In the 10 seasons prior to last year, the Valparaiso Crusaders won nine regular season conference championships, eight conference tournament titles and made seven trips to the NCAA Tournament. Last year's club endured its share of injuries and bad luck before falling unexpectedly in the first round of the 2005 Mid-Con Tournament.
One silver lining, however, was the surprising performace of several youngsters, pressed into action early in their careers. No member of the 2004-05 squad graduated, and eight of the team's top nine scorers are back. The team will settle for nothing less than a return trip to March Madness this year, riding six seniors and four all-conference honorees.
Dan Oppland, an All-Mid-Con performer last season and a preseason all-conference selection this year, heads up the much decorated senior class. The hard-nosed Oppland will see action at power forward for the fourth consecutive season, and has played in 93 straight games since arriving on the VU campus. Oppland led the Brown and Gold in points (18.6/game), rebounds (6.8/game), field goal percentage (52.0%), and free throw percentage (77.2%) last year. The Saint Louis native took his game to an even higher level in conference play, averaging over 20 points/game and ripping off a string of five straight games with at least 23 points in mid-January.
Ron Howard, who joins Oppland on the preseason All-Mid-Con First Team, will look to build on a breakout junior season. A native of Chicago, Howard transfered from Marquette after his freshman year, and came into his own in 2004-05, scoring 13.8 points and leading the team with 116 assists. Howard, one of the quickest Crusaders, made 152 trips to the free throw line last season, and set a school record with 18 made free throws February 5 against Centenary. For his play last season, Howard earned a spot on the All-Conference Second Team.
Also rounding into his own was senior guard Seth Colclasure, who enjoyed his own breakout 2004-05 after an injury-plagued sophomore campaign. Colclasure was one of the league's top sharpshooters, knocking down 45.2% of his three-point attempts for the best three-point shooting team in the Mid-Con. Colclasure averaged nearly nine points per game and showed he could distribute the ball as well, averaging three assists per contest and carrying a 2.5 assist-turnover ratio.
Freshman point guard Jarryd Loyd was another pleasant surprise in 2004-05, stepping into the starting lineup and major minutes after projected starter Ali Berdiel went down in the second game of the season. Loyd, a pure point passer who looks to dish more than he looks to score, averaged a team-high 3.9 assists per game last year. The smallest player on the Valpo roster at 6'0", Loyd still averaged over three rebounds per contest and even pulled down 11 boards against Northwestern State December 16.
Filling a major void in the Crusader frontcourt is one of the biggest newcomers, both literally and figuratively, in Crusader history. 6'11" Mohamed Kone arrived at Valpo from the College of Southern Idaho in early September hyped as the top junior college center in America. Projected as an NBA draft pick, Kone averaged 14.3 points and 9.5 rebounds last season at one of the nation's top junior colleges. Originally from the Ivory Coast, Kone moved to France as a teenager and discovered the game of basketball, blossoming from a jaw-dropping athlete to a polished post presence. Mid-Con Head Coaches and media were so impressed with Kone's credentials they named him to the All-Conference Second Team before playing even one game in the league.
Ali Berdiel, Valpo's lone senior last season, is back this year after missing the final 29 games of 2004-05 with a foot injury. A preseason All-Conference selection before last year, Berdiel was again selected to the preseason All-Conference Second Team before this season. Ali averaged 11.1 points and six assists as a junior and looks to return to that form.
Jimmie Miles, another terrific athlete slowed by injuries a year ago, returns for his third year looking to stay healthy and put together a solid all-around season. Miles was fifth on the Crusaders in scoring in 2004-05, averaging 8.3 points/game, and played his best against Valpo's toughest opponents. Miles scored 13 points at Cincinnati, 22 against Charlotte and 17 versus Duke.
Shawn Huff, a highly touted Finn, showed flashes of his ability as he battled an injury last season. Over the summer, Huff further honed his skills by playing with the Finnish National Team, cracking the starting lineup as they attempted to qualify for th 2008 Olympic Games. Huff's size (6'6") and athletic ability should make him a versitile asset, poised to round into his own as a sophomore.
On the frontline, a bulked up Moussa Mbaye will provide some solid depth behind Kone and Oppland. Mbaye, who started 20 games last season with bad knees, had offseason surgery to fix the problem and also put in some serious work in the weight room. Mbaye comes into the season with a solid 230 pounds on his 6'9" frame.
The ninth returnee, walk-on guard Jim Hooper, played valuable minutes last season when injuries decimated the Valpo bench and will serve again this year as one of the team's emotional leaders.
The freshman class of 2005 is headed up by a pair of slick guards, Brandon McPherson and Jake Diebler. McPherson, who captained Indianapolis' Lawrence North High School to the 2005 IHSAA State Championship, will be counted on as a strong option at the point. Diebler, himself a state champion in 2005, can play the one or two guard and was named the 2005 Ohio Division II Player of the Year.
Up front, a pair of Minnesotans, Urule Igbavboa and Arden Skoglund will compete at the four and five spots. Igbavboa, a standout wide receiever in high school, scored over 1,000 points on the basketball court and was a finalist for Minnesota's Mr. Basketball. Skoglund is the third member of the class with a state champioship to his credit, winning the Minnesota title with Hopkins High School a year ago.
View the 2005-06 Men's Basketball Media Guide here