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DePaul vs. Villanova 5-on-5 preview

A slew of Big East Coast Bias writers take a look at a pivotal Big East matchup between two teams itching for a win.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

1. DePaul has certainly surprised the college basketball world so far. What is one x factor no one saw coming that has contributed heavily to their early success?

Cam Newton: It would be extremely reckless of me to not say that Forrest Robinson is the season's biggest surprise for DePaul. The JUCO transfer has seen his minutes increase to nearly 20 per game. Not only that, but all of his statistical categories have skyrocketed this year. Of course, the standout moment for Robinson came on January 7th, when his Blue Demons took on DePaul. The sharpshooting forward scored 20 points for the Blue Demons off of 6-for-9 shooting from behind the arc. He was phenomenal and has provided this DePaul team with another valuable asset.

Eric Kelly: For me, it's almost impossible to argue against Forrest Robinson. This is a player who, coming into this season had only taken 66 fieldgoalattempts. He's been a sparkplug offensively and has been great in some key games, especially lately against Creighton and Xavier. Plus, he's an undeniable x-factor because he's a 6-10 forward who can stretch the floor and hit 3-pointers consistently, which spells trouble for defenses no matter what team the Blue Devils go up against.

Christopher Novak: Since everyone has chosen Forrest Robinson, allow for me to go against the grain here. I'm going to make the case for Illinois transfer Myke Henry. Prior to the 2014-15 campaign, Henry was not much of an efficient player and was not used on many possessions. As a junior, Henry has been elevated into a higher workload, and has made the absolute most of it. He's never been more efficient to this point in the season throughout his entire career, all while being accounted for more in usage and shots taken in his career as well. He's definitely handled his new workload in the best of ways and has been vital to DePaul's newfound success.

2. DePaul virtually sleepwalked their way through nonconference play and now suddenly is 3-0 atop the Big East. Is there more evidence of a team that needed to find a rhythm with a limitless ceiling of a reincarnated Big East? Or is DePaul a flash in the pan?

Cam Newton: I think it's a blend of both. While it is nice to see DePaul at 3-0, one must also recognize that they have played two of the weaker teams in the Big East in Marquette and Creighton. Xavier is about middle of the rankings, I'd say. However, it is impressive, given the performances given to us night after night throughout the six-game skid that DePaul went on to close out non-conference play. If the Blue Demons beat Villanova this Saturday, maybe then can we talk about limitless ceilings.

Eric Kelly: I personally have not yet jumped on the DePaul bandwagon, and I think it's a flash in the pan. So far in Big East play, the Blue Demons have gone up against, as Cam mentioned, two of the weaker teams in the conference in Marquette and Xavier. In their other win, they beat a Xavier team at home, who you could make the case was more concerned about its next game against Seton Hall. So far, DePaul is still lacking that marquee road victory that they need to prove they are some sort of contender, but a victory in the Pavilion would do just that.

Christopher Novak: I'll go with the consensus here this time. I think that the odds for this game, which are exponentially high, don't necessarily tell the whole story. But I also don't think that DePaul is going to win the Big East Conference. Then again... Stranger things have happened. Right?

3. Through pure speculation, is it too early to say Oliver Purnell saved his job?

Cam Newton: This is far too early to even get a whiff of mentioning that Purnell should be retained by DePaul. This team is still only two games above .500 and they still have the thick of conference play ahead of them, as Georgetown, St. John's, and Villanova are all still waiting to face the Blue Demons. It would honestly take a miraculous run through conference play and the Big East tournament for the Blue Demons to make the tournament, one surefire way for Purnell to keep his job. Although, I think Purnell could be given another chance if DePaul finishes roughly 5 games above .500. Anything less would be unacceptable.

Eric Kelly: Absolutely way too early. Like I mentioned earlier, DePaul still hasn't really played anyone too tough in the Big East and the Blue Demons still don't have a marquee victory on the road. Plus, on top of that, they are still only 9-7 and have a tough stretch in their schedule still to come, including three of their next four against opponents that are currently ranked. He has a chance later down the road to save his job, but if I'm Oliver Purnell I'm not even close to putting a down payment on a new house near The Windy City.

Christopher Novak: Remember in 2011 when the Bills beat the Patriots and Ryan Fitzpatrick got PAID when the Bills started out 3-0? That's the equivalent here if we were to believe Purnell's job was safe. DePaul: Do NOT be the Buffalo Bills.

4. Villanova lost to a highly competitive Seton Hall team and are still ranked #8 in the country. How important is this game to Nova facing a red hot DePaul team at home?

Cam Newton: The importance really falls more so on Villanova rather than DePaul. If DePaul loses, it's no big deal. They were a 24-point underdog. They weren't expected to do much this season, etc. If Villanova loses, it completely shakes them to their very core. This is a home game against a team in the lower levels of the Big East. A must-win. The pressure is certainly felt by Villanova, something that DePaul absolutely has to love.

Eric Kelly: I think it's important for the ‘Cats to win, but at this juncture it's really no more important than any of the other games they have played this season. To me, DePaul still isn't a team that makes me nervous if I'm Jay Wright and Co., and when you're ranked as highly as No. 8 nationally, every game is important in order to jockey for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Christopher Novak: I'm with Cam on this one. Even though DePaul may not make Villanova nervous so to speak, the idea of losing would have me sweating bullets. A Wildcat loss would lead to things going completely insane.

5. Who wins and why?

Cam Newton: I begrudgingly admit that I think the magic of this miraculous DePaul run ends--for now--this Saturday. While I do think they have the tools to win quite a few more conference games, I really think that going into Villanova's home court and emerging with a win is too tall a task for this DePaul team to handle (that is of course unless Forrest Robinson would like to hit another 5 threes to open this game. I'd let that slide). I think Villanova wins this one 68-60.

Eric Kelly: I think Villanova wins easily, 79-63. This Villanova team is almost impossible to beat at the Pavilion (haven't lost there since the new Big East became a thing) and I certainly do not think DePaul's going to break the run at home. The Blue Demons still don't have any really great wins away from home, and Philadelphia is not a great place to go and look for your first.

Christopher Novak: Villanova 74, DePaul 67. Because reasons. And more importantly, on a serious note, I think JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu will eat during this game. Arch and Garrett Jr. is one hell of a point guard matchup that will probably only be topped when Garrett Jr. steps onto the floor with Seton Hall's Sterling Gibbs.