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Notre Dame Basketball: DePaul Game Preview

College Hoops Are Back, Baby! The Fighting Irish Face a Familiar Foe on Opening Night

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs Virginia Cavaliers Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Hey sports fans, I don’t know about you, but this is my favorite time of the year. The weather is getting colder, but the NFL and College Football Playoff races are heating up, and college basketball is back! It’s a great time to be a Notre Dame Fighting Irish fan for obvious football reasons, but the hoops team is boasting a pre-season ranking of 14 in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Polls. Even better still, the Irish open their regular season tonight, November 11, on the road against their old Big East rival, the DePaul Blue Demons.

Quick Facts:

  • This is the 105th meeting between Notre Dame and DePaul
  • Notre Dame leads the all-time series 60-44, but DePaul has a 30-21 advantage in games on its home floor.
  • The Irish have won their last nine games against DePaul, tied for the longest winning streak in series history.
  • Notre Dame is 13-3 against DePaul under Mike Brey.
  • This is the dedication game for DePaul’s new downtown Chicago venue, Wintrust Arena.
  • Notre Dame has a 3-1 record in arena dedication games.
  • In the Mike Brey era, Notre Dame is 17-0 in season openers, but this will be the first one played on the road.

Where: Wintrust Arena, Chicago, IL (capacity of 10,387)

When: Saturday, November 11, 2017 at 4:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: FoxSports1 with Brian Anderson and Bill Raftery on the call. The Notre Dame Basketball Radio Network with Jack Nolan and Jordan Cornette will be broadcast on WatchND.tv, locally on WSBT AM960/FM96.1 and via the Notre Dame Basketball Network affiliate stations.

DePaul Blue Demons (0-0)

Despite a 9-23 overall record in 2016-17 and a last-place finish in the Big East, DePaul is expected to be an improved team this season. They are returning four starters who averaged at least 25 minutes last year including their leading scorer, junior guard Eli Cain. The Blue Demons have also brought in three experienced transfers in Max Straus, Austin Grandstaff, and Marin Maric who should all see plenty of minutes too. That is to say, they’ll have continuity on the front end and a lot of depth on the back end.

In DePaul’s lone exhibition game on November 5, they never trailed in a 121-65 win over the IU-Northwest Redhawks. Ten Blue Demons saw at least 13 minutes of playing time, while seven of them scored in double figures. Straus led the way with 22 points on nine of 16 shooting including four of nine from behind the arc. Cain added 13 points and six assists, while senior forward Tre’Darius McCallum brought in 11 rebounds.

Now it’s worth noting that IU-Northwest is a NAIA Division II squad, so they weren’t expected to be able to compete with a Big East team, even the worst one. But IU-Northwest did rank second in the nation last year in the NAIA with a 21-11 record and they averaged 92.5 points per game. Therefore I think we can learn a few things about this DePaul team from the exhibition.

They Really Are 10-Deep

It would be too easy to say the Blue Demons were just experimenting in the exhibition game by playing so many guys, but all signs point to their depth being something they will rely on. The lone starter not returning from last year’s team is point guard Billy Garrett Jr. At Big East Media Day, DePaul head coach Dave Leitao suggested that sophomore Devin Gage and freshman Justin Roberts would split time to fill Garrett’s shoes.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at DePaul Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

With the arrival of Straus, sophomore Brandon Cyrus will now come off the bench after starting in every game last season. The same goes for senior small forward Joe Hanel, who will take a back seat now that the team has a center in Maric. Freshman Jaylen Butz, a 6-foot-9 forward, should be relied on to bring more size to the lineup behind Maric. Grandstaff took the second-most shots in the exhibition game and could be the team’s offensive spark off the bench.

They’re going to shoot more 3’s

Last season the Blue Demons shot just 564 times from three point land, which ranked 301st in the nation. During their exhibition game they shot 27 three’s, which would put them on pace for 864 attempts this season. That many attempts would have ranked in the top 25 a year ago.

Straus and Grandstaff appear to have the green light, combining for more than half of the team’s three-point attempts in the exhibition game. Straus was a 36 percent shooter from beyond the arc at his former school, Lewis University, while Grandstaff was a top-50 recruit coming out of high school in 2015.

Blue Demon to Watch:

Eli Cain, G, Junior

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at DePaul Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The 6-foot-6, 200 pound wing man is still the best player on this team. Last season he ranked 12th in the Big East in scoring (15.6 ppg), 24th in rebounding (4.5 rpg), and tied for seventh in assists (3.5 apg). He is a well-rounded, super athletic guard who will get to the rim and isn’t afraid to shoot from outside, as he led the team in three-point attempts last year. His shooting percentages weren’t great, but that may have had to do with leading the team in minutes. If the Blue Demons are as balanced as they appear to be now, Cain should be able to reap the benefits.

Matchup to Watch:

Tre’Darius McCallum vs. Bonzie Colson

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at DePaul Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Demons’ leading rebounder from a year ago, the senior forward McCallum is 6-foot-7, 220 pounds, and will probably be matched up in the trenches with senior forward Bonzie Colson. He was third on the team in scoring last year but shot very poorly from three-point range (28.2 percent). McCallum has worked to improve his jump shot in the offseason and is looking to make a bigger impact in his final season.

McCallum and Colson physically match up well, and they actually play with a very similar style. Colson’s jumper is definitely more polished, but McCallum might be a little bit quicker off the dribble. These guys are going to be banging into each other all night and it’ll be fun to watch.

Irish X-Factor:

Matt Farrell, G, Senior

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Notre Dame vs West Virginia Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Up against the aforementioned timeshare of young point guards for DePaul, Farrell should be in total command during this game. The senior is coming off a breakout junior campaign in which he scored 14.1 points per game, 5.4 assists per game, and was a 2017 All-ACC Honorable Mention. I think Farrell should come out and set the tone early by running the floor and getting his teammates involved, then knocking down some threes as things start to open up. Defensively he should eat up Gage and Roberts too.

Prediction

Notre Dame 84 - DePaul 70

To me, this feels like a game that will be tight in the first half as both teams settle in, but Notre Dame should pull away in the second half. The new-look Blue Demons should not be taken lightly, however, because the emotion of playing in a brand new venue against a top ACC team combined with the experience and depth they have should make for a competitive game. The biggest difference in this game could be taking care of the basketball. The Fighting Irish ranked sixth in the nation for fewest turnovers last season while ranking 18th in turnover margin. DePaul was 194th in turnover margin. Not to mention we’re breaking out some brand new uniforms for the occasion. Look good, play good.

All stats from UND.com, DePaulBlueDemons.com, ncaa.com.