The #1 ranked Villanova Wildcats (12-0) will kick off their conference schedule with a trip to the Windy City for a holiday season showdown against the DePaul Blue Demons (7-5) at the shiny, new Wintrust Center. Here are three things to watch for in this Big East season opener:
Leading the Blue Demons offense is freshman wing Max Strus, averaging just over 17 points per game. Strus has been even more impressive as of late, averaging 23.0 points per game in his last four appearances, including 33 against Northwestern. Strus is a prolific outside shooter, but DePaul will mostly look to attack the rim against Villanova, taking a bulk of its shots inside (66th in the nation) as opposed to 276th at the three-point line. Also consistently contributing for DePaul this season has been Croatian graduate transfer Marin Maric, who hasn’t missed a beat during his transition from Northern Illinois and the MAC to the Big East. Maric primarily operates within the arc to tally his 12 points per game, but is not a prolific defender by any means, only tallying two blocks for the Blue Demons thus far. Look for Omari Spellman to continue his stellar play against Maric and to neutralize the European big.
Dr. Phil (Booth)
Redshirt junior Phil Booth has been one of the most important players for the Wildcats this season, providing a steady hand and a secondary ballhandler in the starting lineup. Booth has also picked up where he left off shooting his freshman year (the last time he was fully healthy), hitting a dazzling 44 percent of his threes on nearly five attempts a game. While Villanova should have more than enough firepower to handle DePaul without his presence, Booth’s resurgence after struggling the last two years with illness and injury is a welcome sight and could be massively important for the team come the tournament in March.
You Come at the Kings, You Best Not Miss
Since the founding of the “New Big East” and its debut in the 2013-14 season, Villanova has won the regular season title every year, and only has nine losses in conference play. This trend looks to continue this year, with Villanova as the number one team in the country and only Xavier and Seton Hall posing serious threats to deposing the Wildcats at this point. DePaul has not beaten Villanova in their last 14 matchups, last winning in 2008. The Blue Demons seem to also run into Villanova at the wrong time, as the Wildcats have always been ranked within the AP Top 10 in each meeting with DePaul since 2013. This game should be a continuation of these past trends, and Jay Wright and his team set off in their Big East schedule on a mission to make it five conference championships in a row to hang in the new Pavilion.
Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday night, and the game will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network.