Usually a home game against DePaul can be chalked up as a likely win, but not this season. The Blue Demons (10-9, 4-2) have been clicking against Big East opponents and are trying to improve to 5-2 in conference play for the first time since 2004-05 when they competed in Conference USA and started 8-2.
DePaul began their season 6-1 including a win over Stanford, but fell back down to earth after six straight losses against schools like George Washington, Illinois State, Oregon State, and Colorado. Since losing their sixth in a row on Christmas, Oliver Purnell's team is 4-2 with all six games coming in the Big East.
Standing in the way of the Blue Demons' historic start to league play is No. 24 Seton Hall (13-4, 3-2), who would tie on losses (2) with the winner of Providence and Villanova for second place in the conference with a win; DePaul would tie for second place on both wins and losses. Isaiah Whitehead will likely miss his seventh game with a stress fracture while Sterling Gibbs has scored 20+ points in four of his last five games with Whitehead out.
Seton Hall dropped a disappointing game at DePaul late last season after beating up a depleted Blue Demon roster at home in late January. The programs have split the last four games, but Seton Hall won the five prior (2008-2012).
If there's one thing about DePaul, they won't be boring to watch. Oliver Purnell's team is 29th in tempo, 59th in offensive efficiency and heavily relies on the three-ball to get things going offensively. Conversely, they are weak on defense and rank sub-200 in five major statistical categories.
The Blue Demons are 64th in three-point percentage (37%) and 41.2-percent of their total points come from beyond the arc, good for 31st in the country. DePaul will have four or five threats from three on the court at all times on Thursday, something that will put Seton Hall's fifth-ranked three-point defense to the test.
6-foot-10 Forrest Robinson (31-83, 37%) has attempted the most threes for DePaul this season and 6-foot-11 frontcourt mate Tommy Hamilton (10-26, 39%) can also step outside from time to time. Point guard Billy Garrett (24-59, 41%), Illinois transfer Myke Henry (20-51, 39%) and Aaron Simpson (18-49, 37%) are all efficient from deep at the one through three spots. Wing Jamee Crockett (23-70, 33%) is another Blue Demon not afraid to launch it.
Not to beat a dead horse, but the three is a major reason for DePaul's success in conference play. In-conference only, they are shooting it at a 39.5-percent clip from deep and 37.4-percent of their points have come from three, both stats which are best in the league. DePaul is averaging 21.5 three-point attempts per game in the Big East.
Sophomore point guard Billy Garrett Jr. (13.3 ppg, 3.7 apg) is a major reason why DePaul has stayed afloat this season despite struggling in the non-conference. His leadership and ability to control the rock as a floor general have been crucial and show after playing major minutes as a freshman last season. It also helps to be a coach's son.
Garrett Jr. has benefitted from two newcomers and two returning players in a small-ish lineup. Junior college transfer Aaron Simpson (5.5 ppg) has steadied DePaul's backcourt and has scored in double figures in two straight games now. Versatile transfer Myke Henry (13.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg) is leading the team in scoring during his first season including a 19-point, 12-rebound (career high) showing against St. John's on Sunday. At 6-foot-6 Henry can play an undersized role in the paint helping out a center, similar to Sir`Dominic Pointer.
As for the two returning Blue Demons, Seton Hall is familiar with Durrell McDonald (5.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.2 apg) and certainly Jamee Crockett (11.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg). McDonald won't blow teams away with his scoring, but he is an above-average perimeter defender and boasts the 49th-best steal percentage in the country. Now a senior, Crockett has bounced back from his up-and-down junior campaign that saw him miss 14 games and has more than doubled his scoring average from a season ago.
At forward, a pair of familiar trees will greet Angel Delgado. Sophomore Tommy Hamilton IV (11.1, 6.2 rpg) has backed up an impressive freshman campaign and senior Forrest Robinson (7.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg) has nearly doubled his production from 2013-14. Although both centers are tall and versatile, DePaul struggles on the boards (262nd OReb%, 274th DReb%) and Angel Delgado should match up fairly well here.
Lastly, DePaul is a really good free throw shooting team, which will help them in a close game. They're 10th in the country and Garrett Jr. is a pristine 107 of 123 (87%) from the line, good for best in the league for those who have attempted 50+ free throws. The ball will be in his hands late.
Three things to watch:
How will Kevin Willard handle DePaul's attack? The Blue Demons don't have too many secrets on offense, so how will Willard address it with his multi-look defensive approaches? DePaul has a ton of options from beyond the arc, so the Hall may have to pick and choose who they really want to hone in on when defending. Remember, Seton Hall has the fifth-best three-point defense coming into the game.
A collective effort on the boards. One of the major reasons Seton Hall lost to Butler was rebounding, which in turn lost them the second chance points battle. Despite being 50th in average height, DePaul is poor on the boards and Seton Hall will need to cash in. We know Angel Delgado will get his rebounds, but who is going to help him? Brandon Mobley will need to do his part on the defensive glass.
New wrinkles. Seton Hall has now had nine days off since their last game and a lot of time to prepare for the Blue Demons. I'll be looking for any new facets to their game that Willard has tried to implement over the break. You can bet Sterling Gibbs and Khadeen Carrington will have major roles in anything new that Seton Hall tries.
Series history (SHU 10-4):
Feb. 25, 2014, DePaul 65, SETON HALL 60, Rosemont, Ill.
Jan. 25, 2014, SETON HALL 86, DePaul 69, Newark, N.J.
Jan. 2, 2013, SETON HALL 73, DePaul 72, Rosemont, Ill.
Mar. 3,, 2012, DePaul 86, SETON HALL 58, Rosemont, Ill.
Jan. 10, 2012, SETON HALL 94, DePaul 73, Newark, N.J.
Jan. 12, 2011, SETON HALL 78, DePaul 67, Rosemont, Ill.
Feb. 14, 2010, SETON HALL 79, DePaul 71, Newark, N.J.
Feb. 10, 2009, SETON HALL 72, DePaul 49, Rosemont, Ill.
Feb. 23, 2008, SETON HALL 73, DePaul 71, Newark, N.J.
Feb. 25, 2006, DePaul 67, SETON HALL 64, Rosemont, Ill.
Dec. 27, 2003, SETON HALL 76, DePaul 62, East Rutherford, N.J.
Dec. 28, 2002, DePaul 52, SETON HALL 41, Rosemont, Ill.
Dec. 29, 1988, SETON HALL 83, DePaul 60, New Orleans, La.
Feb. 25, 1942, SETON HALL 36, DePaul 33, South Orange, N.J.
KenPom says: No. 38 Seton Hall 81, No. 150 DePaul 67 (90%)
Projected DePaul starters:
PG - Billy Garrett Jr.
G - Jamee Crockett
G - Durrell McDonald
F - Myke Henry
C - Forrest Robinson
When: 7et, Thursday
TV: FOX Sports 1
Radio: 970 AM/Sirius 93/XM 204
Opening line: Seton Hall -12