DePaul vs. Pittsburgh Game Preview's Chas Demster & Scott Phillips preview Wednesday's Big East duel between the 7th ranked Pittsburgh Panthers and the DePaul Blue Demons in Rosemont, IL. Plus, we have bonus coverage as we talk to Blue Demons Coach Jerry Wainwright and Sammy Mejia about the game...

Key Information

DePaul Blue Demons vs. #7 Pittsburgh Panthers – Wednesday, January 10, 2007 – 6:00 p.m. CST – Allstate Arena, Rosemont, Illinois

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Game Preview - DePaul Looks to Win Conference Home Opener – By Chas Demster

Previous game:

DePaul is coming off a very nice 73-65 road win on Saturday at Villanova. Sammy Mejia came out of the gate to make a first half statement. The way he acted looked like a senior wanting to step up and get his teammates to forget about their previous disappointing game against St. Johns. He also had the look of someone that might have been in the shooting zone during the warmup session because he took and made some quick selfish shots early on. In the second half, Sammy let others take the offensive load since Villanova was keying on stopping him. Wilson Chandler stepped up and gave the offensive some inside balance plus Draelon Burns hit a couple of key three pointers when the Blue Demons really needed it the most.

Around the ten minute mark Cliff Clinkscales made has first appearance of the game. When Cliff went in DePaul was looking a little rattled and tired plus the Villanova crowd was giving the Wildcats a boost. Unfortunately for Villanova, Clinkscales came into the game looking inspired and under control and gave DePaul a real lift that put them over the top and finished off the Wildcats. Mejia led DePaul with 23 points followed by Chandler's 18 with Burns adding 13. Sometimes it isn't just about points that gives teams big wins and this is why I would call Clinkscales the MVP of this game. DePaul is now 10-6 and 1-1 in Big East play.

Pittsburgh enters Allstate Arena after an easy home win against South Florida 69-48. The South Florida Bulls made sure Aaron Gray would not beat them and held him to seven points. Gray only played 20 minutes because of foul trouble. Other players stepped up for Gray again as the Pitt Panthers had a lot of players score but with their 69 points only had one player, Levance Fields, score in double digits with 11 points. Very balanced scoring and tough defense has been Pitt's formula for the last couple of weeks while opponents have held Gray to single digit scoring games for the fourth game in a row. Pittsburgh now has a record of 14-2 and 2-0 in the Big East.

Scouting the Panthers:

Pittsburgh, coached by Jamie Dixon, is a true top 10 team. They literally have it all to make a good college basketball unit. Pittsburgh does play a lot of players with an eight or nine man rotation. Their leader is the big guy Aaron Gray. Any time a team has a very talented big man they will key on getting him involved early. They will be making sure that he gets a touch almost every possession at the start of the game. Unfortunately for DePaul, Pitt has many more options to go to if Aaron Gray is having an off day. The two other key scorers that Pitt depends on are Mike Cook and Antonio Graves (If Cook's name sounds familiar it's because he last faced DePaul at East Carolina in Conference USA before transferring to Pitt). Both of these players shoot the ball well plus are good three point shooters.

Pitt has pretty balanced scoring which most would expect from a top 10 team. Pittsburgh does not take a lot of three pointers but when they take them they must have good open looks based on their percentage. Their main three point threat comes off the bench in Ronald Ramon to give them a spark sometimes. Gray is their main rebounder averaging in double figures. One good thing for DePaul is that no one else rebounds well but they still outrebound their opponents by seven a game. This could mean that they rebound as a team or they look to Gray to get the rebounds.

Pittsburgh's biggest weakness is their free throw shooting. Most of that is attributed to Aaron Gray who is just above 60% on the season. Levance Fields is their main playmaker. He almost averages three to one in assist to turnover ratio, plus he is their top steals man. Pitt has gotten a big reputation as being a very good and very tough defensive team. They know that as long as they guard the three that Gray will have their backs if someone gets by in penetration. Gray doesn't get a ton of blocks but his presence is enough to really bother their opponents which shows by giving up less than 40% on field goal shooting. The Panther's opponents only make around 30% of their three point attempts.

My gameplan or keys to an upset:

I feel our best chance to beat Pittsburgh is to run the fast break at any chance we get. Opponents just need to play a little more uptempo against teams like this. We need Aaron Gray to play frustrated. The best way to do that is at the beginning of the game we need to totally deny him the ball. The best way to do that is to use two players at the same time guarding him in the front and in the back. When playing a defense like that, DePaul will need to be quick enough to get to the weak side if Pittsburgh throws skip passes to get three point attempts.

You need to suffocate someone like Gray when you don't have players his size to defend him one on one. If Gray gets it inside he needs to be fouled by the correct players (members of our three headed centers) to make him earn his points at the free throw line. In my mind Gray has a reputation to take possessions off to catch his breath or because he is frustrated. The next best way to do that is to go at him on our own offense at around the 10 minute mark of the first half or when he returns after he gets his first breather. We do not need to challenge him at the very beginning of the game. We need to do our own thing to establish our offensive flow first and then go at the frustrated Gray later.

Game plans are one thing but sometimes things go wrong and adjustments need to be made. If Gray is scoring early then we will need keep their other players from making the three. On our side of the court, we need to crash our offensive boards and get great guard play to beat Pitt. Pitt is a team you do that against because they mainly like the slower tempo (when Gray is in the game) and won't look to fast break too often. DePaul needs to bring their tough guy image with them to the court because Pitt is known to bully teams like the old Cincinnati Bearcats under Bob Huggins did. If we catch some breaks and shoot well, I feel DePaul has a real good chance to win this one. Some games DePaul will come out of the gate lacking excitement from the players. There should be no worries of that tonight. This excitement will come from it being a matchup against a top ten team and it being the first home conference game. I expect there will be a good vocal crowd to help the Demons to a win.

Q&A with Sammy Mejia

Q: How important is the Pitt game?

A: "It's a huge game. We've always been the underdog, always been the team with our backs against the wall and we strive in those moments. That's what we look forward to. We just want to be put in a position to make a difference each big game that we have. To us it's just a regular game but to the fans, and the Big East, and the media it means a lot more. This is what we're here for; for these moments to try and prove to the world that we belong and we're ready to compete. Every team in this league is good so it doesn't matter what your ranking is. If you don't come out and play in the Big East you could lose. Hopefully we'll be able to show up (Wednesday) and get a win."

Q&A with Jerry Wainwright

Q: Seems like Gray has been taken out of his game lately, but the guards have kind of stepped up.

A: "Well you know they're number (seven) in the country because if something is taken away, they step up. Good teams are able to go to other areas of their lineup to score when their so called ‘main guy' gets taken away. I think Gray's presence really makes their players better. What we're lacking right now is when you look at their center you have to deal with him in one way or another. Whichever way you deal with him, its pick your poison. I don't think it's so much what he's not been doing as what he's allowed other people on his team to do. He's created so many openings just by his presence. Maybe he's not showing up in the stat box, but they're winning. He still rebounds, he's still a factor on defense and you better know where he's at because that kid can really score. I will also say this. Their guard core is vastly underrated. Those are confident, very opportunistic kids who are better shooters than you think and they're really good basketball players. It's a tough mix; they've got a really good team. I mean they have a valid ranking. "

Q: Which guys are underrated? Fields?

A: "I mean he's really come on. I've really been impressed; he's very efficient. I've always liked Ronald Ramon. He's a really good shooter; he's got a great attitude. Graves I think has matured and he's making open shots. Benjamin is a kid who's only a sophomore, he's waited his turn and he's made some big shots. So they're kind of interchangeable with their spots. They can really stress you. The thing that stands out to me about Pitt is that they don't beat themselves. They don't make mistakes. When you make one, they take advantage of it. They don't run an out of control fast break, but they're very efficient in advantage situations. I think without question you look at the top teams in our league right now. You have Pitt, West Virginia, Georgetown. Those teams are really good at the half court offense. They have great half court offense, they really execute. They are big screeners. They are very unselfish. The two most unselfish plays in basketball are the extra pass, and setting a good screen, and they do both of them on a regular basis. You're not surprised when they do it."

Pittsburgh Roster


0 Austin Wallace 6-9/220 Center FR Bronx, N.Y./LaSalle Academy

1 Keith Benjamin 6-2/190 Guard JR Mount Vernon, N.Y./Mount Vernon H.S.

2 Levance Fields 5-10/190 Guard SO Brooklyn, N.Y./Xaverian H.S.

4 Ronald Ramon 6-1/180 Guard JR Bronx, N.Y./All Hallows H.S.

5 Tyrell Biggs 6-8/245 Forward SO Nanuet, N.Y./Don Bosco Prep (N.J.)

11 Gilbert Brown 6-6/190 Guard/Forward FR Harrisburg, Pa./South Kent Prep (Conn.)

14 Levon Kendall 6-10/225 Forward RS SR Vancouver, British Columbia/Kitsilano H.S.

21 Doyle Hudson 6-8/230 Forward/Center SR Eleuthera, Bahamas/Roane State J.C. (Tenn.)

22 Antonio Graves 6-3/190 Guard SR Mansfield, Ohio/Mansfield Senior H.S.

23 Sam Young 6-6/215 Forward SO Clinton, Md./Hargrave Military Academy

31 Mike Cook 6-4/220 Guard/Forward JR Philadelphia, Pa./East Carolina

33 Aaron Gray 7-0/270 Center SR Emmaus, Pa./Emmaus H.S.

35 Geoff Rizk 6-0/185 Guard FR Franklin Lakes, N.J./The Hun School of Princeton

40 Maurice Polen 6-5/245 Forward JR Philadelphia, Pa./West Philadelphia H.S.

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