DEPAUL BLUE DEMONS (10-13, 5-6)
Time: 9 p.m.
Location: Allstate Arena: Rosemont, Ill.
Favorite: Louisville by 7
All-Time Series: Louisville leads 31-21
Last Meeting: Louisville won 59-50 on 1/20/07
Probable Starting Lineup
G Draelon Burns.....17.7 ppg
G Cliff Clinkscales..3.0 ppg
G Will Walker.....9.0 ppg
C Mac Koshwal....11.1 ppg
F Karron Clarke....9.1 ppg
Generally a person who refuses to overlook any opponent in any sport I follow closely, today is an annual holiday for me.
I had danced around the idea that it was impossible for Louisville to lose to Depaul for some time before finally embracing it fully in 1999. For it was in that year that freshman walk-on Quentin Bailey completely outplayed eventual Conference USA Player of the Year Quentin Richardson in a 71-68 Cardinal victory.
More proof came a year ago when Juan Palacios - who entered the game having scored a total of ten points in U of L's last four games - hit eight of ten shots and dropped 21 on Depaul in a 59-50 victory for the then struggling Cards. Not only was JDP hitting open jumpers, he was effortlessly putting the ball behind his back on the fast break, doing double pump dunks, making no-look bounce passes and doing various other things that he would be able to do against no other opponent.
Now the "record books" show that U of L actually lost overtime games to the Blue Demons in both 2003 and 2004, but the games weren't nationally televised and I was out of town, so I don't believe for a second that either of them actually happened.
Despite my contention that the result of tonight's game is a foregone conclusion, there are certain head coaches out there who are "wary" of this game, so I suppose we should at least briefly mention what the Blue Demons bring to the table.
Unlike Georgetown, Depaul isn't going to shy away from trying to run with Louisville, and the guy who makes that option a possibility is senior guard Draelon Burns. In his final collegiate season, Burns has seen an increase in nearly all of his stats, including points, where he leads the team at nearly 18 a game. He ranks 10th in the league in made three-pointers, having connected on 46-of-141 attempts from beyond the arc. He has scored in double figures in eight of Depaul's last nine games, and scored a team-high 22 in a comeback victory over South Florida on Saturday.
Despite coming off of the bench, freshman Dar Tucker is the team's second leading scorer at 12.8 ppg. He's also the team's other big threat from deep, ranking just behind Burns on the team in three-pointers attempted (110) and made (34). His game has been compared to Terrence Williams' by some, with the one, conspicuous difference that he seems at times to be allergic to playing defense. Tucker's offensive skill set will make him valuable in a game like tonight's, but he's recently seen his playing time dwindle as Jerry Wainwright (who, again, looks like a combination of a cartoon character and a car salesman) has looked to improve his team's next-to-last place league ranking in both scoring defense, and scoring margin.
Depaul is both the worst rebounding team in the Big East, and the worst team in the league as far as field goal percentage defense. Part of that is because of the Blue Demons' willingness to take quick shots in transition. The quick shots by Burns, Tucker and company give the DU bigs no shot at an offensive rebound, and often lead to easy buckets by opponents on the other end.
Wainwright's team has played a little bit more zone this year than they have in the past, but they're still predominantly a man-to-man squad. This obviously bodes well for U of L.
One player who hopes the U of L scouting crew only has game tape from the first half of the season is sophomore guard Will Walker. He saw his playing time drop consistently into the teens in late December and early January, but he is coming off of a career-high 21-point performance against USF, a game in which he played 35 minutes. Walker is a streaky outside shooter who has been extremely hit or miss for most of the season. Still, he's a man the Cards will have to mark.
Freshman center Mac Koshwal was one of the most high-profile recruits in recent Depaul history, and he's shown glimpses of brilliance this year. He had scored in double figures in 12-of-13 games before scoring four and five points in DU's last two games. He's an extremely versatile player who's still in the process of figuring out how good he could be. Going up against a frontcourt as talented and experienced as Louisville's could hinder that process just a bit.
It doesn't help that Koshwal doesn't have a great deal of help on the inside. Starting forward Karron Clarke is only 6-6, and would much rather loiter around the perimeter than bang in the paint. Reserve center Wesley Green is large (6-9, 300 lbs), and his presence affords Koshwal the luxury to slide over and play the four, but his lack of mobility makes him a liability against a team as athletic as the Cardinals.
Statistics seem to imply that this team winning five league games has been merely the product of luck and a soft early schedule, because the Blue Demons really don't do anything exceptionally well. Burns is a fantastic offensive player, and if Tucker, Koshwal or Walker also have a good night, then they're capable of outscoring one of the bottom-tier teams in the league. But Depaul doesn't defend and they don't rebound, two things that you have to do at least moderately well to compete in a conference like the Big East.
The good news for the Demons is that they're coming off an emotional eight-point win over South Florida, a game in which they trailed by 11 at halftime and were booed by their
own fans at one point. But Burns and Walker rallied in the second half and now the team heads into tonight's game with a little extra confidence.
"I think this is a turning point for us," Burns said, "and I hope we keep playing this way."
For this reason, it's important that the Cards get after it right from the tip, and give these guys no reason to believe that they can hang around. Depaul's soft D means that the old issue of shot selection and then knocking down the open shot is going to be back in the spotlight. The Blue Demons are basically a less offensively talented Seton Hall, and teams like that a bit dangerous for a U of L squad that is prone to streaky shooting and occasional mental lapses.
Bottom line, the only way Louisville loses this game is if NOBODY is hitting open shots, and NOBODY is defending the perimeter.
CC Prediction: Louisville 79, Depaul 66
If this team looks at all unfocused or like they're still enjoying Saturday, then I'll be both surprised and disappointed.