VALPARAISO (5-4, 0-1 Mid-Con) AT CENTENARY (2-7, 0-0 Mid-Con)
WHEN: Thursday, December 29, 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: Shreveport, La. ? Gold Dome (3,000)
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.
THE COACHES: Valparaiso is led by Homer Drew, who is in his 29th season of coaching, and 17th with the Crusaders. He is 543-340 overall and 274-217 at Valpo. Centenary is led by Rob Flaska who is 2-7 in his 1st season overall and with the Gents.
BEHIND THE SERIES: The Centenary Gents have been a thorn in the Crusaders' side since the two teams first met in the 1978-79 season, winning four of eight all-time games in the series. When the Gents entered the Mid-Continent Conference in 2003, they wasted no time getting a win, knocking off Valpo at the Gold Dome, 78-73 February 5, 2004. Last year, even with Centenary suffering through a last place season, the Gents nearly pulled one of the season's biggest upsets, falling at the ARC 81-75 in overtime before dropping a 61-51 contest in Shreveport.
LAST TIME OUT: The UMKC Kangaroos jumped ahead early and hung on late for a commanding 75-62 win over the Crusaders Tuesday night at the Athletics-Recreation Center, the Mid-Con opener for both teams. The Kangaroos led 14-4 before five minutes had passed, and extended the lead to as much as 11 in the first half. Valpo would climb all the way back quickly, and even briefly lead in the first before a late run put UMKC up five at the break, and the Crusaders would never lead again. Dan Oppland recorded his first double-double of the season with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
THOSE PESKY KANGAROOS: If it wasn't for UMKC, Valpo would be on an amazing streak in their Mid-Con openers. In the last 12 years, only UMKC has taken a conference opening game from the Crusaders, winning Tuesday night and previously in 2000. The Kangaroos have now won three straight from the Brown and Gold overall, including three of the last four meetings at the ARC.
IT'S ALMOST OVER: The month of December has seen the Crusaders play seven games in six cities and five states, and they'll add one more city and state tonight before finally concluding their whirlwind trip. Valpo has a respectable 3-4 record on the month, with three of the four losses to highly regarded opponents Iowa, Marquette and Duke. After taking a short break, the Crusaders will return to action on January 2 to start a four-game homestand, their longest consecutive stay in Valparaiso this season.
THE DAN AND RON SHOW: Almost on cue, Dan Oppland and Ron Howard are rounding into form as conference play begins. Both men had huge seasons in the Mid-Con last year, each earning All-Conference accolades. Oppland finished third in the league in scoring, while Howard finished in the top 10 in both scoring and assists. On Tuesday against UMKC, the two combined for 36 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists, and were two of only three players (Seth Colclasure) to reach double figures.
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 20.6 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 against UMKC, piling 19 more points onto his career total of 1,392, now just 38 points out of the top 10. Oppland also had 11 rebounds, a season-high, and is just 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 in a Valpo uniform.
HOWARD'S END: Senior Ron Howard has shook off a sluggish start and is again playing like the preseason First Team All-Conference selection he is. In his last four games, Howard is averaging 17.0 points and 4.5 assists, and shooting a sizzling 56.8% from the field. Always Valpo's best man-to-man defender, his play on that side of the ball has remained solid, and Howard is also securing the basketball much better than he was in the early part of the season. In the last four games, the Chicago native and Marquette transfer has only six turnovers, compared to 16 in the season's first five games.
SETH SCORES TOO: Senior guard Seth Colclasure's 2005-06 season got off to a miserable start when the Decatur, Ind. native suffered wrist and toe injures and missed both of the Crusaders' exhibition games. Upon his return to the lineup, the shooter seemed to have lost his stroke, making 2-of-15 three-point attempts and scoring 14 total points in five games. Then, after a pair of bad shooting nights for the Brown and Gold, Head Coach Homer Drew reinserted Colclasure in the starting lineup December 10 at Charlotte, and he responded with a career-high 24 points on 8-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-4 triples. In the three games since Charlotte, Colclasure has been up and down, shooting poorly against Duke and UMKC, but going for 14 at Longwood.
BERDIEL BACK TO OLD TRICKS: In the top five in career steals and assists, it's no surprise that Ali Berdiel is among the conference leaders again this year in those two categories. The Andrean High School grad is averaging 3.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game, second on the team to Ron Howard in both categories.
CENTENARY NOTES: If the 2005-06 Centenary Gents don't look familiar, it's because they hardly resemble the team they were a year ago. In fact, they don't even have the same head coach, with Rob Flaska coming over from Arkansas, where he was an assistant, to take over the program. Sophomore Tyrone Hamilton, a member of the All-Newcomer Team last season, is the only major contributor back from last year, but he's yet to see the court at any point this season.
Junior college transfer Alexander Starr has been the Gents best player through their early schedule, second on the team in scoring and leading Centenary in rebounding. Starr arrived on the Shreveport campus from Paris (Texas) Junior College where he won a national championship a season ago. Starr's started all nine games this season and is shooting a team-leading 59.1% from the field. He also leads the Gents with 14 steals in the first nine games.