Villanova is headed for the windy city, as it prepares for a Tuesday night matchup with the DePaul Blue Demons.
The Wildcats have had a rough stretch recently, losing three of their last four games, although those losses were against quality teams like UConn, Marquette and most recently, Xavier. They’ve been competitive in all three, but one fan’s moral victory is another’s “look at all the missed opportunities to win.”
Villanova enters with an 8-8 record and a 2-3 mark in conference play.
DePaul hasn’t had much luck as of late, either. The Blue Demons are 7-9 overall, and they’ve lost five of their last six games. They’re 1-4 so far in Big East play, and like Villanova, their only conference win so far is against Georgetown.
Tip-off is scheduled for Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET.
After key departures from scoring machine Javon Freeman-Liberty and David Jones, who is now at St. John’s, and others, the Blue Demons have replenished their roster with the transfer portal.
Umoja Gibson (Oklahoma), Eral Penn (LIU) and Da’Sean Nelson (JUCO transfer from Kilgore College) have made an immediate impact since joining the team this offseason.
Javan Johnson, who was a midseason addition from Iowa State during the 2021-22 campaign, is enjoying a career year and having the time to get settled into the program has certainly helped him.
Johnson leads the team with 15.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. He shoots 43.4% overall and a team-best 41.7% from deep. He’s a three-point shooter that should be respected and is dangerous when he’s able to get going. He’s drilled four or more three-pointers on five separate occasions, but he’s been cold since the dawn of the new year. Over the last two games, he’s shot just a combined 1-for-14, but in the final game of 2022, a win over Georgetown, he was an efficient 5-of-7 from deep.
Gibson is a valuable two-way guard, and he contributes a scoring punch and a needed facilitator on the floor. Gibson averages 15.5 points, 5.1 assists and 2.3 steals per game. Gibson is another up-and-down player. He feasted against Georgetown, with a 31-point, five-assist and four-steal outing, but then disappeared in an ugly loss to Providence. He recently bounced back though with a solid 16 points, eight assists, two steals and three turnovers against Butler.
At 6-foot-6, Penn is a tough rebounder and leads the DePaul with 7.3 boards per game. He doesn’t need to carry as much of a scoring load at DePaul, compared to his time at LIU, but he does chip in 10.3 points per game on a 47.0% clip.
Lastly, Nelson is 6-foot-8 forward to watch. The Blue Demons also struggle with size, and he is a energy guy off the bench. He averages 9.3 points and 5.3 boards, and played a key role while DePaul’s Yor Anei was recovering from a foot injury. The Blue Demons only have two players taller than 6-foot-7 in their rotation, Nelson and Anei.
Anei missed a chunk of the season due to injury, but has since returned in the last four games. While he hasn’t been lights out by any means, he is coming off of his best showing of the season, a 14-point outing on 6-of-8 shooting. It’s the most points he’s scored since Jan. 11, 2022.
Time to shoot ‘em up, or sleep in the streets
Nothing seems to be guaranteed, but this is a very winnable game for the ‘Cats.
DePaul allows opponents to shoot 36.3% from deep (299th in the country). The ‘Cats haven’t had lights out shooting performances and have only shot higher than 33.3% from three as a team just once over the last five games, but this is a chance to regain that shooting stroke and reestablish confidence from long range.
Whether that’s Cam Whitmore putting together another takeover game, or Brendan Hausen sinking the Blue Demons, or someone else leading the three-point artillery, the ‘Cats should take advantage of the Blue Demons’ weak perimeter defense.
Even if the ‘Cats can’t capitalize from long range, an assertive style of play offensively could draw plenty of fouls and free points. DePaul ranks 290th in according to KenPom in allowed free throw rate, and unfortunately for the Blue Demons, the Wildcats will gladly make opponents pay for letting them get to the line.