VALPARAISO (16-10, 8-7 Mid-Con) AT ORAL ROBERTS (17-11, 12-3 Mid-Con)
WHEN: Saturday, February 24 ? 7:05 p.m.
WHERE: Tulsa, Okla. ? Mabee Center (10,575)
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: Live on WYIN 56 in Merrillville, Ind. and WHME 46 in South Bend, Ind.
THE COACHES: Valparaiso is led by Homer Drew, who is in his 29th season of coaching, and 17th with the Crusaders. He is 554-345 overall and 285-223 at Valpo. Oral Roberts is led by Scott Sutton who is 117-90 in his seventh season overall and with the Golden Eagles.
BEHIND THE SERIES: The city of Tulsa is home to more Valpo nightmares than any city in America, with the Crusaders still winless in 10 trips to the Oklahoma town. Valpo is 0-9 at the Mabee Center, home of the Golden Eagles, including a 79-65 loss late in the 2005 regular season. To make matters worse, the Crusaders came back to Tulsa two weeks later last March, and lost in the first round of the Mid-Con Tournament. The overall series between the two teams still favors Valpo 11-10, with the Brown and Gold 10-1 all-time at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
LAST TIME OUT: Quinton Day buried his seventh three-pointer of the night with 2.7 seconds left to cap a huge evening and lead UMKC to a 73-70 win over the Crusaders Thursday night at Municipal Auditorium. Day scored a career-high 37, more than half of his team's total, and helped the Kangaroos clinch the third seed in next week's Mid-Continent Conference Tournament. Valpo used a 13-2 run to start the second half to go up 54-39, but only four points in the next eight minutes sealed the Crusaders' fate. Dan Oppland posted a double-double, his third in the last four games.
HOMER'S BIG DAY: Tonight's game is the 900th in Head Coach Homer Drew's storied career. The Crusader mentor has 554 wins, twelfth-most among active coaches, in his 29-year coaching career, winning at a .616 clip at the three different schools. Now in his 17th year at Valpo, Drew coached his 500th game with the Crusaders earlier this season, and has 285 wins, easily the most in school history.
HOME OF CHAMPIONS: While the Crusaders will come up short this season in their quest for another Mid-Con regular season title, they have wrapped up their 15th winning season in the last 16 years under Coach Drew. Valpo has claimed nine of the previous 11 Mid-Con Regular Season titles and eight of the last 11 tournament championships. Over those past 11 seasons, the Crusaders have also made seven trips to the NCAA tournament, posting a pair wins in a run to the 1998 Sweet 16 in Saint Louis.
SHARING IS CARING: The latest edition of the NCAA's stat rankings finds the Crusaders fifth in the country in assists, averaging 18.2 per game. This year's team features two of the top assist men all-time at Valpo in Ali Berdiel and Ron Howard. Berdiel, who is third all-time with 501 assists, leads the team this year at a 4.0 assist/game mark. Howard is second on the team at 3.6 assists/contest and ranks 14th all-time with 236 career helpers. The Brown and Gold also boast a 1.26 assist-to-turnover ratio.
THE ONE AND ONLY: Dan Oppland closed his career at the Athletics-Recreation Center with one more piece of history, scoring his 1,700th career point with 1:23 left last Saturday and becoming the first Valpo player ever with 1,700 points and 700 rebounds in a career. The Saint Louis native is only the second player in Mid-Con history to compile those numbers, joining Northern Iowa's Jason Reese, who accomplished the feat from 1986-90. Oppland ranks in the top five at Valpo in four career statistical categories and is trying to become the first player since Tracy Gipson in the 1992-93 season to average at least 20 points per game.
KONE ZONE: Senior Mohamed Kone's lone season in a Crusader uniform will be a memorable one, with the 6'11 native of the Ivory Coast leading the club in rebounds and blocked shots and ranking third in scoring. The big man ranks 17th in the Mid-Con in scoring, third in rebounds and leads the way in blocked shots, all while compiling six double-doubles, second only to Oral Roberts' Caleb Green, this season. As for his prowess on the defensive end, Kone's 50 blocked shots this season rank sixth all-time in Valpo history and just five blocks shy of the top 20 for a season in the Mid-Con.
THAT'S MORE LIKE IT: Since playing only 19 minutes February 2 against Centenary, Ron Howard has returned to his preseason All-Conference form, averaging 15.2 points over the last six games. During that stretch, Howard has shot the ball extremely well, making 57.6% of his attempts from the floor including 45.5% from three-point range. And the senior's not just been scoring, showing his versatility with averages of 4.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Currently second on the team in both points and assists per game, Howard's continued his career-long trend of thievery on the defensive end, leading the team this season with 39 steals.
MORE HISTORY?: Dan Oppland may not be the only member of this year's Valpo team to finish in exclusive company, as Ali Berdiel could make a run at a very special class. With 962 career points and 501 assists, the Andrean graduate is 38 points away from joining Assistant Coach Bryce Drew as the only two players in Crusader history with 1,000 points and 500 assists. The 6'6" point guard again leads the Crusaders in assists this season, trying to win the third Dick Koenig Assist Award of his career. A Second Team All-Conference choice two seasons ago, Berdiel is averaging 8.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists in this his senior season.
ORAL ROBERTS NOTES: Caleb Green, the defending Mid-Con Player of the Year, is having another Player of the Year-type season as a junior. Leading the league in points (21.0 per game), rebounds (8.6 per game) and double-doubles (12). Green, shooting 52.8% from the field, has taken an astounding 267 foul shots this season, an average of 9.5 attempts per contest.
Senior Larry Owens is one of the most balanced players in the Mid-Con, filling a stat sheet better than anyone else in the league. Owens leads the Golden Eagles in blocks and steals and ranks second on the team in points, rebounds and assists. Also a dangerous three-point shooter, the juco transfer is averaging 8.1 rebounds, second in the league.
After missing the majority of the Mid-Con season with a foot injury, Ken Tutt, a preseason All-Conference selection, is back in the Oral Roberts lineup. A tremendous shooter, the junior is making 39.4% of his triples this year.