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January 4, 2012
Pittsburgh Panthers(11-4, 0-2 Big East, 2-1 away)
at DePaul Blue Demons(9-4, 0-1 Big East, 5-3 home)
When: Thursday Jan. 5 at 6 p.m. central time
Where: Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill.
Radio: WSCR AM 670
DePaul Featured Players
Sophomore F Cleveland Melvin (6-foot-8, 205 pounds)
18.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 45.1 FG%, 1.1 BPG
Sophomore G Brandon Young (6-foot-3, 190 pounds)
16 PPG, 5 APG, 51 FG%, 1.6 SPG
Pittsburgh Featured Players
Senior G Ashton Gibbs (6-foot-2, 190 pounds)
34.9 MPG, 16.9 PPG, 3.3 APG, 35.8 3FG%, 39 three-point shots made
Senior F Nasir Robinson (6-foot-5, 225 pounds)
30.7 MPG, 12.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.3 APG, 65.6 FG%
DePaul's New Year's resolution to get off to a strong start in conference play did not begin well on Sunday. The #1 ranked Syracuse Orange dominated DePaul in a one-sided 87-68 contest.
DePaul was a significant underdog entering the game, but a recent five-game winning streak had suggested that they had turned the corner enough to have a better showing. The defensive struggles that have plagued the team nearly all of the season came back at the exact wrong time.
Against a loaded Syracuse offense, DePaul allowed the Orange to shoot 65.5 percent from the field in the first half and 58.6 percent for the entire game. DePaul's sluggish interior defense allowed for Syracuse to dominate the inside of the arc, connecting on 67.3 percent of their shots in that area while only making three shots from beyond the arc.
Despite strong offensive efforts by sophomores Cleveland Melvin (23 points) and Donnavan Kirk (14 points), the DePaul offense never really got on track. Aside from the high turnover rate, sophomore guard Brandon Young did not manage to score a single point in 29 minutes of action but did record 8 assists. It was the only the second time this season he failed to reach double figures in scoring.
Pittsburgh enters the game at a time when they arguably need a win as bad as they have ever needed one in the regular season under head coach Jamie Dixon. Pitt rides a three-game losing streak into Thursday's game after dropping consecutive conference games to Notre Dame and Cincinnati, and being upset at home by Wagner Dec. 23.
Of their four losses this season, Pitt has shockingly dropped three games at the Petersen Events Center, an arena where they have dominated in recent years. Hitting the road may not have come at a better time for them.
Seemingly the most significant reason for Pitt not looking like teams of the past is their defense. Pitt has been an average defensive team to put it nicely thus far this season as opposed to their normally stout unit in the Dixon era. Entering Tuesday's action Pitt was 225th in the opponent's field goal percentage and 140th in points allowed.
The loss of sophomore guard Travon Woodall for seven of the past eight games with groin and abdominal injuries certainly has not helped either. Woodall has averaged 12.3 points in 8 games this season. His status for Thursday's game is in doubt.
Pitt experienced their share of turnover issues in their New Year's Day 66-63 home loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats. Pitt uncharacteristically turned over the ball 17 times in the defeat.
Despite the turnovers, Pitt was able to stay in the game and keep it close throughout. Senior forward Nasir Robinson recorded his third double-double of the season with a 19-point and 10-rebound effort.
Pitt relied on three players to score 50 of their 63 points: Robinson, senior guard Ashton Gibbs and sophomore guard Lamar Patterson. The rest of the team connected on only 4 of 19 from the field and totaled 13 points.
Keys to a DePaul Victory
1. Get Defensive
After holding three straight opponents less than 62 points, DePaul's defense went to back to the way it has been nearly all season against Syracuse. Slow interior rotations on defense, inability to get back to stop fastbreak opportunities and struggles in their halfcourt defense all appeared once again.
With the Big East conference schedule in full-swing now, the time for practice against lesser opponents has ended. DePaul received a rude enough welcome to the conference schedule on Sunday to suggest that their defense remains a work in progress. Teams such as Pittsburgh will not feel sorry for DePaul's struggles.
Pitt may now be out of the top-25 rankings and struggling, but they feature strong offensive scoring options in Gibbs and Robinson to give DePaul several problems. A motivated team may see DePaul as the perfect springboard to getting their season back on track.
DePaul must play a much more well-rounded defensive game on Thursday. They will not all of a sudden become a great defensive team overnight, but doing the little things such as proper positioning, always being active, seeing man and ball and always getting a hand in the face of the shooter will be essential for a victory.
2. Get physical inside
Under former head coach Ben Howland and current coach Jamie Dixon, Pitt has maintained that strong, rugged interior play that can wear down any team. Pitt features several players willing to throw their body around in the paint to gain a significant advantage in rebounding.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Pitt ranked as the 21st best rebounding team in the nation. They feature four players who average over 5.3 rebounds per game.
A lack of frontcourt depth has continued to haunt DePaul. They have struggled all season to gain control of the boards and it has ultimately decided a few of their games.
Rebounding, just like defense, is about positioning and effort. DePaul is not very big, and must be in proper position to box out at all times. It is much easier said than done against Pitt, but little things such as that can go a long way in keeping the game in striking distance.
While someone such as Kirk may not be a real physical player, he could make a big impact on the game if he can have a similar scoring output as the Syracuse game and be active on the glass. Kirk's ability to give valuable minutes inside should be crucial for this game and the rest of the season.
3. Thursday is a new opportunity
The Syracuse game has to be out of the minds of the players. It was a real tough loss, but the Big East offers a chance to face strong teams nearly every week.
This is especially crucial for someone like Young who has had so much success this year before his last game. He is one of the two most important players on the team and his improvement in this game is essential to have an opportunity to win.