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February 13, 2013

Preview: DePaul @ Notre Dame

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Head coach: Oliver Purnell (3rd year at DePaul) - 423-35 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; 29-54 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 57-121, including 12-87 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 nine of 10, including eight of nine in conference play. Its only victory since before Christmas was an 83-73 win at Providence on Jan. 5. Since its 79-71 overtime loss to Notre Dame a week-and-a-half ago, the Blue Demons lost by 23 at home to Villanova and by 11 at Marquette…This will be the 104th meeting between the Irish and the Blue Demons with Notre Dame holding a 59-44 advantage. Notre Dame has won eight in a row over DePaul, including five in a row at Purcell Pavilion.

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

Top players: Cleveland Melvin, a 6-foot-8, 208-pound junior, is vying to become the Blue Demons' leading scorer for the third straight season. He currently is averaging 16.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, including a team-leading 62 offensive boards while ranking No. 2 on the squad in blocked shots with 20.

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 16.6 this season, which is just a tick ahead of Melvin's pace. He also rebounds at a 3.4 clip while averaging 4.5 assists per game. Young is the Blue Demons' No. 2 three-point shooter with 23 in 74 attempts. He scored 35 points at Connecticut on Jan. 8 and 21 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 9.6 points and 4.4 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 6.7 clip. He leads the Blue Demons in three-pointers with 27 on 89 attempts, including 8-of-17 during the three-game stretch prior to the first meeting with the Irish. Morgan scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds 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 6.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.0 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.

Clahar scored nine points against Notre Dame on Feb. 2, 12 versus Villanova on Feb. 5, and 16 against Marquette on Feb. 9. He is 6-of-10 from three-point range the last two games.

Donnavan Kirk, a 6-foot-9, 223-pound junior, paces the Blue Demons in blocked shots with 43, five of which came at St. John's. He averages 6.4 points and 3.7 rebounds in less than 25 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 5.5 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 (3.7 ppg.) and 6-foot-10, 247-pound sophomore Derrell Robertson, Jr. (2.3 ppg., 2.9 rpg.). Robertson is second on the team in offensive rebounds with 32 despite playing just 14.2 minutes per game.

Brey on DePaul: "They got us to play a little fast for about four minutes in the second half (on Feb. 2), and a 12-point lead evaporated. We took some quick shots when we maybe should have slowed down a little bit and played tempo. We took what were open shots, but I don't think they were good shots because they were rushed. We've got to understand when to just shut it down and make them guard us in the half-court because when we made them guard us in the half-court, we got really good stuff and we got stuff in the post.

"If they can get in transition and get running, they're really dangerous. It's almost the M.O. of every team in the league. If we can get them to play against our set defense, we're usually in pretty good shape. They'll have guys leaking out, so we have to be really smart with our defensive balance.

"We really need to do a better job controlling tempo for 40 minutes, not just 33 minutes. They play better on the road, so they'll be really loose coming in here. They'll have nothing to lose. All I know is we were lucky to beat them last time."

Prister's take: There's a bit more of a comfort zone facing the nothing-to-lose Blue Demons at Purcell Pavilion as opposed to Allstate Arena, where the Irish needed overtime to defeat them 11 days ago. And yet DePaul's only Big East victory this season came at Providence, and the Blue Demons played well in a five-point overtime loss at St. John's and an 11-point loss at Marquette Saturday.

Notre Dame and DePaul were tied at halftime in Purcell Pavilion last season before the Irish won by eight. Notre Dame scored 50 points in the second half to the Blue Demons' 42. These guys can light it up at times, which is a challenge for the Irish who likely will be without their No. 4 scorer (9.1) and No. 3 rebounder (4.7) in Pat Connaughton, who suffered a foot injury against Louisville that kept him out of practice in the days leading up to the DePaul game. If Connaughton plays against DePaul, he'll be less than 100 percent.

This is a classic trap game for the Irish, who travel to Providence for a game Saturday, followed by a quick turnaround trip to Pittsburgh Monday. After a classic five-overtime battle with Louisville Saturday, the Irish could be caught in an emotional rollercoaster against their rivals from Chicago, who play some of their better basketball against the Irish.

That being said, Notre Dame had Jerian Grant, Cam Biedscheid, Garrick Sherman and Zach Auguste step forward against the Cardinals. That's the greatest/deepest contribution the Irish have gotten this season, which was necessary in a 65-minute game.

It will be interesting to see what Mike Brey decides to do defensively after Saturday's marathon. Notre Dame's 2-3 zone sparked the Irish after a shaky start against the Blue Demons 11 days ago. But Brey shied away from it in the second half, and DePaul made a run. Since then, DePaul has been on fire from beyond the arc, converting 9-of-21 at home against Villanova and 9-of-20 at Marquette.

Losers of eight in a row, DePaul does not look like it's just playing out the string. Notre Dame's length, especially with four big men poised to contribute, should give the Blue Demons trouble. But if DePaul continues its hot shooting, this has the makings of a close, high-scoring game.

The sense here is that DePaul has enough to remain within shouting distance of Notre Dame. The Irish have a bit of a hangover from Saturday, particularly with a two-game road trip ahead.

Pointspread: Notre Dame by 11
Prister's Prediction: Notre Dame 77, DePaul 70
Prister's record: 19-5 straight up; 9-12 vs. points


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