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February 2, 2013

Preview: Notre Dame @ DePaul

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Head coach: Oliver Purnell (3rd year at DePaul) - 423-333 in 25th year overall: 44-42 in three years at Radford; 57-33 in three years at Old Dominion; 155-116 in nine years at Dayton; 138-90 in seven years at Clemson; 29-52 in third year at DePaul. Purnell has never taken a team beyond the first round of the NCAA tournament.

You should know: DePaul has not made an NCAA tournament appearance since 2004 and has not finished above .500 since 2006-07 when they went 20-14. Since then, they are 57-119, including 12-85 in Big East play. The Blue Demons have finished last in the conference each of the past four seasons. They were 0-18 in 2008-09, and 1-17 in 2009-10 and 2010-11…From Nov. 27 through Dec. 22, the Blue Demons won seven in a row, including victories at Auburn (80-76) and at Arizona State (78-61). But they got off to a 2-3 start with losses to Gardner-Webb (71-59), Wichita State (75-62) and Western Kentucky (70-61). Since the seven-game winning streak, DePaul has lost seven of eight, including six of seven in conference play. Its only victory since before Christmas was an 83-73 win at Providence. They've lost to Seton Hall at home by a point, at Connecticut by 21, and at home to Cincinnati by five. In two games vs. St. John's, DePaul lost in New York in overtime by five and at home by nine. The worst beating came at the hands of the Panthers in Pittsburgh by 38…This will be the 103rd meeting between the Irish and the Blue Demons with Notre Dame holding a 58-44 advantage. Notre Dame is just 6-12 against DePaul in Allstate Arena. But 11 of those losses came in the first 12 games. Since then, the Irish are 5-1 against the Blue Demons in Allstate.

Top losses: Jeremiah Kelly (8.6 ppg., 2.6 rpg., 3.9 apg.).

Top players: Cleveland Melvin, a 6-foot-8, 208-pound junior, leads the Blue Demons in scoring for the third straight season. He currently is averaging 16.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, including a team-leading 56 offensive boards while ranking No. 2 on the squad in blocked shots with 18.

Melvin scored 32 points and grabbed eight rebounds against Cincinnati in mid-January. He also had 23 points and nine rebounds on Jan. 5 at Providence. Other top performances came against Austin Peay (26 points, eight rebounds), Western Kentucky (22 points, 13 rebounds), Fairfield (30 points), and Maryland-Baltimore County (24 points, eight rebounds).

Stride-for-stride with Melvin in the scoring column is 6-foot-4, 200-pound junior Brandon Young, who has upped his scoring average from 14.5 in 2011-12 to 16.7 this season. He also rebounds at a 3.7 clip while averaging 4.4 assists per game. Young is the Blue Demons' No. 2 three-point shooter with 20 in 64 attempts. He scored 35 points at Connecticut on Jan. 8 and 21 Wednesday night at St. John's. Young also is prone to poor shooting nights: 3-of-16 at Pittsburgh, 2-of-11 vs. St. John's, and 2-of-13 vs. Maryland-Baltimore County.

Jamee Crockett, a 6-foot-4, 213-pound sophomore, averages 9.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had one of his better games of the season in DePaul's only Big East victory at Providence when he scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds. He also had 16 points and seven rebounds in a one-point loss to Seton Hall, and 19 points in the first of two games against St. John's.

Moses Morgan, a 6-foot-6, 223-pound junior, scores at a 7.3 clip. He leads the Blue Demons in three-pointers with 27 on 85 attempts, including 8-of-17 in the last three games. Morgan scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds Wednesday night at St. John's. He scored 15 points in back-to-back games against Austin Peay and Wichita State in mid-November.

Worrel Clahar is a 5-foot-11, 186-pound senior averaging 6.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Clahar scored 14 points against Arizona State, and had eight rebounds and 10 assists versus Milwaukee. He also had 11 points and nine rebounds at Chicago State.

Donnavan Kirk, a 6-foot-9, 223-pound junior, paces the Blue Demons in blocked shots with 35, five of which came Wednesday night at St. John's. He averages 5.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in less than 24 minutes per game. He scored 14 points against Milwaukee and had 10 points and nine rebounds against Fairfield.

Six-foot-three, 183-pound sophomore Charles McKinney averages 5.2 points per game. He scored 11 points against Fairfield, and 10 versus Seton Hall and Cincinnati. Also contributing are 6-foot-1, 171-pound Durrell McDonald (4.1 ppg.) and 6-foot-10, 247-pound sophomore Derrell Robertson, Jr. (2.6 ppg., 3.1 rpg.). Robertson is second on the team in offensive rebounds with 29 despite playing just 14.8 minutes per game.

Prister's take: DePaul's basketball program continues to spin its wheels as it tries to get out of a rut that just seems to keep getting deeper and deeper. The Blue Demons have lost 85 of their last 97 Big East games.

DePaul is last in the conference in scoring defense (71.4 ppg.), allowing nearly five points more per game than No. 14 Rutgers. They're also last in field goal percentage defense and three-point shooting with an abysmal .283 mark. (Notre Dame is No. 1 in the Big East at .399.)

That being said, the Irish are in no position to take any opponent for granted, especially one that has some athletes that can hit the offensive boards and score at a decent clip itself. The disparity from the three-point line is so significant, however, that if the two teams shoot anywhere close to their season numbers, the Blue Demons shouldn't out-score the Irish. But take a look at the point-spread (five) and you'll see that there isn't that much separating these two teams that are once again moving in opposite directions.

The good news for the Irish is that they seem to be on an upward trend since the insertion of Tom Knight into the starting lineup for Martin. Knight and Jack Cooley will be facing one of the league's top front-court men in Cleveland Melvin while fellow junior guard Brandon Young combines with Melvin to average better than 33 points per game.

A key for the Irish will be to not allow the other seven contributors to have a big game. Last year, Jeremiah Kelly - averaging 8.6 points per game - scored 17 against the Irish in a game that was tied at half and required a 50-point second half for Notre Dame to claim an 84-76 victory.

The Blue Demons have a bit more depth than the Irish, and in true Oliver Purnell form, look for them to pressure the Irish in the backcourt, particularly when Notre Dame is employing their double-big man lineup, which likely will be often now that they've had success with it.

Can Cam Biedscheid stay hot from the three-point line after hitting 5-of-7 at home against Villanova? Can Zach Auguste make a solid contribution for the second straight game? Can Knight stay on his 13.5-point, 5.5-rebound pace of the last two games? Can Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins win the battle of the backcourts? All keys for the Irish against the Blue Demons.

This one won't be easy. The DePaul student body doesn't pay much attention to its losing basketball program anymore. But they'll come out for Notre Dame and be cranked up, as they were two years ago when Notre Dame came to town. The Blue Demons have played decent basketball at home with narrow home losses to Cincinnati (by five) and Seton Hall (by one).

This one turns into a battle, but the Irish hold on for another much-needed victory before traveling to New York to take on Syracuse Monday night.
Pointspread: Notre Dame by 5
Prister's Prediction: Notre Dame 79, DePaul 76
Prister's record: 16-5 straight up; 7-11 vs. points


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