St. John's heads into the last stretch of the season with a little bit of confidence after an almost-successful assault on the Duke Blue Devils (who defeated St. John's 83-76, but had to fend off a furious second-half rally). The last three games, in fact, have been quite positive for the Red Storm and emerging star Maurice Harkless. [Read more on the state of the Red Storm in the St. John's Midterm Report.]
Tonight/ tomorrow morning, we will take a closer pregame look at whether the Johnnies can take that effort and turn it into another Big East road win.
Today, we have some answers on the Blue Demons from two of my favorite DePaul sites - Blue Demons Nation (BDN on Twitter) and Under the El (Under the El on Twitter). Thanks to both for answering the questions.
Both are more active on Twitter than they are about writing articles, but they are very informative. I have even watched a pair of DePaul basketball games with Under the El, and Blue Demons Nation has been a longtime participant in our basketball roundtables.
They discuss DePaul's season, improvement, Cleveland Melvin, the Blue Demons' emerging young stars, and why they BOTH think DePaul will win tomorrow... below the fold.
Q: With regards to expectations, how is DePaul’s season going? Can you (or fans) see improvement? Is there newfound excitement around the program?
Blue Demons Nation: Expectations for this team really varied from fan to fan. Some felt this team could surprise Big East teams with some nice early wins, while others expected much of the same. Reality is, this team falls somewhere in the middle.
During non-conference, improvement could be seen, but conference play has shown somethings have not changed; the ability to rebound the ball is still a significant concern, and limiting the field goal percentage of the opponent has not shown much improvement. However, the personnel for the style of play DePaul coach Oliver Purnell plays is significantly better, as Jamee Crockett, Worrel Clahar, and Derrell Robertson bring great athleticism.
Unfortunately, Charles McKinney and Donnavan Kirk have been playing with injuries, so their full abilities have not been on display. There is a small amount of new excitement, but until a few more w's appear in the standings, the excitement will continue to be status quo.
Under the El: I'd say expectations are on par, but judging from the message board banter, many fans may disagree. However, this DePaul team is realistically right in line with Purnell coaching record.
Excluding his random year 2 at Radford, Purnell's teams typically see an increase of about 20% in winning percentage from year 1 to year 2. For this DePaul team that means a 13 win season, so they'd only need to pick up two more wins to meet that mark. The improvement in the team is obvious, but the areas for improvement are also as obvious. Excitement is growing around the program as Purnell begins to instill his brand of basketball. Recruiting still leaves a lot to desire, but, again, was expected based on Purnell's record.
Q: What is it that DePaul needs to do better to win games – and who on the roster needs to perform those tasks? How has DePaul won games this year?
UtE: Defend and rebound! Between Cleveland Melvin, Brandon Young, and the pressure defense the team finds ways to score. The problem has been defending the paint.
Krys Faber has started every game at center and has struggled immensely. Demons fans were hoping he'd step in his senior year, but now we can confidently say he is not has has never been a Big East quality center. Neither rebounding or post defense is a quick fix, as it seems more of a personnel problem, but can be aided by a motivated Melvin and a healthy Donnavan Kirk.
DePaul has won games this year by playing one of the easiest schedules in all of college basketball. Beyond that, when a third person steps up outside of Young and Melvin, the Demons become increasingly more dangerous.
BDN: Rebounding is probably the biggest need; DePaul is among the worst in the nation at rebounding margin. If the opponent gets multiple second and third chance opportunities in a game, it is hard to get the win. The center position really is where improvement is needed on the glass. Cleveland Melvin is the leading rebounder but at times this season, looked disinterested in getting the boards.
Additionally, the Blue Demons have yet to play 40 minutes of solid ball. During non-conference, there was a tendency to relax when there is a lead, and it almost came back to bite them against Loyola (Chicago).
DePaul's wins have come from solid and smart shooting, and staying hungry. Against Pitt and Rutgers, DePaul overcame double digit deficits to grab the lead in the final minutes and holding on.
Q: Tell me a bit about Jamee Crockett’s development – is he the team’s X-Factor, or is it someone else? And the same question, in regards to Worrel Clahar.
BDN: When Jamee Crockett committed to DePaul in May of 2010, a lot of basketball fans, and even some DePaul fans saw it as a ploy/offering to appease Chicago area coaches and the Mac Irvin program. What was not realized was how Crockett fit the mold of the player Purnell was looking for; outstanding athlete, solid ball player who can do a lot of things well. His outside shot was perhaps the biggest question mark people had on him and he has shown an ability to hit the perimeter shot, as evident with 40% three point FG% on 50 shots.
What really stands out on Crockett is the lift on his shot. When he takes a shot, he gets off the ground and it makes it near impossible to block it, no matter who is guarding him. Is he the x-factor? I say no, because has succeeded without him. However, adding a third threat does greatly improve DePaul's chance to win.
I would say Brandon Young is the X-factor for DePaul. When his shot is not falling, he does do a good job of trying to involve others; unfortunately, DePaul lacks threats who can step up when Young's struggles with his shot.
Worrel Clahar was a late add to the DePaul team after the departure of Shane Larkin. Again, DePaul fans were less than pleased when it was announced that an unknown JUCO PG was coming in so late. However, that displeasure has been replaced with applause. He has done a surprisingly good job with his offense, averaging six points a game, and hitting 50% of his shots. At times, he plays out of control, with some costly turnovers; however, he makes up for some of those mistakes with pest like defense, as he averages 1.5 steals per game, and may do the best job of keeping opposition guards from penetrating.
UtE: Many people think Jamee Crockett's coming out party was against Rutgers but he's slowly been showing glimpses of his potential all season. I saw Crockett numerous times in high school and loved his ability to attack the rim and endless motor, but his lack of a jumpshot left many wondering if he'd be a 6'4 power forward in the Big East. Credit Crockett though for working hard the past two years as he now has shown a midrange game that extends to the three point line. He can be this team's X-Factor, but the jury is still out.
The X-Factor for this DePaul team is the elusive third leading scorer. So far this season it has at times been Crockett, Moses Morgan, Jeremiah Kelly, or Worrel Clahar. Clahar's value doesn't always show up on the stat sheet considering he is the best on ball defender the team has and is terrific at initiating the offense.
Q: Is Cleveland Melvin still jacking up deep jumpers when he could drive deeper? He had Gus Gilchrist/ Bad Idea disease last I saw of him.
UtE: Melvin's shot selection has been less than desirable, but it can't be seen as a significant reason for any of DePaul's struggles this year. He's shooting an atrocious 22.4% (11-49) from three, but his attempts per game and decreased significantly since December.
I think the main problem with Melvin's shot selection is that he is now a known commodity. No longer is he able to sneak behind a team's defense and get the same positioning in the paint he got last year. DePaul's fast tempo (73.7 possessions per game) allow for a few errant shots.
BDN: Melvin has seemingly got the message that he does his best work closer to the basket. Over the past five games, he has three attempts from beyond the arc. One of them have fallen; that make has been his only made three point field goal out of the eleven attempts he has taken. During the conference portion, he is making 46.9% of his two point attempts.
Q: Do you see a win? How could it happen?
UtE: I'll reluctantly say I see DePaul winning this one. I'd feel a lot better if St. John's didn't rally late against Duke, and Moe Harkless didn't go beast mode these past few weeks. DePaul's coming off a nice road win against an unpredictable Rutgers team, so they should feel better about themselves. Typically I wouldn't feel good about having a week off between games, but I think the time off will be beneficial to help mend some ailing injuries.
A win could happen if DePaul jumps out to an early lead (8-1 when leading at half) and find a way to hold St. John's under 70 points (6-0 when they hold teams under 70 points). Plus for some reason they are randomly 4-0 on Wednesdays, so why not.
BDN: I do see a win, as St. John’s has struggled on the road, shooting under 39% in road games. They really have trouble making the three on the road, making just 23.5% of their attempts. Surprisingly, for being a young team, St. John’s has done a solid job of limiting turnovers, however, they do seem to play better when the pace is slower, and DePaul is among the leaders in possessions per game, so if DePaul can enforce the pace, it should benefit the Blue Demons.