VALPARAISO (3-5) vs. CREIGHTON (4-3)
STAN SHERIFF CENTER - HONOLULU, HAWAI'I
DECEMBER 21, 2006 - 11:30 p.m.
TODAY'S MATCHUP: The Crusaders are looking to snap a six-game losing streak Thursday as they take on Creighton in the opening round of the 43rd Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic. Valpo is coming off of a 61-40 loss at Ball State on Saturday, while the Bluejays also lost their last encounter, 69-54 at Fresno State on Sunday. This meeting marks just the second all-time in the series between Valpo and Creighton, and the first in 86 seasons, as the Bluejays broke a 10-game Crusader winning streak with a 26-24 victory to close out the 1920-21 season.
AGAINST THE CLASSIC FIELD: Valpo holds an 8-10 record all-time against possible opponents this week in the Rainbow Classic. The Crusaders' most-common opponent in the tournament is Charlotte, which Valpo holds a 4-1 series edge against, including an 80-77 victory last season. Valpo is 1-3 all-time against its other possible second-round opponent in Houston, with the last meeting coming in the 1999-2000 campaign. The Crusaders also own a 1-0 mark against the host Rainbow Warriors, as well as San Francisco, while they are just 1-3 all-time against Wyoming and 0-2 versus Nebraska.
LAST TIME OUT: The Crusaders trailed nearly the entire way and could not cut the deficit to single digits in the second half, falling at Ball State Saturday, 61-40. Urule Igbavboa and Brandon McPherson tied for team-high scoring honors with 10 points apiece, while Igbavboa added 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season. For McPherson, it was his fourth consecutive game reaching double figures in the scoring column. Valpo struggled with poor shooting throughout the game, hitting at just a 32.6% clip (15-of-46) from the field, and just 23.1% (3-of-13) from behind the arc. Four Ball State players reached double digits, led by 13 points apiece from Anthony Newell and Peyton Stovall.
ON THE AIR: Today's game, like every game this season, can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, a three-station entity carrying Crusader athletics all over Northwest Indiana, and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics. Originating from WVUR, 95.1 FM in Valparaiso, the Valpo Sports Radio Network also includes WEFM, 95.9 FM in Michigan City and WAKE, 1500 AM in Valparaiso. Veteran broadcaster Todd Ickow returns for his 16th season on play-by-play, while WVUR's Mike Haase will handle the color commentary.
BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA: Valparaiso is renewing some old in-state rivalries this season, and continuing others, as a good portion of the Crusaders' non-conference slate is composed of fellow Hoosier State schools. Valpo kicked off the season with a game against NAIA foe Calumet, located in Whiting, and followed with the front end of a home-and-home series with IPFW. The Crusaders took on Butler, Valpo's all-time most common opponent, at the ARC for the first time in 13 seasons. In its last two games, Valpo faced off against Evansville, the third-most common opponent in program history, and followed with a game at Ball State, whom they had not faced since the 1992-93 campaign and their fifth most-common opponent all-time.
MAYBE HAWAI'I IS HOME: This week's tournament marks the fourth time in 12 seasons that the Crusaders have taken part in a tournament in the Aloha State. The first two trips were to participate in the Big Island Invitational in Hilo, where Valpo went 2-1 each time (wins over Utah State and Toledo in 1995-96; wins over Montana and Pacific in 1997-98). The last time the Crusaders stepped foot in Hawai'i was as part of the Yahoo Sports Invitational in Laie. Valpo dropped the opener in that tournament to New Mexico State before bouncing back with wins over Columbia and Buffalo.
THREE IN A ROW, PART 1: The Crusaders took on three ranked teams in a six-day span in late November/early December. Valpo kicked off the brutal slate with a heartbreaker against #8/9 Marquette, falling 65-62 on a Dominic James 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds to play. The Crusaders followed with another game at the ARC, this time against #19/18 Butler, one which the Bulldogs won 60-47. The week ended at #3/1 Ohio State, where Valpo suffered a 78-58 loss.
THREE IN A ROW, PART 2: With their game against #3/1 Ohio State on December 2, the Crusaders found themselves on the court with the nation's top-ranked team for the third year in a row. Valpo traveled to Champaign, Ill. to take on the Ilini while they were #1 during the 2004-05 campaign, and last year the Crusaders played at Cameron Indoor Stadium and #1 Duke. The only other time in the 90 years of Crusader basketball that Valpo has faced the nation's top team was during the 1979-80 season, when DePaul, led by Mark Aguirre, played in Hilltop Gym.
PRESEASON POLL PLACES VALPO FOURTH: The Crusaders received 156 points in the Mid-Continent Conference's preseason polling of coaches, sports information directors, and selected media members, placing them fourth out of the league's eight teams. Projected league champs Oral Roberts registered 260 points. IUPUI and UMKC are projected second and third, respectively, while Oakland, Western Illinois, Southern Utah, and Centenary round out the fifth through eighth spots.
CRUSADER ALUMNI RETURN TO THE BENCH: Valpo head coach Dr. Homer Drew has always found places for former players as assistant coaches, and this year is no exception. Bryce Drew is back for his second year on the bench, having been promoted to the title of associate head coach during the offseason. Jason Hawkins, who served as the director of basketball operations during the 2003-04 campaign, returns for his first year as an assistant coach, while Tarrance Price, who played for Valpo from 1998-2000, returns as the director of basketball operations.
A LOT OF HANDS TO SHAKE: Pregame captains meetings at center court will be crowded on Valpo's side this year, as five Crusaders have been designated as captains by Coach Drew. Senior Moussa Mbaye, juniors Shawn Huff and Jarryd Loyd, and sophomores Jake Diebler and Brandon McPherson will share this year's captaincy.
B-MAC ATTACK: Sophomore guard Brandon McPherson continued his string of outstanding recent performances against Ball State. McPherson reached double figures for the fourth straight game, scoring 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting. Against Evansville, McPherson nailed each of his first eight shots from the field before missing his final attempt, and drained all three of his shots from behind the arc. His 20 points set a new career high for points in a game, the third time this season that he has raised that mark. Over the last five games, McPherson is hitting at better than a 70% clip from the field and is averaging a team-high 12.4 points per game. He has also hit 60% of his 3-point attempts over that stretch and leads the Crusaders as well with 20 assists and seven steals over those five games. McPherson leads the Crusaders on the season with a .611 shooting percentage and 3.8 assists per game, both among the top-three in the Mid-Con.
DOUBLE ZERO'S DOUBLE VISION: Sophomore forward Urule Igbavboa returned to his double-double ways in the Crusaders' last game against Ball State. Igbavboa tied for team-high honors with 10 points and also added a game-high 10 rebounds, nine of which came on the defensive end. The double-double was his first since starting off the season with three consecutive, and his four double-doubles rank second in the Mid-Con. His 8.9 rebounds per game rank second in the league as well, and among the nation's top-50. Igbavboa is one of the nation's best at grabbing defensive rebounds, as he has pulled down 27.9% of all opponents' misses so far this year, 12th best in the country.
DIEBLER DOES IT ALL: Playing on the same court where he helped Upper Sandusky win the 2005 Ohio Division II state championship, Jake Diebler played 28 minutes and registered five points and a team-best six rebounds for the Crusaders against Ohio State. Diebler has done a little bit of everything so far this year for Valpo, as he leads the team in steals (10) and free throw percentage (.895) and is fourth in rebounding and assists. His free throw percentage also ranks as the best in the Mid-Con.
HIGHLY REGARDED: Creighton comes into today's game with a 4-3 record, including victories over then-#23 Xavier and George Mason. The Bluejays started the season ranked among the nation's top-25 teams before dropping out of the polls after losing to fellow Rainbow Classic participant Nebraska. Creighton enters the game having lost two of its last three games, dropping decisions to Dayton and Fresno State.
FINDING A WAY: The Bluejays sit above .500 despite the fact that their opponents are shooting better from the field (.404-.397) and from behind the arc (.366-.275) than they are. Much of that is made up from the free throw line, where Creighton is hitting at a .711 clip and has made more free throws than opponents have attempted. The Bluejays are also forcing their opponents into just under 17 turnovers per game.
BRING IN DA FUNK: Senior guard Nate Funk was a preseason third team All-American last season before injuring his shoulder and taking a medical redshirt. This season, Funk is second on the Bluejay squad with 14.0 points per game, as well as second in assists and tied for first in steals.