Pregame Party: DePaul v. Georgetown

Mike Brey called; he wants his mock turtleneck back. - Jonathan Daniel

Can Hoyas win their eighth straight against the visiting Blue Demons?

Georgetown goes for its eighth straight conference win Wednesday night when it hosts DePaul. In a season full of unexpected wins, a victory over the Blue Demons is very much expected. And the Hoyas may already be looking forward to Saturday’s showdown with archrival Syracuse. So how do you spell DePaul? T-R-A-P!

It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. Recent years have not been kind to DePaul. After the team’s last tournament appearance in 2004, the Blue Demons suffered through the Jerry Wainwright era, which was characterized by a dearth of recruits, especially locally. The result was a two-year stretch of historic ineptitude, in which the Blue Demons won just a single Big East game. That led to Wainwright’s ouster and the hiring of Oliver Purnell. The former Clemson coach brought in a slew of youngsters to play an up-tempo, pressing style. There was modest progress, as a freshman-heavy squad won just one conference game but, as sophomores last year, managed three Big East victories. The return of most of that roster, plus an extra year of seasoning, made another step forward seem possible.

Unfortunately, the results so far, at least in terms of wins and losses, have been identical to last year: DePaul has won 11 of its first 25 games, and just 2 of its first 12 in conference. There have been a couple of narrow misses, including losing in overtime twice to Notre Dame and once at St. John’s, plus a one-point loss at Seton Hall. Squint hard enough, and a middle-of-the-pack finish would have been plausible. Mostly, though, DePaul is grateful that Seton Hall and South Florida are similarly inept, and so might keep the Blue Demons from finishing in the cellar for the fifth straight year.

Blue Demons to Know. DePaul has the same two leading scorers for the third straight year, as well as several complementary parts that Purnell shuttles in and out to keep legs fresh and the pace up. The headlining duo still is forward Cleveland Melvin (16.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.3 stl pg) and guard Brandon Young (16.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.6 stl pg). Young is more of an outside threat who also attacks the rim and finds the occasional open teammate, while Melvin is excels in between and hits the boards. Melvin has taken a bit of a step back this year, going from someone who shot more often than anyone in the conference that doesn’t have a horse named after him to someone who just shoots a lot.

The rest of the lineup includes: DePaul’s lone consistent post, junior Donovan Kirk (7.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.9 blk pg), an effective shot-blocker; senior Worrel Clahar (7.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.3 apg), who shot 47 percent from three last year but has dipped below 30 percent this season; and sophomore guard Charles McKinney (5.3 ppg). Off the bench is DePaul’s third-leading scorer, sophomore guard Jamee Crockett (9.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.2 stl pg). The Demons are likely to be without another rotation player, wing Moses Morgan (6.7 ppg), who hasn’t played since this gruesome-looking fall.

When DePaul Has the Ball.

  • Blue Demons’ strength: protecting the ball. Once you adjust for DePaul’s lightning pace (2nd in the country, 1st in the conference), the Blue Demons rate below the conference average in nearly every offensive category. The exception is ball handling: the Blue Demons turn the ball over on under 19 percent of possessions.
  • Hoyas’ strength: contesting every shot, especially from three. One of the many categories DePaul ranks poorly at is shooting: the Blue Demons make barely 31 percent of their threes and just 46 percent of their twos. Wednesday, that anemic attack will meet your Hoyas, which have held their Big East opponents to even lower numbers (27 percent from three, 43 percent from two).
  • Three things to watch:
    • Foul trouble. Early fouls have threatened to derail Georgetown’s current winning streak at nearly every turn, most recently against Cincinnati last Friday, when Mikael Hopkins fouled out and several other Hoyas battled foul trouble. Wednesday, Georgetown can’t afford to send DePaul to the free-throw stripe. The Blue Demons are miserable at getting to the line (ranking dead last in the conference at earning free throws) but are very accurate once they get to the stripe, netting 74 percent of their tries.
    • Scoring depth. The junior duo of Melvin and Young is dangerous, but the Blue Demons have done best when other options have stepped up. In each of the five conference games that DePaul has won or taken its opponent to overtime, it’s had at least two double-digit scorers besides Melvin and Young. Kirk down low and Crockett on the wing are the most likely threats, though Clahar erupted for 19 in Saturday’s win against Rutgers.
    • Defensive rebounding. Georgetown has been punished on the defensive boards in the second half of each of its last three outings, though to be fair all three opponents were above-average offensive rebounding teams. Is this a subtle sign of Hoya fatigue resulting from increased minutes, fatigue resulting from defending all those opposing misses, or just aggressive competition? DePaul, just the 12th best offensive rebounding team in the country, should provide some context.

When Georgetown Has the Ball.

  • Hoyas’ strength: seeking opportunities in transition. Georgetown has won all five games against conference foes that play at an above average pace. Except for some second-half lethargy against Providence, those results all qualify as impressive: two double-digit wins over St. John’s; a blowout of Seton Hall; and a signature win against Louisville. DePaul plays faster than any team in the conference; can the Hoyas punish the Blue Demons in transition?
  • Blue Demons’ strength: forcing turnovers. DePaul will press as much as possible in an effort to force turnovers and, in turn, find easy fast-break points. In this match-up last year, the Blue Demons kept the (Markel Starks-less) Hoyas within reach with several press-fueled runs, including a really annoying eight straight points in which Georgetown didn’t advance the ball past half court.
  • Three things to watch:
    • Pounding the ball inside. The Hoyas have taken advantage of size mismatches when presented. Wednesday, Porter will tower over McKinney or Young, while Lubick will have some bulk on the lithe Melvin. That may present opportunities inside, especially on the glass, where Georgetown isn’t a strong offensive rebounding team, but DePaul is downright porous, yielding offensive boards at the second-worst rate in the conference. In last year’s match-up, Georgetown attacked the glass, grabbing 14 offensive rebounds. A bunch of second chances would be helpful Wednesday night.
    • Managing minutes. The Wizards at Hoya Prospectus ordered a crate of double-stuf oreos and did a deep dive on the various lineups JTIII has rolled out and the efficiencies of those lineups. Their insights are as legion as their wizardry is mysterious; one point (minor compared to the interesting efficiency analysis) to think about going forward is that nearly everyone is logging heavier minutes without Greg Whittington, especially Markel Starks, who has been clocking all but three minutes per contest. More anecdotally, we've seen several Hoyas take hard falls, twist legs, come up limping, and so on in the course of recent slug-fests. Will Thompson have the luxury to rest a player or two against DePaul, or will the Blue Demons press the Hoyas wire to wire?
    • Ayegba and Bowen. Part of managing minutes means giving more time to those who tend to play less. Moses Ayegba and Aaron Bowen both could see more action Wednesday. Will either be effective in helping break the DePaul press?

Prediction. As miserable as DePaul’s recent basketball history has been, its history against Georgetown has been worse, as the Hoyas have won all seven conference match-ups between the teams. That streak will end someday, and the day of reckoning could be Wednesday if the Hoyas look past DePaul to Syracuse. Expect some frustrating moments caused by DePaul’s pace, but the Hoyas to right the ship in time to make it eight straight. Georgetown 65, DePaul 56.

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