UPDATING THE BLUE DEMONS
DePaul hasn't won since December, dropping every game it has played in the Big East and obviously every one it has played since the first series meeting on Jan. 4, a 67-65 WVU win. The Blue Demons are showing signs of improvement, however, playing both Louisville and Cincinnati close in its last two games and beginning to run better offense and shoot a bit better.
West Virginia's issue in the last game was taking poor shots offensively and not forcing DePaul away from the hoop defensively. The Mountaineers allowed 28 points in the paint and 22 off turnovers in a 67-65 win on the road, and failed to contain Cleveland Melvin (6-8, 210 lbs.). The freshman, who leads the team with 14 points per game, scored 17 against the Mountaineers on seven of 12 shooting and managed to get inside for several buckets. The newcomer has had an exceptional initial college season, shooting 53% (he has taken just one three all year), 71% from the line, and averaging a team-best five rebounds per game. He has twice as many turnovers as assists, and doesn't handle the ball that well. But he is a rugged defensive player with 23 steals and 36 blocks. WVU needs to force him away from the bucket and get a body between him and the rim when rebounding. Easy putbacks or uncontested drives inside are exactly what Melvin and head coach Oliver Purnell are hoping for.
The only other starter listed as a frontcourt player is center Krys Faber (6-10, 260 lbs.). The junior has a solid all-around game and is averaging eight points and 5.7 rebounds per game. As per most players his size, Faber's game is all interior, and he hits close to 50 percent from the field. He isn't great at the line, though, and initial shots aren't great.
This isn't a player with a ton of scoring ability like Deniz Kilicli. Instead, Faber prefers to get putbacks, and his defensive rebounding numbers are far better than any other DePaul player. Play physically, though, and Faber will wilt at times. For his size, he doesn't block shots or alter inside chances as well as one would expect.
Purnell's three-guard set is led by freshman Brandon Young (6-3, 175 lbs.). Along with Melvin, it appears Young is primed to help Purnell begin to rebuild the Blue Demin program. He scores more than 12 points per game and has taken by far the most shots on the team (98 of 227, 43.2%). Young mixes his scoring with good passing and floor vision. His weakness is his outside shot and being able to finish at the foul line. This is an improving and up-and-coming player in the league, but one that will have to make more jumpshots and be able to connect from the line.
Point guard Jeremiah Kelly (6-0, 164 lbs.), five points and two boards, is a pure distributor. The junior makes about 29% from three and 34% overall and isn't much of a threat to pressure the rim or get to the line (13 of 15 on FTs this season). He instead likes to set others up via drives, and his quickness is about as good as any other player in the Big East. Kelly is an excellent on-ball defender, and he usually holds opposing guards far below their season average. He will force turnovers – Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant were pickpocketed a couple times in the first meeting.
Senior guard Jimmy Drew (6-5, 220 lbs.) nets six points and three rebounds and is actually the best three-point shooter on the team at 34 percent. More than half his shots have come from beyond the arc, and Drew benefits from having a pair of pass-first guard alongside him. He does need an open look, though, and can be pressured enough that his percentage falls drastically. He won't drive much and doesn't get to the line, so WVU can play him close as needed. A decent defender, Drew has 21 steals this season and the length to contest opposing shots.
|Sat. Feb. 12
4 p.m. EST
WVU 15-8, 6-5
DePaul 6-17, 0-11
Big East Network
WVU - 17
DePaul - 234
DePaul uses four primary reserves, the biggest of which is forward Tony Freeland (6-6, 225 lbs.). The sophomore, largely undersized like the rest of the team, averages 10 points and 4.6 rebounds in about 23 minutes. He has started five times this season and possesses a series of solid finishing moves inside. He won't shoot the three, and is making less than 60% at the line. But Freeland can rebound on the offensive end.
The Demons also have a pair of swingmen in Mike Stovall (6-4, 210 lbs.) and Moses Morgan (6-6, 215 lbs.). Stovall, a sophomore, has started 14 times this season. He has struggled from outside (six of 33 on threes) and his 6.8 points per game have been amassed via far too many shots. He can hit from the line, though, and will try to draw contact. Morgan, a freshman, plays 12 minutes to Stovall's 16 and hits for three points and 1.5 rebounds. He, too, is a poor shooter and typically plays in stretches to spell the starters, a sort of minutes stealer.
The lone backcourt backup is Michael Bizoukas (6-2, 180 lbs.). The junior guard plays 15 minutes and is a solid distributor and has taken just 28 shots all year, nine from three (with eight free throws). He is better on the defensive end than offensive, but his experience and ability to get into the lane and draw for kickouts is decent.
This is the most winnable game remaining on West Virginia's schedule. The Demons have yet to win in Big East play and haven't been successful on the road since joining the league. West Virginia allowed DePaul is stay in the first meeting this season via turnovers and trying too many threes in key portions of the game. The Mountaineers seem to have matured over the last six games, but still play complacently at times and are forcing shots in the lane and not feeding interior players as much as the coaching staff would like.
If the Mountaineers can limit DePaul's shooting – which has been better of late – they should be able to rebound and create enough offense to win. The transition game will be key as well. WVU isn't likely to get many points off the break, but it can't give up a ton, either. This is simply not a great team, and one that, if West Virginia expects to make a closing push for NCAA seeding, it should beat.
WVU: F Kevin Noreen (Knee), Out for Season.
Of West Virginia's seven remaining regular season foes, DePaul is one of just two teams which is not ranked. The Blue Demons have yet to win a Big East game.
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WVU's defense has held foes below 40 percent shooting in five of the last seven games and 13 times this season. Opponents are shooting 38 percent overall and 26 percent from three.
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The Mountaineers' strength of schedule and RPI rankings remain high. In the College RPI.com ratings, West Virginia rates fourth in schedule strength and 17th in the Rating Percentage Index (one which considers opponents strength, schedule strength, records and more). In the RealTimeRPI ratings, WVU is also fourth in strength of schedule and 17th in the RPI. Both numbers are considered exceptional for NCAA seeding.
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WVU guard Joe Mazzulla is second among NCAA active players in games played with 135. Ohio State's David Lighty is first with 144.
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West Virginia has won all five Big East meetings between the programs. Huggins is 30-8 all-time versus DePaul, including 4-0 at WVU. DePaul head coach Oliver Purnell is 1-3 all-time against the Mountaineers, including two losses in title games (1997 San Juan Shootout & 2007 NIT title game).
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Huggins is 6-1 against Purnell. DePaul is 0-6 on the road and 0-9 away from Allstate Arena this year. Purnell is 400-296 in his 23rd season as collegiate head coach.