’Nova prepares for critical Big East matchup at DePaul

Nick Fattori

There have been over 20 members of the Big East during its storied history, but there is no other team Villanova would rather play than DePaul. 

The Wildcats have not dropped a game against the Blue Demons since 2008. The two conference foes will face off for the second time this season on Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill.

Their streak currently sits at nine games and over the course of the last five matchups ‘Nova has outscored DePaul by an average of 21.4 points per game. However, DePaul’s team is not the same as it has been in the past.

Head Coach Oliver Purnell has finally put together a team capable of competing in the rough and tough Big East. 

After some early season struggles, including a six-game losing streak to end the nonconference slate, Purnell has his team on the right track.

As of Monday, the Blue Demons’ five conference wins are already two more than Purnell has ever won in conference as coach of DePaul. Even though they struggled when they played at the Pavilion earlier this month, they have gone 5-3 in conference so far, including wins over Xavier, St. John’s and Seton Hall.

DePaul, like Villanova, has relied on a team effort for most of the season. They too do not have a true go-to scorer. 

They are extremely balanced, with four players averaging at least ten points a game, while also playing nine guys at least ten  minutes a night.

Some players to watch will be junior forward Myke Henry and sophomore center Tommy Hamilton. 

A big part of the success for the Blue Demons has been the emergence of Henry. During his first two seasons at the University of Illinois, the former top 50 recruit was used sparingly, so he decided to transfer to DePaul. 

This season he has averaged a team high 13.3 points per game and is second with nearly six rebounds a game.

If the Blue Demons hope to pull the upset, Henry will need to drastically improve from the previous game against the Wildcats. He was held to three points and did not record a field goal in the 81-64 loss. 

The other key player to watch is sophomore center Hamilton. Hamilton is their stalwart in the middle and will be responsible for keeping Villanova junior center Daniel Ochefu in check.     

At the same time, Hamilton is able to score all over the court. He averages nearly 11 points per game, but also shoots 43 percent from three, which is outstanding for a player of his size. Head Coach Jay Wright will have to decide between having Ochefu guard him out on the perimeter, or sacrifice size for someone a little quicker, like senior forward JayVaughn Pinkston. 

Villanova will look to continue their momentum after a blowout win over Creighton last Sunday at the Pavilion. Senior guard Darrun Hilliard will also attempt to keep rolling offensively after breaking out of a shooting slump last game. 

Before his previous three games ahead of Creighton Hilliard only managed to shoot seven of 25 from the floor. However, against the Blue Jays he was nine of 15 from the field, while hitting six of ten threes.

Playing a road game in the Big East is always tough. DePaul has played very well at home during conference play and should keep it close for a while, but at the end of the day the Wildcats should pull out a hard-fought victory in the Windy City.