Preview: DePaul

A closer look at tonight's matchup between No.8 Notre Dame and long-time rival, the DePaul Blue Demons

One of four teams slotted in second place at 6-3 in Big East play, Notre Dame returns to the court tonight to take on league winless DePaul. The Irish have been in Chicago since late Tuesday in an effort to get ahead of Wednesday's storm that flattened the city.

With a nine-day break since their win over Pittsburgh, Notre Dame should be champing at the bit to take the court, regardless of the opponent.

"One of the things we've concentrated on is that we've not won two in a row on the road," Brey said.

The Irish defeated Georgetown and Marquette in back-to-back road games last season but hadn't previously turned the trick since the final road contests of 2008.

No. 8 Notre Dame at DePaul

Notre Dame (17-4/6-3) – The Irish are nine days removed from their last contest, a 56-51 upset of then No. 2 Pittsburgh at the Petersen Events Center. The Panthers had won 20 consecutive home games and 51 of their previous 52 matchups in the Steel City. Notre Dame has since ascended to No. 8 in the Coach's Poll (No. 9 A.P.) with three consecutive wins including a rematch victory over Marquette in South Bend.

The Irish have lost to Kentucky (in Louisville) and three true road games in conference play: Syracuse, Marquette, and St. John's.

DePaul (6-14/0-8) – The Blue Demons have lost eight straight, all in league play, following a 6-6 mark in non-conference action.

Tip-off: 9:00 PM (EST) ESPN

Previous Meeting: The Irish handled DePaul at the Joyce Center last season, 87-77. Notre Dame has won five straight (dating to February 2007) including two consecutive in the Windy City.

Series history: Notre Dame leads 56-44 but trails the series in games played at DePaul (the Rosemont Horizon or Allstate Arena), 19-30. The Irish hold a 6-2 edge over the Blue Demons in Big East action. The rivalry dates back to 1912 with the vast majority of contests taking place when the two programs were powerful Independents.

Quality Wins: Notre Dame (Georgia, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Georgetown, Connecticut, St. John's, Cincinnati, Marquette, at Pittsburgh); DePaul: (None; the Blue Demons lost 67-65 to West Virginia in their most impressive league outing.)

Quote to Note: "Electric, powerful, amazing. That's who he is. He's a flat-out assassin. He talks about winning all the time and backs it up." – head coach Mike Brey on 5th-year senior guard Ben Hansbrough.

Point Spread: Notre Dame -12

Notre Dame Starters and Key Contributors

  • Forward: 6'8" 235-pound senior Tim Abromaitis: Just 20 of 68 from beyond the arc in 13 career conference road games…Has attempted just five free throws in four conference road games this season after earning 51 over the nine-game road slate last year…Did not attempt a shot in 29 minutes in the upset at Pittsburgh…Still ranks second on the squad in scoring (14.6) though has not connected on more than four field goals since a January 4 win over Connecticut…Grabbed 27 boards over the first four league games but has totaled just 19 in five since.

  • Forward: 6'8" 232-pound senior Tyrone Nash: Up-and-down statistically in league play though the senior leader's aggressiveness on both ends serves as a barometer for the team's success: Irish are 6-0 in league play when Nash attempts at last five free throws; 0-3 (plus a loss to Kentucky) when he does not...Presence on both the low-block and perimeter has proven invaluable to the improved Irish defense, especially when coupled with athletic classmate and weak side defender Carleton Scott.

  • Guard/Forward: 6'8" 219-pound senior Scott Martin: Has hit for double figures in eight of nine Big East outings though a 31 for 86 shooting effort likely needs improvement if the Irish are to maintain a Top 10 ranking through the regular season…Just 20 of 33 from the charity stripe in league play though 8 of 10 foul line effort keyed comeback win over Marquette…Knocked down 3 of 6 three-point shots in upset at Marquette to break out of 6 for 24 slump from long range…Ability to play guard at 6'8" has been a boon to the team's occasional 2-3 zone defense as is his presence on the defensive glass.

  • Guard: 6'3" 203-pound senior Ben Hansbrough: Key to the team's three-game winning streak with 60 points, 18 assists and just 7 turnovers while playing 117 of a possible 120 total minutes in that span…Has notched double figures in nine of 10 conference games with three games in excess of 20 points including a career-best 28 in a January 22 revenge match over Marquette...Netted 47 of 50 free throw attempts through nine conference games…Ranks as a first-team All Big East performer at the conclusion of the league's first half.

  • Forward: 6'8" 218-pound senior Carleton Scott: Return to lineup buoyed three-game winning streak after missing the bulk of five contests with a hamstring injury…Has 27 points and 19 boards in two starts since return including a 6-10 shooting effort from beyond the arc…Second on the squad at 40 percent from long range and has sunk 35 of 39 free throw attempts this season…Nearly half of his shot attempts in league play have occurred behind the three-point arc, a ratio that must change as the Irish enter the schedule's second half…Has 26 boards in only three full conference games this season; also grabbed 28 in three-game tourney sweep at the Old Spice Classic.

Key Reserves:

  • Guard: 6'2" 173-pound freshman Eric Atkins: Role reduced in the second half since the return of Scott but the freshman's calming presence in the opening stanza has been key to last five conference victories…Ability to run the offense allows Hansbrough to play a more natural two-guard role at times…Has committed just 12 turnovers in first nine career conference games…Knocked down 8 of last 9 field goal attempts during three-game winning streak.

  • Center/Forward: 6'9" 248-pound sophomore Jack Cooley: – Presence on boards is lacking (just six caroms in last 40 minutes) since early January win over St. John's…Solid post defender and generally solid with the basketball upon the catch…Provided 10 key minutes in upset over Pittsburgh after being a non-factor in previous four contests.

Learning on the Fly

First-year head coach Oliver Purnell took over a program that had lost 37 of its last 39 conference contests and immediately installed an up-tempo, pressing style of play.

"Oliver's done a great job of putting in his system and they are going to play their way: speed you up, make it a quicker game," Brey noted.

"For us, we want to attack pressure and look to score Be good against it. But if you don't' have a really good one, you have to control tempo in the half-court. That's the test for us. We've been good at that and understand how to do that.

"You also have to understand you're going to turn the ball over a little more than you would in a normal game. For our guys that means get back on defense. It's going to be chaotic at times, just get back on defense."

The Irish rank eighth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio and committed just eight miscues in last Monday's upset at Pittsburgh. Notre Dame had previously suffered an aggregate 55 turnovers in four losses outside of South Bend.

Cleveland Rocks: The struggling Blue Demons are led by athletic freshman forward Cleveland Melvin. The Baltimore product has erupted for 20-plus points in five of eight Big East games while ripping down nearly 7 boards per league contests.

"I'm very impressed," Brey said of Melvin. "Watching tape with the staff I said: (former UConn and current Memphis Grizzlies small forward) ‘Rudy Gay.' (Melvin's) a great young talent in our league. A guy getting those kind of numbers, I don't care what year he is, and you have to be aware that he gets them going."

Second to Melvin in scoring at 11.7 points per game and the team leader in minutes played (over 31) is fellow frosh Brandon Young, a player whom Brey recruited when scouting current Irish freshman Jerian Grant.

The young tandem would have to play a major role in an upset by the winless Blue Demons.

"Anything can happen in our league," Brey said of the contest. "Rutgers did not have a league win (last year at this time), got their first against us, and turned around and get the second in Georgetown. (Tonight) would be a great road win if we could get it – two road wins in a row."

You've heard of "must-win" games? This is simply one the Irish – nor any team with league title aspirations – can afford to lose.

Complacency shouldn't be an issue after nine days away from the court. Rust could be; look for the Irish to experience intermittent moments of the latter vs. a frenzied, fired-up rival, but ultimately pull away from a vastly inferior, inexperience foe midway through the second half.

Prediction: Notre Dame 87 DePaul 78

Season Predictions (vs. major conference opponents): 10-5; 9-5-1 against the spread.


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