SOUTHERN UTAH (7-15, 5-4 Mid-Con) at VALPARAISO (12-8, 5-5 Mid-Con)
WHEN: Saturday, February 4, 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, 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 550-343 overall and 281-221 at Valpo. Southern Utah is led by Bill Evans who is 190-204 in his 14th season overall and with the Thunderbirds.
BEHIND THE SERIES: Easily the toughest road trip in the Mid-Continent Conference, the Crusaders have had their share of problems at The Centrum in Cedar City, Utah. At the Athletics-Recreation Center, however, it's a different story. Valpo is unbeaten, 8-0, against the Thunderbirds at home, including an 82-76 victory last season. The Brown and Gold are just 13-6 overall against SUU, going 5-4 in Cedar City and 1-1 in the Mid-Con Tournament. January 19 of this year, the T-Birds knocked off Valpo 73-61 at the Centrum, placing four players in double-figures.
LAST TIME OUT: Valpo snapped a four-game losing streak with a decisive 99-73 win over Centenary Thursday night at the ARC. Dan Oppland and Seth Colclasure each had 23 points, and the Crusaders had a dominating 43-24 edge on the glass, including 20 offensive rebounds, converted into 25 second chance points. Valpo also efficiently used 18 Gent turnovers, converting those mistakes into 34 points, while turning the ball over a season-low nine times themselves. The Brown and Gold had 21 assists, their third straight game with at least 20, and scored at 90+ points for the fifth time.
FROM WAY DOWNTOWN: Through the first nine games of this season, the Crusaders were shooting a mystifying 29.7% from three-point range, down 12% from a season ago. In the eleven games since then, however, the Brown and Gold are making 50.3% of their attempts from long distance and averaging 9.5 makes per game. Valpo's 39.4% overall mark is second in the Mid-Con and 23rd in the nation.
HOT POTATO: The Crusaders have been moving the ball with ease this season, ranking ninth in the country with an 18.5 assist per game average. Eight times this year Valpo has dished out at least 20 helpers, including a school-record 36 November 28 vs. IUSB. Ali Berdiel leads the Crusaders with 3.7 assists/game with Ron Howard close behind at 3.4. And the Brown and Gold are protecting the ball well too, with a 1.25 team assist-turnover ratio. Individually, ten Crusader players have a positive assist-turnover ratio, led by Jarryd Loyd's +1.7 and Berdiel's +1.6 overall mark.
BANG THE BOARDS: Statistically the second-best rebounding team in the conference, the Crusaders have really been dominant up front with 6'11" senior Mohamed Kone in the lineup. Excluding the two games Kone missed in January, the Brown and Gold have out-rebounded all but one of their conference opponents, and boast a +5.5 rebounding margin. Kone and Oppland both rank in the top five in the league in overall rebounding average.
SETH IS SMOKIN': Seth Colclasure is in the midst of the best run of his career, scoring in double-figures in six of his last seven games, and totalling nine points in the other contest. The Decatur, Ind. native would be the nation's leading three-point shooter (51.1%), but is just shy of the required 2.5 make/game average (he averages 2.35). Since December 29, Colclasure has made a ridiculous 36-of-56 three-point attempts, a 64.3% clip, and made at least half of his attempts in each game. The last seven times out, Colclasure has drained 27 triples, and four times this season, including the last two games, he's hit at least five in a game. Second on the team in conference scoring with a 12.7 point per game average, the steady Colclasure has only 15 turnovers in 490 minutes and has made 18-of-19 foul shots.
IT'S AUTOMATIC: You have to go back nearly one full calendar year to find the last time Dan Oppland failed to score in double-figures (2/12/05). The Saint Louis native's 23-point night Thursday was the 27th straight time he hit double-figures, and pushed him over the 1,600 point mark in his career. Since the start of the 2004-05 season, a span of 51 games, only three times has Oppland scored fewer than ten points, and only two teams, IUPUI and Central Michigan, have accomplished the feat. Career-wise, Oppland sits one rebound shy of 700 for his career and six points from passing Raitis Grafs for fourth on the all-time scoring leaderboard.
MO' DEFENSE: Mohamed Kone's Mid-Con leading 40 blocked shots have moved him into tenth on the single-season blocked shots list at Valpo, and has made him the Crusaders' most feared post defender since Raitis Grafs. Kone's work on the boards and on the offensive end has improved too, and the juco transfer is quickly becoming one of the league's toughest inside matchups. In eight conference games, Big Mo' has three double-doubles, and the 6'11" center is averaging 10.5 points and 8.0 rebounds overall this season.
FRESHMAN FIRE: Freshman backcourt mates Jake Diebler and Brandon McPherson ignited Valpo Thursday night and propelled the Brown and Gold to a 99-73 win. Diebler set career-highs in nearly every measurable statistical category, finishing with five points, five rebounds, three assists and zero turnovers in 15 minutes. The Ohio native also drew a pair of charges and played suffocatingly tight defense. McPherson played 19 minutes and had five boards of his own to go along with two points, three assists, also without a turnover.
THUNDERBIRD NOTES: Henry Uhegwu, who scored 15 pretty points earlier this year against the Crusaders, is leading the Thunderbird offense, averaging 11.0 points per game. Uhegwu can shoot from all over the floor, equally dangerous cutting to the basket or shooting the longball (he's a 36.0% 3pt. shooter).
The fifth best three-point shooting team in the nation, the Thunderbirds are deadly from the beyond the arc, making 41.2% of their attempts. Eight different players are shooting better than 35.0% from deep, led by Steve Barnes at 47.5%, and Rand Janes, who's averaging 2.0 makes per game.
Everyone on Southern Utah can score at any given time, just ask the Crusaders, who saw ten different T-Birds contribute in SUU's 73-61 win earlier this season. Seven Thunderbirds are averaging more than 19 minutes per game, and six are averaging better than 7.1 points. The boards are balanced too, with no one averaging more than 4.3/game.