Coming into Saturday with a 5-1 record, the DePaul Blue Demons are off to their best start since Dave Leitao returned to Chicago. They’ll prepare to take on their neighbor, as they venture just outside of city limits to take on the Northwestern Wildcats (6-3).
DePaul is coming off of back-to-back wins, most recently beating the Florida A&M Rattlers on Monday night.
As for Northwestern, it is looking to recover from a pair of losses to the Indiana Hoosiers and Michigan Wolverines. The Wildcats will find solace in knowing they have dominated the series so far, winning the first three meetings of this five-year series.
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The Wildcats are a 9.5-point favorite according to Oddsshark.com
KenPom lists Northwestern as a 77 percent favorite to win on Saturday, predicting a final score of 72-64.
The Blue Demons lead the series, 20-13. They previously met last December, when the Wildcats were able to squeeze out a 62-60 victory over DePaul.
What to Watch For
Will the Strus be Loose?
DePaul has to be thankful for the five-day break in between its game on Monday night against the Florida A&M Rattlers, and this Saturday’s showdown against Northwestern. The Blue Demons’ leading scorer Max Strus was sidelined against the Rattlers, with knee tendonitis, but they were able to take care of business without him and win 65-50.
No offense to Florida A&M, but crosstown school Northwestern is going to pose a bigger threat. Strus had season-high 33 points in the close loss to the Wildcats last year, just one of two instances all season he reached that high-scoring mark. The Blue Demons will need him, and his status is uncertain for the weekend. DePaul is optimistic that he would be back in time, but there is no official word yet. In his absence, DePaul got by the Rattlers with double-digit scoring performances from Femi Olujobi (16 points, seven rebounds), Eli Cain (15 points), and Jalen Coleman-Lands (13 points). However, as a team, it wasn’t a pretty game. The Blue Demons shots just 20-of-55 on the floor (36.4 percent). If you take away Olujobi’s 6-for-7 showing, the Blue Demons shot an ugly 29.1 percent.
DePaul needs the big boost that Strus provides.
Blend of Old and New
The Wildcats are fortunate to have multiple 1,000-point scorers, being only one of a dozen teams throughout the country to feature such players. Vic Law, who surpassed the 1,000-point mark towards the end of last season, currently leads the team 17.8 points and 6.7 rebounds. He’s a versatile 6-foot-7 forward that can contribute in a variety of ways and can score from almost anywhere. Ryan Taylor is new to Northwestern, but he has been on the Division I scene for a while. He came to Northwestern after previous stops with the Evansville Aces and Ohio Bobcats and had over 1,000 coming in. He’s proven to be a nice addition so far, averaging 12.9 points per game.
A.J. Turner is another transfer that’s making some contributions. He hasn’t been scoring at an efficient rate (36.2 percent overall, and just 17.2 percent from deep), but he’s good for almost 10 points a game.
Also keep an eye out for Dererk Pardon, a senior center that averages almost a double-double a night. He’s a few games away from joining Law and Taylor in the 1,000-point club at 865.
Aside from the veterans, the Wildcat freshmen have also been getting some solid playing time. Miller Kopp found a spot in the starting five right away. Pete Nance and Ryan Greer have appeared in almost every game and receive about 10 minutes of playing time.
Playing Possessed Might Not Be Enough
Northwestern is a great team defensively. It currently sits just outside the top 25 in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. This is a team that rebounds well, slows the pace down, and frustrates opponents. The Wildcats keep their foes to relatively low shooting percentages, but they especially shine when it comes to defending the three-point line and generating turnovers. So far this season, opponents have been restricted to shooting just 30.1 percent from long range (67th in Division I). They also force opponents to give up the ball on 22.2 percent of their possessions. Taking care of the ball has been an area that DePaul has struggled in, so that will be a focal point for the Blue Demons to address on Saturday.
While the Wildcats are coming into Saturday after back-to-back losses, their defensive effort has remained consistent for the most part. They’ve held opponents to a respectable 61.9 points per game. They give up over 65 points in a game only three times this season, with two of their three losses coming from teams that were able to surpass that mark. DePaul will need to play a clean game and hope to get hot. This is a big opportunity to get a nice non-conference win, as it takes on another top 60 team. It’s beaten Penn State, but lost to Notre Dame so far, and the other four games were against sub-270 competition.