GAME NOTES: The sixth-ranked Villanova Wildcats take their act on the road for three straight games, beginning with tonight's Big East Conference clash against the DePaul Blue Demons.
Villanova has won five straight and 10 of its last 11 to improve to 21-2 overall, which includes a 9-1 league ledger. The Wildcats, who posted a 70-53 win over Seton Hall at home last Friday, have a one-game lead in the Big East standings over Creighton (19-4, 9-2 Big East), and those two teams will meet in Omaha this Saturday in a rematch of a game the Bluejays won easily in Philadelphia on Jan. 20, 90-68. Villanova is 7-1 in true road games this season, and 10-1 away from home all told when you factor in its championship run in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas from Nov. 28-30.
DePaul hasn't had nearly the success its counterpart this evening has, and the team is seeking an end to a six-game losing streak. At 10-14 overall and 2-9 in conference, the Blue Demons have certainly experienced their share of struggles. The situation got even worse on Monday, when it was announced that leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker Cleveland Melvin is no longer with the team. The squad has only won twice in 2014, and brings a 7-6 home record into tonight's contest. DePaul has lost 47 consecutive games to ranked opponents.
Villanova owns a 17-8 lead in the all-time series with DePaul, and the Wildcats have won the last seven meetings, including an 88-62 shellacking of the Blue Demons at home just last month. In that game, James Bell scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds to pace five VU players in double figures.
Villanova has excelled at both ends of the court this season, putting up 80.4 ppg while allowing just 66.9 ppg. The team is shooting 46.4 percent from the field, knocking down 35 percent of its 3-point attempts, while permitting the opposition just 40.1 percent success overall while also logging favorable margins in both rebounding (+4.7) and turnovers (+2.5). The Wildcats boast three double-digit scorers (James Bell, JayVaughn Pinkston, Darrun Hilliard), two others who are close to joining the ranks, and still a couple more who tally nearly 6.0 ppg or better.
Bell and Pinkston had the hot hands in last Friday's win over Seton Hall, going a combined 16-of-22 from the field in accounting for 39 points, 12 rebounds and four steals. Hilliard and Daniel Ochefu scored 10 points apiece, with the latter competing the double-double by grabbing 10 boards. As a collective unit, Villanova shot 50.9 percent from the field, but was just 5- of-21 from beyond the arc. The 'Cats easily won the rebounding battle, 34-25, and scored 16 points off 15 Pirate turnovers.
Melvin, who was averaging 16.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, is ranked among DePaul's all-time leaders in scoring, scoring average, rebounding, field goals, blocked shots and free throws. He played in 110 career games and was the 2011 Big East Rookie of the Year. His absence is huge for a team that puts up 71.3 ppg and a owns a narrow +1.7 margin on the glass. Brandon Young (14.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.0 apg) and Billy Garrett (11.7 ppg, 3.4 apg) are the only two active players netting double figures.
Young scored 16 points and Forrest Robinson came off the bench to add 11, but the Blue Demons shot just 39.7 percent from the floor in what wound up as a double-digit loss at Creighton last Friday. DePaul nailed eight 3-pointers in the game, and has hit at least one trey in an eye-popping 635 straight games. Creighton's Doug McDermott, as he does against most teams, torched the Blue Demons for 32 points, and his near-perfect 13-of-14 effort at the free-throw line helped the Bluejays log a 19-8 advantage in points from the stripe.
The loss of Melvin is huge, but the hope is others will step up for the Blue Demons and help them finish strong. That said, there is little chance the team has at ending the long losing streak against ranked opponents this evening.
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