No. 7 seed DePaul (26-7, NCAA RPI of 17) will face No. 10 seed Northern Iowa (24-8, NCAA RPI of 52) this Friday in Starkville, Mississippi, in the first round of NCAA Tournament play. This will be the fourth time the two teams have played one another, the last meeting was a 76-73 DePaul win in overtime in 2001. DePaul is 3-0 all-time against the Panthers. Both teams are 4-1 on a neutral court this season.
DePaul is just one of six teams to have qualified for the NCAA Tournament the last 15 straight seasons.
“This time of the year you just have to be lace them up and play,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. “You don’t have time to be making excuses about [where your seed is]. You just play ball.”
The Blue Demons are No. 10 in the country in ppg at 80.8 and force 18.8 turnovers per game. The Panthers are No. 34 in the country in scoring defense at 57.3 ppg and are No. 11 in turnovers per game at 12.1. DePaul has the rebounding edge 42.5 to 36.8 per game.
The Panthers beat NCAA Tournament qualifier Creighton, and lost to NCAA Tournament qualifier Drake in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title game.
Northern Iowa is led by 5-foot-7 senior guard Madison Weekly, who averages 15.3 ppg and has a season-high of 23 points, and 5-foot-9 redshirt sophomore guard Ellie Herzberg at 11.7 ppg, with a season-high 27 points.
The Blue Demons place four starters in double figure scoring, led by fifth-year senior Brooke Schulte at 16.4 ppg. Senior Jessica January adds 15.2 ppg, senior Jacqui Grant scores 12.2 per game, and junior Amarah Coleman 11.3.
“With every NCAA Tournament we have been in there has been amazing competition, so just being able to play in the tournament and have the experience has been amazing,” Schulte said.
Schulte is No. 27 in the country in made field goals with 221.
DePaul has played without Mart’e Grays the entire season, January for 15 games, and Ashton Millender since early in the season, all due to injuries.
“The adversity that we have faced throughout the entire season has made us really resilient and that is going to be beneficial in the tournament,” January said.
January has one triple double in the five games she has played since coming back from a broken right index finger.
For Grant and Coleman, this will be their second NCAA Tournament since transferring to DePaul prior to last season.
“Experience is a really big thing when it comes to the NCAA Tournament,” Grant said. “There is more excitement and there is more tension, but it is the game of basketball, and you are there to do one thing.”
“I learned [last year] that at any given moment things can go any way,” Coleman said. “We always say ‘every game has a life of its own,’ so if we prepare ourselves to go out and play hard, we hope the game goes our way.”
DePaul freshman Kelly Campbell ranks No. 8 in the country in assist/turnover ratio at 2.94.
“I would hope that my experience in playing in close games in high school will give me some experience in the NCAA Tournament,” Campbell said. “I am sure it is a whole different level, but just having the experience of being in those close games I am sure will help me.”