Strong Start to Boost DePaul's Upset Hopes vs. No. 1 Villanova

Rainman M.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017 3:44 PM UTC

Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017 3:44 PM UTC

DePaul (7-5) hosts No. 1 Villanova (12-0) tonight at 7:30 ET to open Big East Conference play. The Blue Demons are 15-point underdogs. Should bettors count on a major upset?

College Basketball Wednesday: Villanova vs. DePaul

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Free NCAAB Pick: DePaul 1H (+8)Best Line Offered: HeritageVillanova

Villanova misses from last season Josh Hart, the Big East Player of the Year, and its third-leading scorer Kris Jenkins.

Jalen Brunson is continuing to grow into an NBA-caliber point guard, ranking 27th in three-point completion and 85th in assist rate. He leads the team with 18.1 points per game and 5 assists. Brunson is a playmaker who is dangerous all over the court.

Four other players average double figures. Shooting guard Phil Booth is finally healthy and is 7-for-9 from three in his past two games.

Small forward Mikal Bridges is, like Booth and Brunson, ranked in the top 500 in two-point and three-point completion percentage and turnover rate. Bridges is Nova’s top shot-taker and is second on the team with 17.3 points per game. But he also plays solid defense, ranking 204th in block percentage and 86th in steal percentage.

Versatile 255-pound center Omari Spellman provides size for Nova. He leads the team with 7.8 rebounds per game but also ranks 59th in three-point completion.


DePaul misses its second-leading scorer from last year but returns its four other starters.

Point guard Eli Cain was DePaul’s leading scorer last year. This season he is struggling to find his stroke, but has improved as a distributor. He ranks 290th in assist rate and 267th in turnover rate.

Guard Justin Roberts leads the team with a 41.2 completion percentage from three. He is third on the team in assists per game despite not playing many minutes. Shooting guard Brandon Cyrus builds off a freshman campaign in which he started every game. Cyrus excels at getting to the line and completes 80.8 percent of his free throws.

Small forward Max Strus leads the team with 17.9 points and 33.9 minutes per game. He is strong inside the arc, ranking 364th in two-point percentage, and takes advantage of his 83.3 percent free-throw completion by drawing fouls.

Tre’Darius McCallum and Marin Maric provide more physicality inside for DePaul. McCallum leads the team with 61.8 percent completion from two, while Maric leads the team with fouls drawn and 89.1 percent free-throw completion, and is ranked 221st in offensive rebounding percentage.

The Verdict

Villanova enjoys awesome team chemistry between different playmakers who are effective scorers and ball distributors, and who don’t commit many turnovers. Nova ranks in the top 25 in turnover percentage allowed and two-point and three-point shooting percentage.

But don’t underestimate DePaul’s ability to create a scrappy affair, especially against a top-ranked opponent at home. Against KenPom top-55 opponents, dating to last season, DePaul has covered the last five first halves. The Blue Demons typically find a way to limit the opponent’s scoring early. For instance, Notre Dame produced only 29 points at DePaul in the season opener and, on neutral court, Michigan State managed 31. In last season’s conference opener, they were three points short of upsetting Villanova on their court.

DePaul boasts a respectable defense that ranks 89th in efficiency, thanks especially to its ability to force turnovers and limit scoring inside the arc. The Blue Demons rank in the top 30 in turnover percentage and two-point completion percentage allowed. DePaul’s zone defense can create enough transition baskets from turnovers, while its height will prevent Nova from dominating second-chance opportunities. DePaul ranks 30th in height and Nova ranks only 123rd in offensive rebounding.

At home, expect DePaul to come out vs. Nova with total energy on our NCAAB Picks.

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