#1 Villanova Wildcats (20-3) vs. DePaul Blue Demons (8-15)
When: Tuesday, February 9, 2016, at 8:30 p.m.
Where: Allstate Arena, Rosemont, Illinois
Coverage: Fox Sports 1
DePaul’s Previous Season Record: 12-20, Lost in the First Round of the Big East Tournament to Creighton 78-63
Key Players for DePaul: #4 Myke Henry (6-6, 238) Sr., F; #5 Bill Garrett Jr. (6-6, 206) Jr., G; #11 Eli Cain (6-6, 202) Fr., G
Scouting Report: The old saying goes, “There’s a first time for everything.” This week for Villanova, that saying could not be ever more true. On top of being ranked number one in the polls for the first time in program history, the Wildcats will square of with familiar Big East foe, DePaul, for the first time this season.
The Blue Demons have built themselves an infamous reputation of being the punching bag and punch line of the Big East. It seemed that last year could be the year that DePaul would start to turn it around after finishing seventh in the conference. However, Oliver Purnell and his team did not win their lone game in Big East tournament and ended the season at a lowly 12-20. Despite the improvement in the standings, Purnell was kicked to the streets of Chicago and replaced with former Virginia coach Dave Leitao.
While Leitao has not had enough time yet to build a team of his own, he did inherit a few talented players with some Big East experience. The first being senior Myke Henry. The six-foot six forward has been the star for the Blue Demons this season. Coming over as a transfer from Illinois after the end of his sophomore campaign, Henry has established himself as the go to man inside the arc. The senior is shooting an outstanding 55% from the field, making him by far the best shooter on the team with at least 100 field goal attempts. Henry’s talents were on display in DePaul’s stunning upset win over the then number 11 team in the nation, Providence, last week. The former Fighting Illini member scored an impressive 27 points on 12 of 18 shooting and grabbed 11 boards, leading the Blue Demons to a 77-70 home victory. In DePaul’s last game against Creighton, Henry added another gaudy 22 points and eight rebounds, in the losing effort. These totals helped inflate Henry’s scoring average to 15 points per game and just over six boards per game. Another facet to Henry’s game is that he durable and can play in any game situation. As a result, he has been able to log a devilish 666 minutes, leading the team by 23 minutes. If this game comes down to crunch time, expect the Blue Demons to run their offense through Henry.
Rounding out DePaul’s one-two punch is Billy Garrett Jr. The junior guard had an impressive campaign his sophomore year where he led the team in scoring. While Henry’s performance has certainly overshadowed Garrett’s accomplishment’s this year, the assistant coach’s son should not be taken lightly. The Chicago native has a knack of cutting to the basket and drawing fouls. Garrett Jr. has attempted 115 free throws (the most on the team by 43) and converts on an impressive 83.5% of shots from the charity stripe. Great numbers from the line have led the junior to 13.2 points per game this year. Despite the great free throw shooting, Garrett does struggle from the field. A walking definition of a volume scorer, the junior guard makes just over 40% of shots from the field, but attempts the second most shots on the team. Garrett also struggles from deep, converting at a dreadful 28.6% rate. Suffering from a cold hand could deter Garrett from continuing to shoot deep, however, that has not stopped him so far as he has attempted the most shots from beyond the arc on the team. Even though Garrett does like to shoot the ball, he does have the ability to distribute as he leads the team in assists with 3.7 a game.
While Henry and Garrett Jr. were the “knowns” for DePaul coming into the season, freshman Eli Cain was an “unknown”. Based on his play this year, you would have guessed the opposite. Cain has been a pleasant surprise for Coach Leitao and his staff. The New Jersey native has fit in beautifully into the the starting lineup, opening all but two contests for the Demons. Since being thrusted into Leivao’s starting five, Cain has averaged the third most points (8.6) and minutes (26.8). The freshman guard also shoots fairly well from the field. Of Cain’s 169 field goal attempts, he has hit on 42% of the shots, while shooting a modest 41% from deep in limited attempts. Even as a guard, Cain has averaged 3.1 boards per game, showing that he can be an all purpose guard that mesh well with Garrett Jr. If there is a weakness to Cain’s game, it is free throw shooting. Cain has gotten to the line 66 times, while hitting on just 38 attempts. For those of you doing the math at home, that is a 57.6% clip. This is not exactly what you want from a guard, but the woes from the line can be counteracted by his strong play on the floor and from beyond the arc.
Outlook: The last time DePaul played at home against a ranked team, the Blue Demons were able to knock off Providence in a thrilling game. A combination of a huge game from Henry, a poor performance from Kris Dunn, and an injury to star big man Ben Bentil, led to one of the biggest upsets the Big East will see all year. The stars aligned perfectly at the Allstate Arena and Coach Leivao and his team took advantage.
Do I expect the same to happen here? Simply put: No.
Villanova has had DePaul’s number over the past eight years. While Jay Wright’s teams did have some close scares along the way, the Wildcats have not lost to the Blue Demons since January 3rd, 2008. To put that in perspective, Barack Obama was a little bit more than a year away from being sworn into office.
The key to success for Villanova here would be to command the paint and the boards. As a team, DePaul averages 34.8 rebounds a game, while allowing 32.9, good enough for a 1.9 positive rebounding differential. Before today, I would say that Villanova would have the advantage due to the rebounding abilities of Josh Hart, and Darryl Reynolds who has undergone a renaissance since the injury to Daniel Ochefu. However, this advantage should be even more significant for the Wildcats as Ochefu tweeted out Monday that he has been cleared for basketball activities. Whether or not Ochefu will start, or how many minutes he will play remains to be seen, but expect Villanova’s run of dominance of the glass to continue.
Another statistic that should have the Wildcats and fans licking their chops is the 3-point defense of DePaul. During conference play, the Blue Demons have given up 8.3 converted deep balls per game. For the year, Villanova has averaged about the same about of made shots from beyond the arc. By running a porous outside defense could spell an early doom for DePaul, especially if the Wildcats come out firing on all cylinders after being declared #1 in the nation.
Lastly, Coach Wright must have a plan to make sure Henry does not get the confidence to take over a game and to prevent Garrett Jr. from going to the line. Henry is the star that stirs the drink for the Blue Demons and has the ability to get hot at any moment. Coming off consecutive big boy games, Henry is very confident and could want to hand out another upset. However, I expect Villanova to take him out of the game early, thus preventing any sort of upset. Also, the other focal point of the Wildcats’ defensive effort should be preventing Garrett from shooting free throws. If he is to attack the basket, the Villanova big men should collapse immediately. DePaul does not shoot the ball that well as a team from deep (34.3%), so allowing a kickout to the perimeter would not be the worst thing in the world. A collapsing the pain defense would also force Garrett Jr. into becoming a shooter, which this year, he has shown he has not been able to thrive in such a role.
In Villanova’s first game ever as the #1 team in the nation, I expect them to take this game comfortably by double digits, even covering the Vegas spread.