYING IT SAFE: Since back-to-back 19 turnover nights at Oakland and against IUPUI, both losses, the Crusaders have done a terrific job of securing the basketball. In the last three games, Valpo has committed nine, nine and seven turnovers, dramatically lowering their overall season average from 15.1 to 14.2 turnovers per contest.

NOBODY DOES IT BETTER: 18.2 assists per game. It's the top number in the Mid-Con by over 2.0 per, and ranks sixth in the entire nation. Valpo has been especially proficient moving the ball since the calendar turned to 2006, posting 20 or more assists six times in 12 games. With a team assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.29, Valpo has held opponents to a 0.8 assist-to-turnover number and forced 16.1 miscues per game. No Valpo player really stands out in individual assist numbers, with Berdiel leading the charge at 3.8 per game, Howard next with 3.5, and Jarryd Loyd at 2.7.

A PLAYER AND A 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 cumulative GPA, will appear on the Academic All-American ballot again this year.

ROCKIN' RONALD: Gathering steam since coming off the bench for the first time this season on January 28, Ron Howard nearly single-handedly carried Valpo to a victory Thursday night. With leading-scorer Dan Oppland facing a box-and-one defense and frequent double and triple teams, Howard scored 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting and supplied seven points during a 9-0 run that brought the Crusaders within three points in the second half. Howard also tied a season-high with three made three-pointers Thursday, and dished out four assists to go along with two steals. That game came on the heels of last Saturday's 13-point, 10-rebound double-double in Valpo's win over Southern Utah. The Chicago native, who's scored in double-figures 19 times this season, is second on the team in points (13.4) and assists (3.5) per game, and leads the squad with 37 steals.

MO' IN THE MIDDLE: Mohamed Kone has settled nicely into his role as Valpo's starting center, playing his best basketball of the season over his last 10 games. Since the calendar turned to 2006, the native of The Ivory Coast has posted four double-doubles and is averaging 11.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, while shooting 53.7% from the field. Only three times during that stretch has the senior failed to reach double-figure scoring, and he set a career-high with 16 points January 7 against Longwood. Also the Mid-Con's leading shot-blocker, Kone has 44 rejections this season.

KIND OF A BIG BERDIEL: Senior point guard Ali Berdiel has relished his move back to the starting lineup, averaging 14.0 points, 5.2 assists and shooting 50.0% in his last five games. Most impressively, Berdiel has turned it over just 10 times, and has only three giveaways against 18 assists in his last three contests. Among the top five all-time in career assists and steals at Valpo, Berdiel is averaging 8.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and has a 1.8 assist-turnover ratio this year.

?U' THE MAN: Freshman big man Urule Igbavboa has played big minutes at times this season, and done a fine job filling in for both Moussa Mbaye and Mohamed Kone. Igbavboa has played in 16 games this season and is averaging 2.9 points and 2.0 rebounds while shooting a team-leading 59.3% from the floor. The Saint Paul, Minnesota native's also shown a proficiency for getting to the free throw line, earning 25 foul shots in 120 minutes of action, equalling a free throw every 4.8 minutes, easily tops on the team. Igbavboa scored two points and had four rebounds in 13 minutes at IUPUI.

JAGUAR NOTES: Preseason Second Team All-Conference selection David Jackson is leading the Leathernecks this season with a 14.1 point per game average. The sophomore shoots 37.1% from three-point range, is averaging 4.2 rebounds per game and leads the team in assists with 55. Jackson's numbers are up slightly in conference, at 14.7 points and 5.7 boards.

The young Leathernecks, a very solid 5-4 at Western Hall this season, have really struggled in 12 home games, going only 1-11. Their lone win came exactly one week ago, winning 68-59 at Centenary February 4.

Western Illinois' been as good as anyone in the Mid-Continent Conference from the free throw line this season, ranking second in the league at 73.1% as a team. Jackson leads the way for the Leathernecks, hitting on 81.5% of his free throw attempts, one of five Western Illinois players making better than 80% of their foul shots this year.