TODAY'S MATCHUP: The Crusaders are in search of their third straight win to open the season when they face the Purple Eagles of Niagara Saturday night. Valpo is coming off wins over IPFW and Calumet, while Niagara opened its season with a loss to Binghamton Thursday. The two teams have split four prior matchups, with the Crusaders owning wins in the last two meetings.
LAST MEETING: Six Crusader seniors left the Athletics-Recreation Center as winners for one last time, downing Niagara 88-82 on February 18, 2006. The win gave the senior class a 39-13 record over its four years of play for Valpo. Dan Oppland scored the 1,700th point of his career during the contest, making him the first Crusader ever to score 1,700 points and pull down 700 rebounds. Three other Crusader seniors reached double figures: Ron Howard (15), Mohamed Kone (12), and Ali Berdiel (10). Oppland added a game-high 12 rebounds. The Crusaders used 56.3% shooting to earn the victory. Clif Brown led all players with 32 points.
LAST TIME OUT: A career-high 21 points from Shawn Huff, 14 of which came in the second half, helped the Crusaders fight off a pesky IPFW squad in Fort Wayne, 75-67. Huff hit a jumper with 6:36 to go to knot the game up at 57, and followed with two free throws about a minute later to take the lead for good. His biggest shot, however, was a 3-pointer to make it a six-point game with 1:35 to play, and the Mastodons were unable to cut it any closer than five from there. Three other Crusaders hit double-figures: Urule Igbavboa (17 points, 12 rebounds), Jake Diebler (13 points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals), and Calum MacLeod (10 points, nine rebounds). Valpo hit 31-of-41 free throws in the victory.
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. 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. All Crusader basketball action this year can also be heard around the world via www.valpo.edu/athletics by clicking on the webcast link.
ADVANTAGE, VALPO:If the Crusaders' first two games are any indication, Valpo will be in good shape this season, even with the loss of four starters and 81% of the team's scoring. The Crusaders are averaging 79.5 points per game through their first two contests, versus 78.8 points per game last season. The defense is also playing well, as Valpo is allowing just 66 points per game, over seven points less than last season's average. Through two games, Valpo is hitting over 50% of its shots from the field, including a robust 39.3% from behind the arc. Free throws have also been a key, as the Crusaders have made 44-of-61 (72.1%) through two games, while their opponents have only attempted 26 freebies. The Crusaders have also been careful with the basketball, turning it over just 25 times through two contests. The one place that Valpo has not performed at a high level in is rebounding, as opponents thus far have grabbed one more rebound than the Crusaders. The difference is especially glaring on the offensive end, as opponents have converted 30 offensive boards into 23 second-chance points.
TOUGH ROAD AWAITING CRUSADERS: Three teams ranked in the top-20 of the Associated Press preseason poll highlight Valpo's non-conference schedule. Tonight's game is the second of a three-game road trip that also takes the Crusaders to ACC foe North Carolina State for the first time in program history. Valpo then hosts #16 Marquette and in-state rival Butler at the ARC in the final week of November. The Crusaders follow with a matchup at #7 Ohio State Dec. 2, which has the potential to be the third top-ranked team in the nation Valpo has faced in the past three seasons (Illinois in 2004-05, Duke in 2005-06). Games at Evansville and Ball State follow before the Crusaders head to Hawai'i to take part in the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic. Valpo drew a difficult first-round opponent, facing off against #19 Creighton.
THREE STRAIGHT: The Crusaders are attempting to begin a season 3-0 for the second consecutive season. Valpo defeated IPFW, IUSB and Tulane last year for its opening three victories. Homer Drew's teams have started the season 3-0 on just three occasions, with the other being 1998-99, with a 5-0 start. The Crusaders must win two straight road games to open the season to move to 3-0, however, a feat that Valpo has not accomplished since 1966-67, when it opened its road slate with wins over Hope and Wabash.
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.
THE AFRO MAKES HIM 7': Urule Igbavboa scored 64 points and pulled down 36 rebounds during his freshman campaign, coming off the bench in all 22 of his appearances. Through two games this year, he is already approaching those totals, as he has registered 32 points and 27 rebounds, recording double-doubles in each of the first two contests. The 6'8" forward tallied 15 points and 15 rebounds in the Crusaders' season-opening win over Calumet, and added 17 points and a game-high 12 rebounds in the victory at IPFW. Igbavboa is second on the team in scoring (16.0 ppg) and first in rebounds (13.5 rpg) entering tonight's game.
HUFF HITS FROM ALL OVER: Junior guard/forward Shawn Huff had a relatively quiet game in the Crusaders' opener against Calumet, scoring 12 points and adding four rebounds and a game-high six assists. But he stepped up his game when the Crusaders needed him most against IPFW, going off for a game-high 21 points, including 14 key second-half points, to lead Valpo to the victory over the Mastodons. Huff hit key shot after key shot in crunch time, converting two free throws to tie the game with under six minutes to play, hitting a shot to put the Crusaders ahead for good with under five to go, and nailing a trifecta with less than two minutes to play that put Valpo ahead by six. Huff leads the team in scoring (16.5 ppg) and assists (4.0 apg) through the first two contests.
DIVING DIEBLER: Sophomore guard Jake Diebler entered this season with just 78 career minutes played under his belt. Through two games, he has made two starts and has seen 57 minutes of action, and has almost matched his point total from last year, with 17 points already. Diebler played his best game to date at IPFW, finishing with 13 points (including a perfect 6-of-6 performance from the foul line), five rebounds, four assists (to just one turnover), and three steals. All four numbers were career highs for Diebler, as was his 34 minutes of playing time. He ranks third on the team in rebounding and assists and leads the Crusaders in steals and free throw percentage through the opening two games.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Junior college transfer Calum MacLeod, a 7'1" center from New Zealand, has made an immediate impact on the Crusader lineup. MacLeod registered 18 points and eight rebounds against Calumet, and followed with a solid performance at IPFW, tallying 10 points and nine rebounds. MacLeod is third on the team in scoring and second in rebounding and free throw percentage, and leads the team in field goal percentage.
PURPLE EAGLE NOTES
ROUGH START: Niagara's opener Thursday night did not go as planned for the Purple Eagles, as Binghamton invaded the Gallagher Center and came away with a 74-66 victory. The Purple Eagles struggled shooting the ball all night, hitting just 21-of-64 (32.8%) shots from the field, including an abysmal 5-of-34 (14.7%) performance from behind the arc. Even when they got to the charity stripe, the points were not free, as Niagara hit just 19-of-32 (59.4%) from the free throw line. Richard Forbes set new career highs of 24 points and nine rebounds to lead Binghamton.
WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU?: Lead the Purple Eagles is the answer. Senior forward Clif Brown scorched the Crusaders to the tune of 32 points and eight rebounds on 12-of-22 shooting when the two squads matched up at the ARC last year. In their season opener, Brown again appeared to be Niagara's go-to player, taking 22 shots from the field. However, he hit just five of them, including just 1-of-7 attempts from behind the arc, but he did score a team-best 19 points thanks to eight freebies. Brown really impressed on the boards, however, pulling down a career-best 21 caroms, the most by a Purple Eagle in 10 years.