SCOUTING THE BLUE DEMONS
With strength in the backcourt, DePaul will force West Virginia's defense to guard well all over the floor.
Draelon Burns (Sr., 6-4, 210 lbs.) can score off the dribble or from long range (17.2 points per game), and also draws fouls and cashes in from the free throw line. An 81% shooter from the charity stripe, Burns, has scored almost one-fourth of his points from that location. He also leads the team in steals, and isn't shy about hoisting shots – he has taken 105 more than any other teammate. Fellow guard Cliff Clinkscales sets the table for his fellow Blue Demons, as he has 103 assists against just 33 turnovers. He is not a scoring threat, averaging just 2.8 points per game.
Swingman Dar Tucker has just four starts on the year, but recent solid play has elevated him to the starting lineup. Tucker (Fr., 6-4, 210 lbs.) is averaging 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per outing, and is certainly one of the building blocks of the future for the Blue Demons. Fellow newcomer Mac Koshwal (Fr., 6-10, 240 lbs.) is another pleasant surprise, and has been DePaul's stalwart inside. He averages 10.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, and is also solid on the defensive end, recording 33 steals and 20 blocks to date.
The fifth starter could be Karron Clarke, Matija Poscic or Wesley Green. Poscic (Jr., 6-10, 235 lbs.) gives the Blue Demons more agility and length, but not much on the offensive end, as he averages just 2.5 points per game. If he gets the start, expect a short appearance. Green (Sr., 6-9, 300 lbs.), delivers more bulk and could be the choice against WVU's undersized front line. He averages 5.0 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, and leads the team in blocks with 21. He is not a prototypical inside scorer, as he shoots just 36.8% from the field and has hoisted 25 threes. Clarke (Sr., 6-6, 210 lbs.) averages 8.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, and provides DePaul with much more range and athleticism. He has started 23 of DePaul's 26 games this year, but came off the bench in their last contest against Seton Hall.
Off the bench, Will Walker (So., 6-0, 180 lbs.) gets nearly 20 minutes per game, and chips in with 9.8 points per outing. He, along with fellow backup Jabari Currie (Jr., 6-4, 215 lbs.), are DePaul's two most efficient three-point shooters, both averaging better than 46% from long range. Currie, like a growing number of players, is better from three-point distance than he is from the foul line. He shoots a frigid 37% on freebies.
West Virginia's first-ever Big East road trip to DePaul shouldn't be a big game – but it is.
|Wed Feb 27
WVU 19-8, 8-6
DeP 10-16, 5-9
|Sirius Channel: 147|
WVU - 35
DeP - 155
West Virginia has to show in this game, and in remaining road tilts at Connecticut and St. John's, that it is capable of being more than a home power. These final three road tests will have a big impact on WVU's final RPI, as well as its "Last 12" record as looked at by the NCAA selection committee, and it can't afford to stumble in the games that it is supposed to win.
On the court, this is the start of a three games in six days stretch for WVU. Another road trip to UConn on Saturday is followed by a quick turnaround for a Big Monday matchup with Pitt. Will that affect WVU's rotation in this game? Might we expect to see fewer minutes for some of WVU's stalwarts with an eye toward the two tough games that follow quickly?
Of course, if the game is in question, head coach Bob Huggins probably won't be able to rest those high minute players very much, which makes the Mountaineers' play in this game even more critical. Nothing would help more than a big early lead followed by a cruise to a win, which would allow a bit of rest for players such as Darris Nichols, Alex Ruoff and Joe Alexander.
The key for West Virginia in this game might be in the first 5-10 minutes of the game. If the Mountaineers can get off to a solid early start, they can avoid having to play from behind, as they have in many of their Big East road contests. Those bad starts have also affected WVU mentally, and may have helped contribute to the poor shooting and sloppy play that were evident in many of those losses. An early boost of confidence could be just what Huggins' squad needs to get the road win it so desperately needs.
WVU: Cam Thoroughman (Ankle) Probable
DeP: None Reported
Wellington Smith has moved into the team lead in blocked shots with 41. He has done so despite playing just under 20 minutes per game.
As a team, WVU has an outside shot of reaching the single-season blocked shots mark. The Mountaineers have 140 rejections to date, which is currently third best in school history. The 1993-94 team, headed by Phil Wilson, turned back 142 shots, while the D'or Fischer-powered 2003-04 team served up 176 Wilsonburgers. WVU would need deep runs into both the Big East and a post-season tournament in order to challenge the top mark.
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DePaul has used ten different starting lineups this year as it tries to find the combination that yields the best results. With a 1-7 record over its last eight games, it won't be a surprise to see combination #11 against West Virginia.
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It's a night for reaching 20-win plateaus. West Virginia is one win away from its fourth consecutive 20-win season. The last time WVU posted four 20-win seasons or more was a seven-year stretch from 1981-87. Also, head coach Bob Huggins is one win away from his 22nd 20-win season in 26 seasons as a head coach. Huggins will move into a 12th place tie with Lou Henson on the NCAA all-time list for most Division I 20-win seasons (20).
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DePaul has three players serving as tri-captains during the 2007-08 season, which is not unusual. The oddity is that one of them is a freshman. Mac Koshwal joins seniors Draelon Burns and Cliff Clinkscales as the representatives of the Blue Demon players Koshwal is the first freshman in the history of DePaul basketball to serve as a team captain.
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West Virginia assistant coach Larry Harrison was an assistant at DePaul under Pat Kennedy from 1997-2000.
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Huggins, a master of the RPI, says that West Virginia only needs three wins in its final four regular season games to make the NCAA tournament. The feeling here is that WVU might have to win at least one game, if not two, in the Big East tournament in order to solidify its spot.