DePaul Preview

UCLA takes on once-proud DePaul in the Wooden Classic Saturday, and despite the fact that the Blue Demons have some young talent, and they play in the Big East, they still qualify for Cupcake status...

If you thought that possibly you were going to take a short reprieve from the Cupcake Walk of Fame because DePaul was in the Big East and was 4-2 so far this season, you got a little dose of reality yesterday.

The Blue Demons lost at home to Morgan State Wednesday, 79-75. Morgan State was previously 3-6.

And those four DePaul wins came against a row of heavy-hitters in Albany, Illinois-Chicago, Detroit, and Indiana State, who are a combined 13-18 against mostly mid-major competition.

Probably the best measuring stick of DePaul's level is their loss to the Pac-10's Cal, in Berkeley, 77-67. As UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland said in his press conference, DePaul was in it until the last few minutes. But Howland also takes the official coach position, saying that Cal is good.

Cal isn't good. They're a bottom-half of the Pac-10 level team that lost to Missouri by 27 points.

No matter how long you look at opponents of DePaul, it's difficult to convince yourself that UCLA is in for any kind of challenge in the Wooden Classic Saturday.

The once-proud program that was coached by Ray Meyer for 42 years has fallen on a couple of decades of hard times.

Since moving to the Big East from Conference USA the last three years, it's missed the Big East tournament in two of those three years.

Fourth-year coach Jerry Wainwright is trying to restore the Blue Demons' glory, as every post-Meyer coach has. Wainwright has actually recruited pretty well in the last couple of years, but that has loaded him with a very young roster. Twelve of his scholarship players are freshmen or sophomores.

The most talented is sophomore guard/forward Dar Tucker (6-5, 225), who is stepping up in his sophomore season as expected after a strong freshman outing, averaging 20.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. He's probably the toughest wing UCLA has faced this season, with range out to 25 feet and a strong, athletic body that he uses to drive around smaller defenders. He is, though, just a sophomore and still learning how to play, and with a team around him that struggles to score, Tucker seems to put up at least one shot with every DePaul possession. He's averaging 8 three-point attempts her game. His game against Morgan State was typical of him – 5 for 17 shooting, 3 of 10 from three, 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 turnovers (he's averaging over 3 per game).

Howland said that Jrue Holiday would initially get the assignment of guarding him, and that should be the most compelling element of this game.

The other sophomore that will be a tough match-up is center Mac Koshwal (6-10, 255), who also had a very good freshman season and has continued his good play so far this season, averaging a double-double, 12.8 points and 10.8 rebounds. Koshwal is a good inside scorer who, this year, is trying to expand his game out a few more feet. But you wouldn't want to take such a good rebounder away from the basket. He's a big body, but not necessarily a big banger.

The guy they're using to bang people is senior Matija Poscic (6-10, 245), who added muscle in the off-season to try to stay alive playing inside in the rugged Big East. Both big men start, giving Koshwal a little more opportunity to play as a power forward, despite not shooting the ball beyond 15 feet. Poscic is a solid positional rebounder, averaging 6 per game in just 24 minutes. He'll score inside when he has a lay-up.

The other known quantity is junior guard Will Walker (6-0, 190), who is the team's point guard by default. He's only played the position sparingly before this season, and he's a work in progress there. He is a solid player, though, who proved he could play in the Big East last year as a sophomore, being a good defender. He manufactures points, averaging 10.3 a game as a relatively poor outside shooter.

The other guard spot has been a bit of an experiment. Senior Jabari Currie (6-4, 235), since he's a good outside shooter, took over the shooting guard position, starting most of DePaul's games at the spot. After last season, Currie was the team's best three-point shooter, hitting 47% of his threes a year ago, so Wainwright started him this year, but so far Currie has struggled, hitting just 31% of his threes. He hasn't hit a three-pointer in the last three games, going 0-6 in that span. Wainwright is playing freshman point guard Jeremiah Kelly (6-1, 175) more, mostly off the bench, and Kelly has been fairly good; like any freshman point guard he's had his decision-making and turnover issues, but he has helped to bring more ball-handling and creating to DePaul's offense.

After those six, DePaul plays mostly two other guys off the bench – freshman post Devin Hill (6-9, 210), and freshman point guard Michael Bizoukas (6-1, 175). Hill spells Poscic most of the time, and Wainwright mixes and matches Bizoukas in his backcourt.

Tucker and Walker rarely come out of the game, though. In competitive games, they'll play upward of 35 minutes.

Two freshman post players, Krys Faber (6-10, 245) and Kene Obi (7-2, 275), are getting limited minutes in relief off the bench. You might remember Faber since UCLA recruited the Ribet Academy product last spring.

Being a young team, DePaul has struggled to score, averaging just 65 points per game, and that was against mostly mid-major teams. Northwestern limited the Blue Demons to 36 points. They're a poor shooting team, shooting just 37% from the field, and 28% from three. And they turn the ball over quite a bit, with more turnovers than assists on the season.

Defensively, they'll utilize both a man-to-man and a zone, but neither is very effective. DePaul doesn't have great team athleticism, particularly in terms of quickness, especially when they go "big" with Koshwal and Poscic. They should have a very difficult time matching up with UCLA's quickness. Walker will be assigned Darren Collison, so that will leave Currie or a freshman on Holiday, which UCLA should be able to exploit.

It would benefit UCLA to get the Blue Demons running, since they aren't deep and UCLA's swifter, quicker big men could exploit the slower DePaul bigs.

When UCLA's on defense, if Holiday can more or less shut down Tucker you've taken away their offense. Expect Howland to switch a few guys onto Tucker to try to wear him down. With how poorly DePaul shoots, you can probably expect UCLA to double Koshwal in the post and take away any DePaul inside game, forcing them to shoot from the outside.

Watch for whether UCLA improves in its defensive rebounding. If DePaul is taking a lot of shots from the outside there should be some long rebounds.

We've said it before, but this seems like a game in which J'mison Morgan should get some time, since DePaul has some bigger, slower posts that he seemingly would match up well against.

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