Villanova, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Having recently won back-to-back conference games for the first time since 2008, the DePaul Blue Demons have their work cut out for them if they want to make it three in a row, as they pay a visit to the sixth-ranked Villanova Wildcats for a Big East Conference tussle on Saturday afternoon.
As mentioned, DePaul has won two straight over Big East foes, posting a 99-94 double-overtime victory at Butler on Jan. 9, followed by a 77-75 home triumph over St. John's this past Tuesday. The Blue Demons had lost three in row prior to their modest win streak, and they are 10-8 overall, 2-3 in conference, and an even 3-3 in true road tilts.
Villanova has been one of the real surprises through the first two months and change of the 2013-14 season, logging a 15-1 record, which includes victories in each of its first four Big East bouts. The Wildcats, who are 8-0 at home, have only a loss to former conference rival Syracuse on their resume', and they are coming off a 74-67 victory at St. John's last Saturday.
Villanova has doubled-up DePaul in the all-time series, 16-8, and the Wildcats have won each of the last six meetings.
With a record hovering just above .500, it's not all that surprising to see the Blue Demons averaging nearly the number of points as they allow (72.8 to 72.3 ppg), and while the team boasts three double-digit scorers, and one close to joining the ranks, it needs to limit the mistakes as nearly 15 turnovers per game and a rather pedestrian .436 field goal percentage doesn't spark a whole lot of confidence among the fan base. Cleveland Melvin is one of the top performers in the Big East, as he is averaging 16.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, and he is downright lethal from 3-point range (31-of-63, .492), while also logging a team-high 28 blocks. Brandon Young (14.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.2 apg), Billy Garrett (11.6 ppg, 3.5 apg) and Tommy Hamilton (9.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg) have each contributed to DePaul's bottom line this season.
Garrett scored 21 points, Young had 19, Melvin 16 and Hamilton 13 for the Blue Demons in their recent win over St. John's. The team shot just 40.3 percent from the field compared to 47.5 percent for the Red Storm, but a 21-12 edge in points from the foul line coupled with a 38-32 rebounding advantage, which led to a 18-8 differential in second-chance points, helped propel the home team to the narrow victory.
Villanova has performed exceptionally well in nearly all phases of the game this season, as the team owns favorable margins in scoring (+15.3), rebounding (+5.3) and turnovers (+2.9), while playing solid defense (65.6 ppg, .387 FG percentage, 15.7 tpg) and putting forth a balanced offensive attack that features three double-digit scorers, and three more within two points of joining them. JayVaughn Pinkston (16.1 ppg) paces the unit from his spot in the frontcourt, while guards Darrun Hilliard and James Bell net 13.9 and 13.8 ppg, respectively. The former leads the team in assists (49), while the latter does the same on the glass (6.1 rpg).
Despite a feeble shooting effort, Villanova took care of St. John's in its last outing, as five players scored in double figures, led by Pinkston's double-double effort consisting of 15 points and 10 rebounds. Bell and Hilliard went a combined 2-of-19 from the field, but the former came up with 10 boards while the latter converted 7-of-8 at the free-throw line to tally 10 points. Overall, the 'Cats made good on only 35.2 percent of their total shots, but held the Red Storm to just 34.3 percent. A 31-19 edge in points at the charity stripe certainly helped the cause, as did a 48-39 rebounding margin.