The Teams: Villanova (15-1, 4-0 Big East) 4 Game Winning Streak vs. DePaul (10-8, 2-3 Big East) 2 Game Winning Streak
The Date: Saturday, January 18
The Time: 4:00pm ET
The Location: The Pavilion; Villanova, PA.
TV: Fox Sports Network
Radio: 1210 WPHT (Villanova) or WSCR 670 AM (DePaul)
The Story of the Season (Villanova)-
Talk about a bounce back year.
After failing to advance past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year since reaching the Final Four in 2009, Villanova seems to be back atop the Big East. At 15-1 and #6 in the country, the highest ranking since February 2010, Nova continued its successful season by going on the road and beating a good Saint John’s team 74-67. With the victory, Villanova advanced to 15-1 on the year and 4-0 in the Big East, a half game behind conference newcomer and leader Creighton. Now, after a two game road trip, the Cats will be able to return to the comfortable confines of The Pavilion against the DePaul Blue Devils.
The story thus far for Nova has been its explosive offense. The Wildcats are not usually known for their offense proficiency, have only averaged over 80 ppg. once in the Jay Wright era. This season has been different for Villanova, averaging 80.9 ppg through 16 games. So far three players on the team average double digit point averages, with another, Josh Hart, averaging 9.9 ppg off the bench. The key for the Wildcats is to get off to a fast offensive start, because the team’s lowest offensive output, 62 points, came in their one loss this season against Syracuse. Nova should also look to get everyone involved early, to keep up that consistent scoring from the top to the bottom.
The Story of the Season (DePaul)-
DePaul, on the other hand, is most likely playing this season for its coach’s job.
Oliver Purnell has not been able to find his footing at all after coming to DePaul from Clemson in 2010. In all three of his seasons at the helm, the Blue Demons have finished last or second-last in the Big East Conference.
So far this season, the Blue Demons sit at 10-8 overall and 2-3 in Big East play. They are currently riding a two-game conference-winning streak for the first time in six years, most recently defeating Saint John’s at home, 77-75.
The key for DePaul’s success in this game will be the team’s ability to successfully get to the free throw line. This season the Blue Demons are shooting 43.6% from the field, which is the second worst shooting percentage in the Big East. Therefore, when a team is struggling so mightily to gain confidence from the field, the best remedy is to find that confidence at the charity strike.
This has been exactly the remedy that has allowed DePaul to achieve its current two-game conference winning streak. In the past two Blue Demon wins, DePaul has gotten to the free-throw an average of 31.5 times per game. This rate is over 7 attempts more than the team’s season average. This ability to get to the line has had a noticeable effect on DePaul’s shooting from the field as well. In those past two wins, DePaul has also shot 48.7% from the field.
The Players to Keep Your Eyes On-
Villanova: Junior JayVaughn Pinkston is Villanova’s best individual player and leading scorer (16.1 ppg). He also ranks 8th in the Big East in scoring, and is extremely efficient, recording the best shooting percentage (51.2%) of any of the top 10 scorers in the conference. Pinkston has been extremely consistent all season on the offensive side of the ball, recording double-digit point totals in all but 2 contests this season. In those games when Pinkston reaches the double-digit plateau, Villanova is 14-0. In fact, the Wildcats only loss of the season (78-62 at Syracuse on 12/28) came when Pinkston had his lowest point total of the season (3 points). Therefore, if the Wildcats want to earn a victory in this contest, they need to get Pinkston going early and often to hit that double-digit plateau.
DePaul: Senior Cleveland Melvin is the motor for the Blue Devils, leading the team in both points (16.6 ppg) along with rebounds (6.6 rpg). The dangerous part about Melvin is that he’s not a one-dimensional player. While Melvin is 6-8 and excellent at finishing at the rim, he also has the ability to step out beyond the arc and burn opponents with the three-pointer. Melvin is over a 42% three-point shooter and went 5-5 from outside the arc in the first game of the season against Grambling State. Melvin may have to rely on this, along with the mid-range jumper, due to having to go up against a much heavier Pinkston (260 lbs. vs. 208 lbs.).
Villanova has absolutely owned DePaul recently, winning the past 6 matchups against the Blue Demons, and I expect this one to be no different. The determining factor in this game will be how little Villanova allows DePaul to reach the free throw line. The only way I can see DePaul staying in the game is by getting to the free-throw line early and often. I don’t see this happening nearly enough in this game for DePaul to head back to Chicago with an upset victory.
Villanova 84 DePaul 68