Foster, Ogilvy, and the 9-0 Commodores are officially above the radar, as they continue to impress with each passing victory. After an ugly three-point win over Wake Forest, the rout of Lipscomb was a kind of catharsis for the ‘Dores, a fitting cap to a 4-0 homestand. On Wednesday, they take to the road for their second true road game of the year, as they take on the Big East's DePaul Blue Demons in Chicago.
Led by third-year coach Jerry Wainwright, the Blue Demons (2-3) are in the midst of a rebuilding year after losing their two best players from a team that went to the NIT Final Four. Senior Sammy Mejia and sophomore Wilson Chandler both defected to the NBA, leaving a void on both ends of the court. Those losses were somewhat offset by the addition of top 30 freshmen Mac Koshwal and Dar Tucker, but the Demons have struggled through their first five games. An 18-point rout at the hands of Kansas followed a 2-1 homestand marred by a loss to North Carolina A&T of the MEAC.
Senior guard Draelon Burns is DePaul's best individual talent and leading scorer. Consecutive 32-point efforts against North Carolina A&T and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi vaulted the 6-4 Burns into the top ten in Big East scoring. He's shooting a career best 46 percent from beyond the three-point line, knocking down all three-point attempts against Corpus Christi. However, his scoring numbers don't tell the whole truth about Burns' season. Take away the game against Corpus Christi, and he's shooting just 30 percent from the floor and 25 percent from beyond the arc. Burns remains a dangerous offensive player despite some struggles; without Mejia or Chandler, the senior is the only natural scorer the Blue Demons have, and he'll take 20 shots a game if his team needs it. Not merely a scorer, Burns ranks second on the team with 3.0 assists per game – he's crucial to the DePaul offense.
Dar Tucker, the most heralded of the Blue Demon freshmen, gives DePaul a big, scoring wing to complement Burns. His 12.4 points per game are good for second on the team, yet he still has plenty of room for improvement. Tucker is shooting just 37 percent from the field and 25 percent on three-pointers. As he begins to take better shots and find his stroke from the perimeter, the freshman's numbers will get even better. Like Burns, Tucker's game isn't limited to scoring. After logging his first career double-double at Kansas, his rebounding average stands at 6.4 per game, second only to fellow freshman Mac Koshwal. At 6-5, Tucker has enough size to guard either wing spot. He is a good defender, but the freshman will have his hands full trying to reign in Shan Foster.
DePaul's third scorer is senior forward Karron Clarke. The 6-6 Clarke has the size to work his way to the basket, but he can be more dangerous from the perimeter, where his smooth jumper will stretch opposing defenses. His effectiveness around the basket, in the mid-range, and on the perimeter combined with the experience of a fifth-year senior make him DePaul's most efficient scorer. Averaging 10.6 points per game, his 54 percent shooting from the floor and average of 1.51 points per shot lead all Demons with more than 10 shot attempts. Perhaps the team's best athlete, Clarke averages 5.6 rebounds and almost a steal and block per game.
The man in the middle for the Blue Demons is Mac Koshwal, the 6-10 freshman. A big man with ball skills, Koshwal is strong enough to make plays in the post and agile enough to beat bigger defenders off the dribble or create his own shot. He's been an erratic scorer to this point, scoring 17 points against Corpus Christi a game after scoring just a single point against North Carolina A&T. The freshman has converted half of his field goal attempts, though. If he's getting good looks, he can be a legitimate threat for the Demons, especially on the offensive glass. Koshwal leads the team in offensive boards (15) as well as total rebounds (8.4 rpg).
DePaul uses a rotation of three point guards to run its offense, led by junior Jabari Currie. At 6-4, Currie can give the Demons a mismatch at the point guard spot. He leads the team in assists with 3.9 per game, and he provides a decent perimeter threat to complement Burns, Tucker, and Clarke. Currie isn't a dynamic scorer (6.8 ppg), but he could be a problem for Vanderbilt when matched up against the smaller Alex Gordon.
Sophomore Will Walker and senior Cliff Clinkscales also see significant minutes at the point guard spot. Walker is more of an offensive-minded guard, averaging 7.8 points in just 16.8 minutes per game. His 1.4 assists per game rank him third in the trio of point guards. Meanwhile, Clinkscales has attempted just nine shots this season – six of which have been three-pointers – and is third on the team with 2.2 helpers per game.
Rounding out Depaul's regular rotation is 6-9 center Wesley Green. The 300-pound senior averages 5.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, but he sat out against Kansas and will see limited action, if any, against Vanderbilt. In Green's absence, 6-10 Croation Matija Poscic will back up Koshwal in the post.
DePaul plays at a slower pace than Vanderbilt, preferring to get into their half-court offense to isolate their skilled wings and forwards rather than pushing the tempo. The Blue Demons have the size on the perimeter to post their wings up against most teams. However, the Commodores also have wings and guards with above-average size. Shan Foster, Jermaine Beal, Andre Walker, and George Drake all have the size to defend Burns, Clarke, and Tucker. With Ogilvy and Metcalfe holding down the post behind the Commodore wings, Vanderbilt should be able to keep Burns and company from hurting them near the basket.
Wednesday's game is the last road stop for the ‘Dores until SEC play starts and their toughest test until a January 5th contest against UMass. If they win in Chicago, the Commodores will have a good chance to surpass the 12-0 start they posted during the 2003-2004 season. To grab their 10th win and move one step closer to the best start in school history, here are the keys for the Commodores:
- If It Ain't Broke… : The ‘Dores can beat DePaul by sticking to the inside-outside offense that's done wonders for them all season. Kansas trounced the Blue Demons with a balanced attack; four Jayhawks scored in double figures, two in the frontcourt and two in the backcourt. The Demons can't afford to sag off the Commodores' perimeter shooters to help on Ogilvy, but they also don't have the post presence to defend Vanderbilt's big men. As long as the ‘Dores continue to feed the post, Ogilvy avoids foul trouble, and the outside shooters have at least an average game, they should take this one handily.
- Away From Home: Vanderbilt won its only true road game of the season at Toledo, but it wasn't a pretty victory by any means. Sloppy offense and lazy defense allowed the Rockets to climb back into a game they trailed 18-0. DePaul has better and more athletic scorers than Toledo, so the ‘Dores cannot afford such lapses in Chicago. In particular, Vanderbilt needs seniors Alex Gordon and Ross Neltner to bounce back from uncharacteristically sloppy play in recent home games.
Prediction: The Commodores are on a bona fide roll, with Foster and Ogilvy looking like All-American candidates. However, on the road against a team full of athletic, scoring wings, Vanderbilt can't overlook the Blue Demons. DePaul has struggled so far, but when a team relies so much on younger players, they could click at any time. The ‘Dores need to keep up the same intensity and focus in a road environment as they show at home; if they can come close to matching their home performances, they should take care of an inferior DePaul team. Final score: Vanderbilt 84, DePaul 75.