Game Preview: DePaul vs. Northwestern

Rob Grabowski - USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Demons take the Purple Line north to nearby Evanston for their final non-conference match-up against the Wildcats.

DePaul (7-5) at Northwestern (7-5)

Friday, Dec. 27th
Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, IL
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: WSCR 670 AM (DePaul) and WIND 560 AM (Northwestern)

Friday night is more than an opportunity for the DePaul Blue Demons to earn one last non-conference victory before Big East play begins at Georgetown on Tuesday. It's also more than an opportunity to avenge a sloppy five-point defeat at the hands of Illinois State this past Sunday.

Friday night is the battle for Chicago.

DePaul's main campus is only separated a few miles from Northwestern, in nearby Evanston, Illinois. Fans will take the quick ride on the Purple Line train to NU's campus as DePaul meets the Wildcats for the first time in five years. Historically, DePaul has dominated the basketball scene in Chicago, thanks to the legendary Ray Meyer. DePaul has produced a number of professional talent, like Hall of Famer George Mikan, Mark Aguirre, Terry Cummings and Quentin Richardson. Northwestern, on the other hand, has never reached the NCAA Tournament, with its biggest name being Pro Football Hall of Famer Otto Graham.

Despite the past, there seems to be a changing of the guard in the Chicagoland area. DePaul has struggled mightily over the years, making the big dance once since 2000 and finishing last in the Big East each of the last five seasons. Meanwhile, Northwestern has had a winning record four of the last five seasons, and are experiencing a rebirth of the program under first-year head coach Chris Collins. These are two programs seemingly headed in different directions, gearing up for what should be an interesting match-up.

Four Factors

DePaul Northwestern
Scoring Offense 75.4 67.6
Scoring Defense 72.4 63.8
Effective FG% .498 .490
Turnovers Per Game 14.1 11.3

This game boasts three of the top 20 leading active scorers in the nation in DePaul's Cleveland Melvin (ninth) and Brandon Young (19th), as well as Northwestern's Drew Crawford (15th). While Melvin had his worst game of the season at Illinois State, scoring four points before fouling out, Brandon Young and Billy Garrett, Jr. did more than pick up the slack, scoring 17 and 18 points, respectively. No matter how the guards for the Blue Demons perform, they will only go as far offensively as Melvin is able to take them. He is the star of this team, and in order to defeat the Wildcats, he must have a better performance than he did on Sunday.

Crawford has been lighting up the scoreboard for the Wildcats, averaging 16.5 PPG on .499 percent shooting to go along with 7.9 rebounds a game. The senior missed most of last season due to injury, and after using a redshirt to compete this season, he has picked up where he's left off, evident in his 24-point 11-rebound performance in Sunday's win over Brown. The Blue Demons can gain the upper hand on Northwestern should they shut down Crawford, but NU has other scorers that can give the Demons fits. JerShon Cobb is averaging nearly 14 points a game, while their bench has been bolstered by redshirt sophomore Tre Demps, who has scored in double figures in seven of Northwestern's 12 contests.

The battle will be won in the turnover column, where both teams are less than impressive. DePaul gave up the ball 16 times on Sunday, leading to 17 ISU points in their loss to the Redbirds. The Blue Demons commit nearly three more turnovers a game than Northwestern, but they can strip the ball as well, holding onto a +.3 turnover margin. The sloppy play that hindered DePaul on Sunday can't be present against the Wildcats if they plan on coming out of Evanston with a victory.

Prediction

This is a bigger game than most would believe. DePaul-Northwestern is about more than an in-state rivalry or the opportunity to gain one last non-conference victory. Where the intrigue of this game lies most is in recruiting. At a time where Chicago-area high school stars are spurning in-state schools for the greener pastures of programs like Duke and Kansas, NU and DePaul are just two of many programs in Illinois trying to win their in-state recruits back. Chris Collins leaving Duke to lead the Wildcats is a fresh start, and Oliver Purnell has been trying in his four seasons in Lincoln Park, but the primary recruiting tool is winning games, something both teams have struggled to do. If Collins and Purnell plan to impress area recruits, their best chance to do so will be this battle for the right to call themselves "Chicago's Team".

On the court, both teams are talented, but Northwestern just might have the upper edge. It is almost an afterthought Cleveland Melvin will bounce back from his forgettable performance at Illinois State, while Brandon Young should continue to perform at a consistent pace. What is concerning about the Blue Demons is the consistency of its other players, in particular Billy Garrett, Jr. and Tommy Hamilton. Garrett did score 18 points in Sunday's loss, but he went 5-for-14 from the field and made most of his impact at the free throw line. Hamilton was a big reason why ISU shot poorly from the field, but struggled mightily on offense.

That just may be enough for the Wildcats to grab the win at home. Drew Crawford is one of the best shooters in the Big Ten, and will be a major problem for DePaul's backcourt. While both teams cough the ball up, DePaul may struggle maintaining possession on the road for the second straight game. This can be damaging for the Demons against such strong guards in Crawford, Cobb and Demps. This game can go either way, but Northwestern should be the favorites in both team's last non-conference game.

Northwestern 67, DePaul 63

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