DePaul vs. Air Force Game Preview's Scott Phillips previews Wednesday night's NIT West Regional final game between the Air Force Academy Falcons and the DePaul Blue Demons in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Key Information

#3 seeded DePaul Blue Demons vs. #1 seeded Air Force Academy Falcons – Wednesday, March 21, 2006 – 8:00 p.m. CDT – Colorado Springs, CO

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Game Preview

With Monday's 70-65 win over Kansas State, the Blue Demons advance to face Air Force on Wednesday. Air Force (25-8) is the number one seed in the West Regional of the NIT, and presents a very tough out when playing at home. In thrashing fourth seed Georgia 83-52 on Monday night, the Falcons set a new school record with their 25th win of the season. The Falcons have only lost one home game all season, which came at the hands of NCAA Tournament bound BYU. Air Force's Clune Arena has been a nightmare for opponents thanks to the change in altitude (7,000 feet above sea level) and the slowdown game of the Falcons. Air Force has won 56 of their last 58 at the arena.

Air Force is known for running the "Princeton" offense, which uses backdoor cuts and patience to get good looks. Also common for Air Force's offense is for two players to run at each other with one player cutting towards the ball, with the other cutting towards the basket. This game plan has confused many of Air Force's opponents as they have only lost one non-conference game all season. DePaul has faced other opponents with this similar style of offense, Northwestern and Georgetown, and not fared particularly well against either. Air Force's offense averages 69.1 points per game, good enough for 169th in the country. They are patient in large part due to senior leadership and good team chemistry as many of their minutes come from fifth year seniors.

Although somewhat conservative on offense, Air Force is not afraid to use a smaller lineup and spread the floor. They do not receive minutes from any player over 6-8, so Air Force must be patient and use their chemistry to find a good look. Air Force also shoots three pointers at a high percentage. The Falcons 40.7% from three point range is good enough for 11th in the country. Even more dangerous is Air Force's ability to hit a three pointer from all five spots in their lineup. Center Nick Welch, who is 6-8, hit 20 three pointers on the season, so the Falcons will shoot a three pointer with most players when given the chance. Air Force also is great from the line as they post a top 10 percentage in the nation at around 76% from the line. Although the offensive patience is similar to Georgetown or Northwestern, the drive and kick style is reminiscent of Villanova, another smaller team that attacks the basket looking to get to the line or shot a three pointer. It is also hard to force turnovers out of Air Force as they only turn the ball over 10.4 times per game. The Blue Demons must be patient on defense and secure defensive rebounds to avoid getting frustrated by playing long stretches of defense.

Air Force's offense is led by a balanced scoring attack that features five players averaging at least 9.3 points per game. The Falcons are led by Dan Nwaelele, a 6-5 senior who is averaging 14.4 points a game. Air Force will also get scoring from Jacob Burtschi, a 6-6 senior (13.6 PPG), and 6-2 senior Matt McCraw (10.7 PPG). While all three of these players average double figures in scoring, they also all shoot at least 40% from three point range, and 77% from the free throw line. If DePaul hopes to win they need to limit the good looks that these three players get and hope for shots from other players. Air Force may run the "Princeton" offense, an offense that is typically suited for teams that lack athleticism, but Nwaelele, and Burtschi are both forwards with athletic ability that is above average. Both players play more like guards and shoot more three pointers than a typical "Princeton" offense would produce.

Air Force is also known for their stingy defense. The Falcons play a great zone defense that communicates well to not let opponents get good looks. Air Force is second in the country in points allowed at 55.9 points per game. The points per game however may be somewhat misleading due to Air Force's slower offensive tempo. Air Force does not have any major shot blockers, or rebounders, so DePaul must try to use their size and athleticism inside to exploit that weakness.

Air Force is a tough opponent on the road. Their losses have mainly come from conference opponents familiar with their style of play. One thing DePaul must do is use their athleticism in abundance. Wilson Chandler, with his 6-8 height and athletic ability will be taller and more athletic than whoever is guarding him. The Blue Demons must find ways to use him as a mismatch on the offensive end.

The Blue Demons will also need a solid game from their inside combination of Lorenzo Thompson, Keith Butler, and Wesley Green. Green, who has been playing more minutes in the NIT, could be a match up problem for Air Force because of his size. Air Force's starting center Nick Welsh is only 6-8 212 pounds, while Green is 6-9 295 lbs. Although Green made some careless downcourt passes against Kansas State, he is an above average passer from the post, and displayed this talent in getting Draelon Burns a critical three pointer with under five minutes left. If Green can provide some offense and force Air Force to collapse, he should be able to kick out to open shooters.

DePaul will need to secure rebounds whenever they can. During the Kansas State game, the Blue Demons gave up too many offensive putbacks when Kansas State would rebound from the weak side. DePaul needs to put a body on all comers and secure defensive rebounds so they limit the time of possession for Air Force on their offensive trips. During the Northwestern game, DePaul had a hard time securing defensive rebounds which led to long possessions by Northwestern. DePaul became increasingly frustrated by this, and it led to miscommunication, and poor play on both ends of the floor. This is why DePaul must box out at all times and limit Air Force. Air Force is not the most athletic team, but they will burn you if they get extra chances to score.

DePaul must also be patient offensively against Air Force's defense. The Blue Demons are more athletic, and should look to speed up the tempo if they can. If DePaul can get as many fast breaks as they did against Kansas State, then it will help them out significantly. One thing DePaul cannot afford to do is be careless with the ball. The Blue Demons sometimes fall into a trap of throwing too many alley-oops and this game could be a prime example of that. Air Force is not as athletic as Big East teams, and does not feature a shot blocker, so DePaul might a little carried away at times with lob passes. If DePaul's point guards can control the ball and make good passes, to players in scoring positions then DePaul will have a good chance to win and advance to New York.

Although the altitude of Clune Arena has been publicized as slowing down players not accustomed to the thin air, DePaul should have the depth to counteract this problem. However, it could be something to watch for as Georgia's players seemed to have a problem keeping up with Air Force in Monday night's game.

Common Opponents: Both teams played Wake Forest and beat the Demon Deacons by a wide margin. DePaul beat Wake Forest at home 78-63, while Air Force beat Wake Forest at home 94-58.

DePaul Associate Head Coach Gary DeCesare on the Falcons

"One of the keys (Monday night) was our zone," DeCesare told WSCR radio. "I think we're going to have to use that a lot against Air Force because they are really tough to guard. They really just spread the floor with that Princeton stuff. It's going to be tough to guard being on the road two games in a row."

Air Force Roster

NO NAME HT/WT POS/EVENT(S) Hometown High School

5 McCraw, Matt 6-2/185 Guard Lakewood, CA Mayfair

10 Henke, Andrew 6-6/215 Guard Minnetonka, MN Hopkins

12 Anderson, Tim 6-3/180 Guard El Paso, TX Franklin

14 Hood, Adam 6-1/181 Guard Mesquite, TX Poteet

21 Burtschi, Jacob 6-6/225 Forward Chickasha, OK Putnam City

22 Merriex, Avery 6-2/175 Guard Denver, CO East

24 Teets, Ryan 6-6/200 Forward Springboro, OH Springboro

31 Holland, Matt 6-6/205 Forward Dallas, TX Pierce

32 Kenzik, Eric 6-8/208 Forward/Center Ormond Beach, FL Father Lopez

34 Nwaelele, Dan 6-5/206 Forward Bothell, WA Inglemoor

42 Johnson, Anwar 6-5/190 Forward St. Gabriel, LA LSU Univ. Lab School

44 Maren, Keith 6-8/240 Forward/Center West Milwaukee, WI West Allis Central

45 Welch, Nick 6-8/212 Center Fort Worth, TX L.D. Bell

50 Parker, Grant 6-7/210 Forward Aurora, CO Cherry Creek

54 Frye, John 6-10/215 Center Fredericksburg, VA Chancellor

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