A mini-losing streak is going to end for someone on Saturday night. DePaul heads to Providence after letting their Big East opener slip away against Seton Hall, while PC will look to snap a three game losing streak. The Seton Hall loss was the second straight loss for Oliver Purnell’s club, one that is led by a pair of effective juniors in Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young. Melvin has been one of the most productive players in the Big East throughout his career, averaging over 17 points and 7 rebounds as a sophomore last year and 16 and 7 this season.
The duo provides the Blue Demons hope that they can crawl their way out of the Big East’s basement, but they’ll have to improve what has been a porous defense in recent years.
What to watch for in this one:
1. Melvin may be the headliner, but Young is the one who has taken a step forward this year. The Baltimore native has already eclipsed the 1,000 point mark for his career and is averaging over 16 points per game, thanks in part to seeing his shooting mark rise from .423 a year ago to .460 in 2012-13. More slasher than shooter in year’s past, he’s upped his three point field goal percentage to over 35% this season, but the strength of his game remains his ability to get into the lane and score with good body control. Young was key in DePaul’s second half spurt against Seton Hall, finding his way to the basket with relative ease.
Melvin has looked to expanded his offense beyond the 17 feet and in game he’s played in year’s past and the results have been mixed. He scored 51 points in back to back wins over Fairfield (30) and Auburn (21), but has struggled during this two game skid, having put up only 13 points combined. A crafty scorer inside, opposing coaches wouldn’t mind seeing him take his game away from the rim.
Providence was effective in limiting Melvin in Chicago last year, holding him to 10 points on 5-15 shooting.
2. An ugly in-state loss of their own. Prior to the loss to Seton Hall DePaul fell to Loyola of Chicago – their first time losing to them since 1989. Much like PC after the first semester, DePaul was an encouraging 9-3 before falling to Loyola and will be desperate to avoid a third straight loss on Saturday.
For a pair of programs that have struggled the past couple of seasons, avoiding a prolonged early January losing streak is critical. Providence faces #7 Syracuse next week and then takes to the road for a pair of games against a sneaky good Seton Hall group and Georgetown.
DePaul has a short turn-around before a road game at Connecticut before welcoming #11 Cincinnati.
3. Another similar struggle comes in defending the three point line. Ed Cooley’s group has seen their last three opponents combine for 27 three point field goals, while DePaul was torched by both Seton Hall and Loyola from deep, allowing each to shoot over 40%. This may be advantage Providence, as DePaul isn’t a great deep shooting bunch, whereas the Friars’ Bryce Cotton has made more three pointers per game than anyone in the Big East.
DePaul was perhaps the worst defensive team in the Big East last season and currently find themselves 15th in defensive field goal percentage. They are scoring over 74 points per game, however, which is six more than the Friars.
4. It’s early, but this game will feature five of the Big East’s top 11 scorers. Perhaps a testament to the lack of depth at each school, Bryce Cotton stands at second in the Big East in scoring after D’Angelo Harrison’s 36 point outburst at Villanova, while LaDontae Henton (8th), Melvin (9th), Kadeem Batts (10th) and Young (11th) are all in the top 11.
5. How quickly can Providence build continuity? For the first time all season, Cooley had his full roster Wednesday night at Louisville. It didn’t exactly lead to a restful night for his core, as Cotton and Henton played the full 40 minutes, while Batts was on the floor for 38, but for the first time in quite a while the Friars were able to play their freshman in spot duty. Kris Dunn and Josh Fortune both saw under 20 minutes.
Still, questions abound for this group: How long until Vincent Council is back to full speed? Will Cotton’s knee hold up? Has Sidiki Johnson fallen out of favor? Can Dunn establish himself after going quiet following an outstanding debut?
6. This could set up for a big game for PC’s big men. Following a solid 17 point, seven rebound night at Louisville, Batts could be in line for a big night on Saturday if the Friars establish him early. DePaul struggled in trying to contain Seton Hall wide-body Eugene Teague (11 points, 15 rebounds) and saw 6’9 sophomore Brandon Mobley go for 16 and 10 as well.
Henton torched DePaul on the interior last year, playing one of his finest games of the season in scoring 24 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. Eight of those boards came on the offensive end.
7. Getting off on the right foot in Big East play. The Friars lost their first four conference games a year ago after starting 0-6 in the Big East the year prior.
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