Game Preview: Villanova vs. DePaul

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

With the Battle of Tobacco Road postponed tonight, the eyes of the basketball world shift to Rosemont, where BIG East-leaders Villanova gear up for a DePaul squad searching for answers.

No. 6 Villanova
(21-2, 9-1)

Wednesday, February 12th | 8 p.m. Eastern
Allstate Arena, Rosemont, IL
TV: FOX Sports One
Radio: WIND 560 AM (DePaul), CBS Sports Radio 610 (Villanova)

DePaul
(10-14, 2-9)

James Bell (16 PPG) Leading Scorer Brandon Young (14.5 PPG)
80.4 Scoring Offense 71.3
66.9 Scoring Defense 74.4
+13.6 Scoring Margin -3.1
.464 Field Goal % .428
.404 Opponent Field Goal % .465

On Monday, DePaul fans were dealt a bombshell when the school announced star forward Cleveland Melvin is no longer enrolled in the university and is gone from the program. After losing six straight, including four while Melvin served a suspension for a violation of unspecified team rules, the Blue Demons are now ninth in the BIG East and missing their leading scorer.

It gets no easier when they welcome 6th-ranked Villanova into Allstate Arena.

Last Meeting

DePaul's six-game losing streak began at Villanova, as the Wildcats ran to an 88-62 win. James Bell had 17 points and eight rebounds, Daniel Ochefu added 14 points on 6 for 6 shooting and 6 rebounds, and Ryan Arcidiacono scored 14.

There wasn't much to cheer about on the Blue Demons' end, who came into the game with their first conference winning streak since 2008. Brandon Young had 13 points, and all over DePaul starters scored in double figures. But the Blue Demons only had four bench points, and allowed the Wildcats to score on 13 of their first 18 second-half possessions.

Huge Blow

The loss of Cleveland Melvin is huge for the Blue Demons, who have a lack of depth at the forward position. DeJuan Marrero will likely receive his fourth-career start, but he hasn't provided much production this season. Sandi Marcius started early on in the season, but was unable to stay consistent. Behind them and junior Forrest Robinson, DePaul consists mostly of garbage-time players at forward.

This is a major problem for a DePaul team that is already playing small this season. Brandon Young and Billy Garrett Jr. are solid starters, and Charles McKinney, Durrell McDonald and R.J. Curington have all seen time in the rotation. But Melvin's loss creates a problem around the corner for the Blue Demons, who will see a major drop in production at the 4 spot in the rotation.


Best in the BIG East

With Creighton's upset loss to the Johnnies at MSG on Sunday, Villanova is now in sole possession of the BIG East conference lead. With a rematch against the Bluejays looming on Sunday, the Cats have to avoid falling into the proverbial trap game against DePaul. The Demons may be struggling, but they have shown they have the talent to keep games close. Should Nova let DePaul hang around in the second half, there's no telling what may happen.

Where DePaul lacks is exactly what Villanova should exploit, and that is in the front court. The impressive Daniel Ochefu will match up with Tommy Hamilton at the center position, where he can definitely have a great night, currently sporting a BIG-East leading .805 field goal percentage. James Bell and JaVaughn Pinkston are Nova's leading scorers, averaging 16.0 and 14.9 points a game, respectively. DePaul's guards will have problems as well. Not only is 6-foot-6 guard Darrum Hilliard a scorer with 13.5 points per game, but the Blue Demons will have to deal with Ryan Arcidiacono, Josh Hart and Dylan Ennis as well. The size advantage, as well as the level of play Villanova reaches, may be too much for DePaul to handle.

Prediction

To Villanova, this isn't just another game. They can't treat it as such. On the horizon is a rematch with Creighton, who handed them their only BIG East loss, that could decide the winner of the regular season conference title. Playing any less than 100% against DePaul in not what the Wildcats need in preparation of Doug McDermott and the Jays. The Wildcats have the shooters and the defense able to keep the game out of DePaul's reach, and should they play like it, it will be a rout.

For DePaul, they must now search for a new identity with their top star out for the rest of the year. It's unlikely they will pull off the shocker, but the Demons, especially the younger players, need to use games like tonight to get as much experience and production as possible to improve for the future. Near the bottom of the conference, it remains to be seen whether or not that future includes Oliver Purnell.

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