** WeAreDePaul.com's Scott Phillips contributed to this report
DePaul Blue Demons vs. Bradley Braves – Saturday, November 11, 2006 - 7 p.m. CST – Peoria, Illinois
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The Bradley Braves have been a really tough out for DePaul the last 3 years that these teams have met, with Bradley winning the last two years. Last year Bradley beat DePaul handily in DePaul's first game under coach Jerry Wainwright 75-60. Not to mention that the Braves are riding a 17 game non-conference home court winning streak headed into this game.
The Bradley Braves were one of the Cinderella stories in NCAA basketball, reaching the Sweet Sixteen in March. A reoccurence of that is not likely to happen this year. Bradley lost four of its starters from last year, including standout 7'0" center Patrick O'Bryant, a first round NBA draft choice who averaged almost three blocks per game, along with DePaul nemesis forward Marcus Sommerville, who averaged 15.7 ppg and 6.8 rpg. In all, 70% of the scoring from last year's team is gone, plus virtually all of their frontcourt.
The lone remaining starter is standout 5-10 point guard Daniel Ruffin, an outstanding passer and defensive ballhawk. Ruffin is the half-brother of former Indiana and NBA point guard A.J. Guyton. He's the undisputed leader on the team now. Part-time starter 6-3 J.J. Tauai (2 ppg) returns as the other guard and is the guy that does the unsung dirty work. "We have two starters in returning in Daniel Ruffin and J.J. Tauai who we're going to lean on quite a bit and have done so in practice here," said Braves coach Jim Les. "This is Daniel's third year leading the point. He has done so many things for us in the past with being our first line of defense and running our basketball team. Now he's going to ask to take on a new role and be even more productive with getting us points and assists night in and night out. Where in the past he's been willing to defer to some other people. You can argue that J.J. Tauai was the difference in our team last year. We inserted him in the starting lineup and that's when we took off. He's a guy who can fill up a stat sheet and has a willingness to do whatever it takes to win games. We're going to insert some young men that were a big part of what we did and maybe played lesser roles last year. They're going to have to step up into more significant roles."
A couple of other guards that played nice roles on last year's team also return. 6-0 senior guard Will Franklin (5 ppg) and 6-5 junior Jeremy Crouch will contribute significantly. Crouch was a part-time starter as a freshman and burned DePaul with a couple of big three pointers two years ago. Look for all four of these guards to play significant minutes, with a three-guard offense. A freshman, 6-5 Andrew Warren is a guard that also played significant minutes in their first two exhibition games, including 13 points in the exhibition game against NW Missouri State. Guard Ray Brown is on suspension for testing positive for marijuana and won't play this year.
Senior 6-8 center Zach Andrews played some significant minutes in the DePaul game last year and is pretty much the lone frontcourt returnee with experience. He did really well last year starting when Patrick O'Bryant had to sit out a significant amount of games for an NCAA infraction last year. A JUCO transfer, 6-7 Matt Salley who averaged 13 points and nine rebounds in junior college last year, looks to be the starting power forward. 6-6 redshirt freshman Saihou Jassey also will get some minutes, but probably due to lack of depth more than anything. Bradley suffered a significant blow to its frontcourt depth when incoming recruit 6-11 Chicago Boys To Men center Xavier Crawford failed to clear the NCAA clearinghouse. 6-9 Sam Singh, a role player the past couple of years who's been injury-prone and out with an ACL injury, could possibly be available for this game.
Look for DePaul to go after the lack of height and frontcourt depth of Bradley and continually drive and pound the ball inside. Bradley has a major lack of depth upfront. DePaul also can go small. Against a small Bradley team, look for Will Walker and/or Cliff Clinkscales to play significant minutes with Chandler, Clarke and Mejia in the frontcourt.
Q&A with Blue Demons Coach Jerry Wainwright
What are your thoughts on the Bradley game?
"Two things come to mind about the game. They have a good home court. I believe they are hanging their Sweet 16 banner, so their fans will be excited for that. I believe it's a sellout which makes it an incredible atmosphere to play a game. It's never easy to win a game on the road. They are returning with high confidence this season after what they did last season. They'll have no fear in their eyes. It's as tough an opener as any team will get in college basketball."
What are your thoughts on Bradley's team?
"They lost some great players. They lost a guy to the NBA, and a couple guys that are playing in Europe. Daniel Ruffin is the heart and soul of their team. You can just tell that that kid loves to play the game. He puts up good numbers, and you can tell he is their pulse. (Will) Franklin and (J.J.) Tauai are some fine players as well. They had some great minutes in the tournament. Zach Andrews is a really good athlete; he gives them a different look down low. Bradley will have a lot of speed. They might be the fastest team we play all year. This game will be won by who plays better on the perimeter."
What is the health status of the team?
"Lorenzo and Wesley aren't 100%, but otherwise we're in pretty good shape. We did no preseason conditioning this year. We did a little work on the bikes, but it's been mostly fundamentals. This is the first year I've ever done that. I think it's important to save the feet and knees for the season, because that's a big problem in college basketball right now."
What is the rotation like for now?
"I have six guys who deserve to start right now. We have Draelon Burns for instant offense, and a great athlete in Karron Clarke, so we have options. Will Walker has done well in practice as well. We have a lot of guys who can play and that is a good problem to have. Marcus, Lorenzo, and Wes need to eat up minutes at center for us. We need to get about 30-32 minutes of quality time from them. We can also play smaller and that is important for us."
Bradley Braves Roster
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. Hometown (Prev School)
32 Adams, Danny G 6-4 218 Sr. Metamora, Ill. (Metamora Community H.S.)
21 Andrews, Zach F 6-8 225 Sr. Sacramento, Calif. (Yuba (Calif.) College) (Cordova H.S.)
2 Brown, Ray G 6-6 213 So. Richfield, Minn. (Richfield H.S.)
14 Crouch, Jeremy G 6-5 211 Jr. Pekin, Ill. (Pekin Community H.S.)
23 Fears, Jeremy G 6-4 184 Jr. Joliet, Ill. (Ohio University) (Joliet Township H.S.) **Sitting out transfer year
4 Franklin, Will G 6-0 185 Sr. Houston, Texas (Kilgore (Texas) College) (Alief Hastings H.S.)
1 Jassey, Saihou F 6-6 205 RFr. Banjul, Gambia (Rose Hill Christian H.S. (Ky.))
50 Lavin, Brian G 6-0 168 So. Peoria, Ill. (Notre Dame H.S.)
5 Phillips, Ryan G 6-3 198 Fr. Peoria, Ill. (Richwoods)
20 Ruffin, Daniel G 5-10 165 Jr. Peoria, Ill. (Peoria H.S.)
22 Salley, Matt F 6-7 220 Jr. Charlotte, N.C. (Monroe (N.Y.) College) (North Mecklenburg H.S.)
54 Singh, Sam F/C 6-9 266 So. Ozark, Mo. (Ozark H.S.)
10 Tauai, J.J. G 6-3 221 Sr. Verona, Mo. (Verona H.S.)
24 Warren, Andrew G 6-5 194 Fr. Indianapolis, Ind. (Brebeuf Jesuit Prep)
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