DePaul (10-13) has lost their last five contests, dropping to 2-8 in the BIG East. They may be determined to get off the schneid, but their schedule gets no easier. On Wednesday, they welcome sixth-ranked Villanova into Allstate Arena, but first they must get past Doug McDermott and 12th-ranked Creighton tonight in Omaha.
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Creighton (18-3, 8-1 BIG East) dominated DePaul one month ago today en route to an 81-62 victory, but it wasn't easy. The Bluejays lost guard Grant Gibbs in the first half with a dislocated kneecap, and star Doug McDermott had a hard time getting going, shooting just 2-for-8 in the first while nursing a banged-up shoulder.
DePaul was able to close a 15-point-deficit in the second half to 62-56, thanks to much help from Brandon Young, who led all scorers with 24 points, and Cleveland Melvin, who added 16 points and six rebounds. Creighton would answer by outscoring DePaul 19-6 over the final seven minutes. McDermott led five Bluejays in double-figures with 19 points, while Avery Dingman dropped 16 to go along with Ethan Wragge's lights-out performance from downtown, knocking down four three's.
Big East on the Brink
Examining how the Big East's muddled middle affects its chances for NCAA Tournament bids, and the future of the conference.
DePaul has dropped five straight, four of those coming by double-digits. Three of those contests have been without star forward Cleveland Melvin, serving a suspension for violating team rules, while guards Billy Garrett Jr. (illness) and Charles McKinney (ankle) returned Monday against Georgetown after missing the previous two games.
While Melvin will still be serving his suspension tonight in Omaha, Oliver Purnell has seen the rise of freshman R.J. Curington in recent games, scoring in double-figures in each of his last three games. Senior Edwind McGhee and Junior Forrest Robinson have provided stopgaps for the depleted Blue Demon roster, but Curington is the player seen as having the most upside in Purnell's system. It's likely he will stay in the starting lineup for the time being, which will only help the rise of the young guard.
Assessing the Bluejays
With a team full of sharpshooters, it's hard to realize why Creighton only has two players averaging more than nine points a game. When one of those players is the best player in college basketball, it's easy to understand why Creighton is ranked No. 12 in the nation.
DePaul did a good job stopping Doug McDermott for as long as they did, but the forward still ended up with 19 points last month. With Cleveland Melvin still serving his suspension, McDermott will likely have a field day playing against the smaller DePaul guards, one of the many mismatches that will likely to tell the story of this game. 6-foot-7 Ethan Wragge is Creighton's best three-point shooter, connecting on nearly half of his attempts from downtown. The Bluejays also receive fantastic production from Devin Brooks, Will Artino and Avery Dingman off the bench, as well as Jahenns Manigat in the starting rotation. However, the key piece to a Creighton victory today will be the possible return of Grant Gibbs, who saw positive results in practice this week and could see some action tonight.
I would like to say an upset is a possibility, but if it is, those chances are extremely low. Creighton is one of the best teams in the nation and close to playing at full strength going into the stretch run, as we're just five weeks away from Selection Sunday. DePaul will be missing their best player, but even Cleveland Melvin's presence wouldn't make it any easier. Creighton is stout offensively, and they don't allow much defensively either, holding opponents to 41% shooting, around how much the Blue Demons score. DePaul will need to score, and score a lot, to stay in this one, or else it'll be a home rout in Omaha.