Preview - Syracuse at DePaul

If the NCAA tournament pairings were announced today, Syracuse University would likely garner a bid. The Orange have rebounded somewhat from a brutal midseason stretch, posting a 4-3 record over their last seven games and improving their RPI ranking to #28 (and SOS to #8). Unfortunately for Orange fans, the pairings don't come out for another 10 days and Syracuse must take care of some unfinished business before they be assured of a bid.

The first bit of business is taking down a DePaul team (11-14/4-10) in Chicago on Thursday evening. Despite entering the game in 15th place in the Big East, the Blue Demons should not be taken lightly, as they have slowly improved over the course of the season and have won two of their last three games. Another thing to consider is that DePaul is fighting for an invitation to the Big East Tournament, so you can expect their best effort.


Tonight's game falls into the "must-win" category for SU, because the Orange resume is devoid of the dreaded "bad loss", and must stay that way to warrant an NCAA tourney invitation. According to Ken Pomery's RPI site, Syracuse has only one loss to a team outside of the RPI top 50 (Seton Hall at 57). DePaul's RPI stands at 92, so losing to this team would be extremely damaging. Also, the Orange enter the game in the middle of the Big East pack in 8th place, and must avoid falling into the second division.


DePaul season to date: Jerry Wainwright's Blue Demons have actually faired well in non-league games, beating respectable opponents such as Creighton, UAB, Cal, Dayton, and Wake Forest. They entered January with a promising 7-4 overall record, only to completely fall apart at the beginning of conference play. A six game losing streak through most of January saw them fall to 1-7 in the Big East, but they have split their last 6 games with wins over South Florida, St. John's and Seton Hall.


DePaul personnel: The cornerstone player for the Blue Demons is 6-6 wing Sammy Mejia. Syracuse was mildly interested in Mejia when he was in high school, but most recruiting gurus and coaches deemed him a step below Big East caliber, so he landed in Conference USA at DePaul. Funny how things sometimes come full circle, as Big East expansion eventually allowed Mejia to play half of his career in a league that originally spurned him.


Mejia puts up solid all-around numbers at 14.6 ppg, 4.1 rbg, and 2.4 apg. He shoots the ball pretty well from the field because he employs good shot selection and patience. Mejia is an unselfish player and excellent passer who can man the point for short periods of time if need be. He is at his best, however, when he is slashing on the baseline or driving into the paint. Look for him to try to do most of his damage off the dribble.


The other primary scorers for DePaul are a trio of mid-sized underclassmen: 6-4 SO Draeion Burns, 6-7 FR Wilson Chandler, and 6-6 SO Karron Clarke. All average between 9 and 12 points a contest, but also underscore one of the major problems with this DePaul team: most of its offense comes from the perimeter. This isn't a particularly good thing when your team shoots 29.9% from three-point range. In fairness, the 6-7 Chandler leads the team with 7.3 boards a game and does score a lot from the interior.


Marlon Brumfield and Wesley Greene are both loads at 6-9 (260 and 290 lbs, respectively), but they combine for a whopping 8 points a contest, showing how little the Demons get from their post up game. The only other players of significant note are starting PG Cliff Clinkscales and FR sub Jabari Currie. Clinkscales runs the offense to the tune of 2.6 apg, but provides next to nothing in terms of scoring, while Currie has the upside potential to eventually play a leading roll for DePaul.


Outlook: All the indicators in this game point to SU. The match-ups look good and the conditions are right for that all-important 8th league win. Let's take a look at the key points to the game:


1)      The Orange(men) understand how important this game is for their post season chances. They performed well in previous must-win type of games against WVU and Louisville before the letdown against Georgetown. Expect the team to come out with the same business-like attitude it employed against WVU and Louisville.

2)      Conference USA transplants South Florida, Louisville, and Cincinnati were unable to beat SU in their first look at the Orange, so it's reasonable to think that DePaul may also struggle. The ‘Cuse provides a tough matchup for teams that have not seen their zone before and that are not familiar with guarding McNamara. GMac had his two best Big East games at Cincy (29 pts) and against Pitino's Louisville squad (30 pts).

3)      Syracuse's interior players have started to play better against teams that don't possess imposing interior players (see: St. John's, Louisville, WVU). If any team in this league is weak in the middle, it's DePaul.

4)      DePaul's perimeter defense isn't that good – they've given up 174 threes on the season and allowed 36% shooting from beyond the arc in Big East games. This could bode well for GMac, Devo, and Nichols.


Prediction: Syracuse plays a methodical, focused game and handles DePaul relatively easily, though the score will be closer than it should. As long as Devendorf can avoid Chandler's shot blocking presence, he should be able to get into the lane and cause havoc. Either Roberts or Watkins puts up a double-figure scoring night and Gerry drops somewhere between 16-24 points en route to victory. SU 71 DePaul 65






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