Not many people have circled Marquette's match-up with Valparaiso as a key game in the young 2005-2006 season. Some would write this home game off as a warm-up for Saturday's Showdown with in state rival Wisconsin. In the midst of the two toughest academic weeks of the semester and still recovering from playing four of its last five games away from the Bradley Center, Marquette will have their hands full with an experienced Valpo squad.
"We think that they are a very good team," said Coach Tom Crean. "We think they play defense as good as anyone we have played this year. I expect them to come in hungry after they lost to Iowa this past week."
The 3-1 Crusaders are led by 6-8 forward Dan Oppland who is one of the leading scorers in the country at 23.3 points per game. Oppland leads a balanced scoring attack that includes two players at 12 points a game in Mohamed Kone and former Marquette player, Ron Howard. Kone leads the team in rebounding at nine boards per game.
"They pose a lot of issues inside for us. Their guards are very quick, aggressive and athletic. Our guys have to understand what a huge challenge this will be," said Crean.
Marquette is coming off an 87-52 drubbing of South Dakota State this past Saturday. Crean reiterated that a win like that can sometimes give a team a false sense of where a team stands. According to Crean, mentality might be the most important thing coming into a big week like this.
"With the game Saturday that we have, we still have to focus on our most important game, which right now is Valparaiso. Mentality is something you have to develop daily. We have to understand that our toughness level, our ability to rebound, defend, and our transition play on both ends will be the key to our success."
Rebounding has been a huge Achilles heal thus far for MU. Marquette has been blown out on the boards in both losses this season and holds slim margins in their five wins. Another key to Wednesday nights contest will be the effectiveness of senior forward Steve Novak, who scored just five points on 1-8 shooting against Valparaiso in 2003. Marquette did defeat Valpo that season, 75-70, in the final of the Blue and Gold Classic. Perimeter game and three point shots should be hard to come by though, as the Crusaders are allowing just under 30% shooting from beyond the arc.
"I think we will get our touches," said Novak. "We are playing against some tougher competition this week but nothing has changed in our game plan. "As for mentality about shooting, I try not to psyche myself out about it."
Marquette has won their last eight home dates with the Crusaders and the last two games overall. MU holds a 15-4 edge in the series all time, with their last home loss to Valpo coming in 1964.
"We just have to keep our focus on basketball right now especially with all the other commitments that our guys have. Whether it's in practice, in watching film or in the weight room, we have to keep our focus and our sense of urgency."
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