This Saturday, the DePaul Blue Demons come to Nashville with the same 5-1 record, but those victories have come over far less heralded squads—the likes of Saint Joseph's, Detroit, and Alabama State. Make no mistake about it, Commodore fans: This is a game Vanderbilt should win; VU's opponent is a team that went winless in the Big East Conference during last year's regular season (before beating Cincinnati in the league's tournament) and is without its second leading scorer. The biggest mistake Kevin Stallings's team can make is to get caught looking ahead to a big road game at Illinois next Tuesday. Such inattentiveness can ill be afforded this Saturday at 3 p.m. Central time.
The Blue Demons will arrive in Nashville on a three game-winning streak, but as mentioned above, their caliber of opponent to this point in the season doesn't exactly strike fear into one's heart. It is worth noting, though, that this team's one loss saw coach Jerry Wainwright's roster take Tennessee down to the wire in the Paradise Jam, falling by only four points, 57-53.
That performance didn't come without a price, though. Mac Koshwal, a 6-foot-11, 255-pound beast who is second on the team in scoring (15.0 ppg) and stands tall as DePaul's best rebounder (13.0 per game), went down with a foot injury against the Vols and is out indefinitely.
Wainwright couldn't hide his disappointment at the loss of a meal-ticket scorer and rebounder: "We're awfully small without Mac," Wainwright said. "I don't know how far you can go without a guy in the middle. Certainly, everyone has to do more. We don't have much choice. He's not there. We have to find out a way. You look at the positive, the silver lining is they (Devin Hill and Eric Wallace) have an extraordinary opportunity to get minutes."
Forward – Devin Hill – Sophomore, 6-9, 200 pounds;
When Koshwal went down with his foot injury, it was Hill who replaced him and the drop-off has been severe. Hill is averaging 3.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per game and has yet to convert a 3-point field goal. It is worth noting, however, that he is 9-of-16 from inside the arc, so it would be best if an effort was made to not only limit his number of shots, but to prevent him from finding a sweet spot on the floor where he's comfortable as an offensive operator.
Forward – Mike Stovall – Junior, 6-5, 200;
DePaul, save one player, is having a rough go of it at the charity stripe so far this season. That one and only player - who sees significant time on the floor and is making more than 67 percent of his free throws – is Mike Stovall, an 89 percent foul shooter. A versatile player, Stovall can switch between forward and guard as needed, but either way, the Commodores will want to force him to put the ball in the basket from the field, where he is only shooting 30%. In Stallings's scouting report, one can be sure that the difference between Stovall's dead-ball shooting and live-ball shooting will be prominently mentioned.
Guard-Forward – Eric Wallace – Sophomore, 6-6, 215;
Wallace is another member of the youth movement going on in Chicago, and his numbers don't exactly raise eyebrows either. He is averaging a respectable 5.8 rebounds per game, but his 8.7-point average is derived from 37 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent shooting from the foul line. On rare occasions, Wallace can step back and hit a three as he leads the team in 3-point field goal percentage (50 percent). With that having been said, his percentage is based on only four 3-point attempts this season.
Guard – Jeremiah Kelly – Sophomore, 6-1, 170;
Like Wallace, Kelly is a young player who has broken into the starting lineup, but is playing like the inexperienced college baller that he is. His numbers are similar to Wallace's—6.8 points per game, 3.7 rebounds per game, and 34 percent field-goal shooting; at the very least, though, he does shoot 67 percent from the free throw line.
Guard – Will Walker – Senior, 6-0, 190;
Here lies the primary weapon the Commodores need to worry about. Walker has been DePaul's go-to-guy; he leads the team in scoring, made field goals, made 3-point field goals, and minutes played. Obviously, Walker must be the top priority for Vanderbilt's defense or else the floodgates might open and cause the Blue Demons to make their overachieving performance against Tennessee look like child's play. DePaul should be contained when the Dores play defense, but one really hot shooting day from Walker represents the slingshot that could hit Vandy between the eyes. If Walker goes wild from long distance, VU's size and strength will cease to matter, as DePaul's David could upend the Goliath that will meet them at Memorial Gym.
Due to Koshwal's current absence and Hill's insertion into the starting lineup, the Blue Demons are virtually devoid of any threats coming off the bench. No non-starter on the team averages more than 3.5 points per game and 3.0 rebounds per game; for DePaul to win, the starters will have to put the rest of the team on their shoulders.
When Jerry Wainwright does call upon his reserves, he'll most likely tab guards Ryan Siggins and Michael Bizoukas, or forwards Mario Stula and Tony Freeland. Those four players (Siggins, Bizoukas, Stula and Freeland) are the only four bench players who average double-digit minutes for DePaul.
Keys to the Game
1) Run, Run, Run. The Commodores would be well served to try and wear out the starting lineup for the Blue Demons. Due to its weak bench, DePaul has had to rely heavily on its starters to play for most of the game, so if Vanderbilt can force foul trouble and rotate fresh bodies in and out in the first half, the Dores will be primed to reel off some scoring runs.
2) Make Free Throws. Aside from Stovall, the Blue Demons are not a good free throw shooting team; their collective percentage from the line is a paltry 56 percent, so a clear advantage can be gained if the Commodores can take care of their own business at the foul stripe. VU would be in prime position to win if it shoots charity pitches at a 75 percent clip.
3) Rebound and Use Length Inside. As illustrated, most of Depaul's so-called "size" comes in the form of forwards who also play guard; additionally, Koshwal is the only person on the squad who plays the center position while averaging more than eight minutes per game (center Krys Faber averages 7.7 minutes per game). Vanderbilt needs to take advantage of this undersized opponent from the Big East and – as a result of added determination - get after loose balls on the glass. A.J. Ogilvy and Festus Ezeli can play over the top against the newly-diminutive Demons; the two post players can create a mean game of volleyball on the backboard and use their length to dominate under all sorts of circumstances.