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Cleveland State (8-6) at Valparaiso (10-5)

The Sports Network

DATE & TIME: Friday, January 4, 7 p.m. (et)

FACTS & STATS: Site: Athletics-Recreation Center (5,000) -- Valparaiso, Indiana. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: CSU 5-1, Valpo 7-1. Away Record: CSU 0-5, Valpo 3-4. Neutral Record: CSU 3-0, Valpo 0-0. Conference Record: CSU 0-0, Valpo 0-1. Series Record: Cleveland State leads, 28-11.

GAMES NOTES: The top two teams in the Horizon League from a year ago will square off for the first time this season, as the Cleveland State Vikings pay a visit to the Valparaiso Crusaders on Friday night.

In its final scheduled non-conference contest of the season, the Vikings were beaten in a 72-55 final at home by Kent State. The loss dropped Cleveland State to 8-6 overall, as the league schedule looms. Starting conference play on the road is not good news for the Vikings who are winless in five away games this season.

Valparaiso already got its league schedule underway as it suffered a 63-54 loss at home to Loyola-Chicago on Wednesday. The loss snapped a three-game win streak for the Crusaders, who are 10-5 overall on the campaign. The setback was also the first in eight games at home for Valpo, which hits the road for three straight games following this contest.

Last season, the Crusaders finished 14-4 in league play to win the HL regular season crown. Cleveland State was right behind in second place at 12-6, but lost twice to the Crusaders. The Vikings still lead the all-time series, 28-11.

The recent loss to Kent State marked the first of the season at home for Cleveland State. The Vikings allowed the Golden Flashes to shoot 57.7 percent in the first half and turned the ball over 17 times in the lost cause. CSU was also outscored from beyond the arc (21-15) and the free throw line (19-12).

After playing stifling defense last season, the Vikings have not been able to capture the same magic this year. CUS allows 70.1 ppg on 46.3 percent shooting, while also holding a negative differential on the boards (-2.2). At the offensive end, the Vikings have been moderately successful in ranking fourth in the Horizon League in both scoring (67.8 ppg) and field goal percentage (.443). The loss of Anton Grady (13.7 ppg) in late November to a knee injury did nothing to help the Vikings. In his place, Charlie Lee (12.9 ppg, 4.9 apg) and Tim Kamczyc (9.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg) have taken up the mantle as the top scorers, while Marlin Mason (9.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg) has been the best on the glass.

In their last outing, the Crusaders played poorly in the first half and couldn't recover against Loyola-Chicago. Valparaiso connected on just 29.4 percent of its total shots in the first half, and then allowed the Ramblers to shoot 52.2 percent from the field in the second frame. There were nine lead changes in the game, but Valpo's last lead was overtaken less than two minutes into the second half.

Defense hasn't been the issue for Valparaiso, which has clearly been one of the top defensive units in the Horizon League as it allows just 59.3 ppg while limiting foes to 40.1 percent shooting. The Crusaders have played off their ability to curtail the opposition by scoring 68.7 ppg, which ranks them third in the conference. Their .467 field goal percentage is good for the top spot. Valparaiso also has the advantage on the boards (+6.6). Forward Ryan Broekhoff (16.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg) has been the centerpiece for the Crusaders, as he paces the club in both scoring and rebounding. Kevin Van Wijk (12.7 ppg) teams with Broekhoff in the frontcourt, while LaVonte Dority (13.6 ppg) has been solid in the backcourt, although he has appeared in only five games.

If not for the slow start against Loyola, Valparaiso very well could be rolling into this game off a win. Expect the Crusaders to bounce back in front of the hometown faithful.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Valparaiso 70, Cleveland State 63

01/04 10:32:51 ET