DePaul Basketball: 5 Keys to Victory Against Rutgers
The DePaul Blue Demons will be fighting to keep their season alive as they take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday in the opening round of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
The No. 14-seeded Blue Demons (11-20) went 2-16 in Big East regular season play, finishing dead last in the conference, and will meet the No. 11-seeded Scarlet Knights (14-15, 5-13), who they beat 75-69 at home on Feb. 16 for one of their two conference wins.
While the Blue Demons have certainly struggled this year, they have lost a number of close games in conference play, including two overtime losses to Notre Dame in February.
The betting line favors the Scarlet Knights, but DePaul coach Oliver Purnell will have his team prepared to get a second victory of the season over the Scarlet Knights.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for the Blue Demons in this game, with a victory setting up a second round date with the No. 6-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Establish Third and Fourth Scoring Options
Juniors Brandon Young (16.8 PPG) and Cleveland Melvin (16.3 PPG) lead the Demons' attack, but the key to this game will be their teammates and if they step up and contribute.
In the team's last meeting, four Blue Demons reached double figures, highlighted by Worrel Clahar's team-high 19 points and seven assists on 7-of-8 shooting. Donnavan Kirk also pitched in 11 points and seven rebounds in the win.
DePaul has struggled all season long to find scoring to complement Young and Melvin. Sophomore guard Jamee Crockett is the team's third-leading scorer at 8.9 PPG, but he has been maddeningly inconsistent and has struggled with his shot.
Young and Melvin will surely get their points, but the likes of Clahar, Kirk, Crockett, Moses Morgan and Charles McKinney must shoulder some of the scoring burden.
Contain Myles Mack
After a season-ending injury to leading scorer Eli Carter, Myles Mack will be forced to step up in a big way for the Scarlet Knights. The sophomore averages 13.3 PPG, while no other healthy Scarlet Knight player scores more than 6.9 PPG.
Mack almost single-handedly beat the Blue Demons in the first game, as he shot 11-of-19 from the field and scored a season-high 28 points. The trio of Dane Miller (6.9 PPG), Wally Judge (6.8 PPG) and Jerome Seagears (6.2 PPG) will be called upon to pick up the scoring slack.
The Blue Demons must not let Mack torch them and force the other Rutgers players to beat them. The 5-foot-9 guard is lethal from three-point range, leading the Big East at 45.1 percent.
DePaul must be sure to account for Mack on every possession and make life difficult on the sharp shooter. He may still attempt around 20 shots, but the Blue Demons must make those shots contested at all times.
Win the Battle on the Glass
The Blue Demons will never be mistaken for a great rebounding team (34.7 RPG, 174th in the nation), but they must hold their own on the glass if they want to emerge victorious.
In the February victory over Rutgers, DePaul out rebounded its counterpart 35-29, with six Blue Demons players recording four or more rebounds. They must keep the trio of Judge, Jack, and Miller off the glass and limit the Scarlet Knights to one shot per possession.
Melvin and Kirk will likely be the two DePaul players being counted on for rebounds, but that doesn't mean the other players can afford to relax and let their man sneak in for an easy rebound and bucket.
Push the Tempo
The Blue Demons score 71.8 PPG, compared to just 65.2 PPG for the Scarlet Knights. The higher the score of this game, the more likely DePaul can emerge victorious.
DePaul is at its best when pushing the tempo after a rebound rather than just settling into a stagnant half-court offense where it often struggles to find an open shot.
This season, the Blue Demons have not won a game in which they've scored less than 69 points. Rutgers will likely try to make it a grind-it-out game, so DePaul must thwart that tactic by getting out in transition. With Young and Clahar leading the break, the Demons will be successful if they can beat the Scarlet Knights down the court consistently.
Use the Press with Caution
Head coach Oliver Purnell loves to put on the full-court press. From the opening tip, he turns up the heat on opponents.
However, this strategy has not worked particularly well for the Blue Demons in Purnell's three seasons. While the Blue Demons have forced an impressive 15.6 turnovers per game in the 2012-13 season, they often give up fast-break opportunities and easy baskets from the press.
Additionally, a heavy usage of the press can wear down your own team and give way to some woeful shooting. Purnell shouldn't abandon the press entirely, but he must be selective in using it in situations where it makes sense to use it. Pressing just for the sake of pressing will only hinder his team's chances of winning.
Purnell has made adjustments and backed off his ultra-aggressive approach this year. He must make sure he uses the press wisely in this game if the Blue Demons want to advance and face Notre Dame in the second round.