March is here, and that vision this year is cast towards Minnesota.
DePaul (26-7, 15-3 Big East) drew the No. 9 seed and will play No. 8 seed Minnesota (23-9, 11-7 Big Ten) in first round action in the NCAA Tournament's Oklahoma City regional this Sunday at 4:00 CT in South Bend, Ind. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
DePaul is making its thirteenth consecutive trip to the tournament, one of only seven teams to do so. Minnesota is making its first appearance in the tournament since 2009. DePaul finished ranked No. 26 in the final Associated Press regular season poll, while the Golden Gophers did not receive any votes. The teams have played one other time, an 82-64 Minnesota win in 1982.
How DePaul Wins
Coming off arguably their best three straight games this year in capturing the Big East tournament, DePaul did what it does best: make three-pointers and pressure the ball. The Blue Demons also found an old/new weapon in guard/forward Megan Podkowa down low.
The Blue Demons are led by conferenece Player of the Year, guard Brittany Hrynko, and her 20.3 ppg and 5.2 apg. Podkowa, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, adds 13.5 ppg and 6.3 rpg. Guard Chanise Jenkins adds 12.2 ppg and 4.7 apg, while guard Jessica January averages 12.1 ppg.
DePaul is averaging 88 ppg and is giving up 71 ppg. The Blue Demons have an +11.6 turnover margin and they force opponents into an average of 23.9 turnovers per game. DePaul is averaging 40.9 rpg.
"Even though they are tough inside, they still have to match up with us," said Jenkins. "We are very guard-oriented, but we still have Megan Podkowa that stretches the floor and we have other bigs."
DePaul must do three things to win this game: (1) Hit 3-pointers. It is shooting 35.2 percent this year from behind the arc and averaging 10.2 3-pointer per game; (2) Maintain some semblance of rebounding. All of DePaul's guards are excellent rebounders given their position, and DePaul will need a strong inside game from Podkowa as well as Centrese McGee and Brooke Schulte to compete in this area; (3) Force turnovers. The Blue Demons have to make this a full-court game in order for their press packages to be effective, similar to what they did in their upset of Duke last year.
"It's going to be a challenge [facing their inside players] and I think our entire team is going to have to accept that challenge," said Podkowa.
How Minnesota Wins
The Golden Gophers are coming off an 83-71 quarterfinal loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament. But within that game was what will most likely be DePaul's biggest literal and figurative problem: Amanda Zahui B. The 6'5" sophomore scored 25 points, had 11 boards, and blocked 11 shots in that game. She was named the Big Ten Player of the Year. She is averaging 18.8 ppg, 12.6 rpg, and 4.2 blocks per game.
"I don't think there is anybody in the BIG EAST as good as a formidable force inside as Zahui B.," said DePaul coach Doug Bruno. "She made All-America last year as a freshman, and she has gotten exponentially better this season."
Zahui B. is complimented by 5'9" guard Rachel Banham and her 18.6 ppg, 6'1" forward Shae Kelly and her 17.5 ppg, 5'10" guard Carlie Wagner, who averages 12.0 ppg, and 5'10" guard Shayne Mullaney, who is No. 5 in country in assists at 7.4 per game.
The Golden Gophers average 44.3 rpg and 6.0 blocks per game. They score 76.3 ppg to opponent's 71.7. They shoot 42.7 percent from the field.
Zahui B. has 23 double doubles this year, so Minnesota wins when they get the ball inside. Its game plan for winning appears to be that simple.
But simple versus actualization are two different things. Hrynko rightly states that DePaul has a great coaching staff, and the Blue Demons will be ready to play on Friday. And in between all the intricacies and attacks versus counterattacks, perhaps Podkowa said it best concerning her team's theme come Friday: "I think we'll continue to do what we have been doing."
DePaul to play Minnesota in NCAA Tourney
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