Notre Dame Presents Tough Road Challenge

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DePaul Blue Demons(11-12, 2-9 Big East, 3-4 Away)
at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (16-8, 8-3 Big East, 12-1 Home)
When: Saturday Feb. 11 at 11 a.m. central time
Where: Joyce Center in South Bend, Ind.
TV: The U Too (Big East Network)
Online Streaming:
Radio: WSCR AM 670
Impact Players
No. 12 Sophomore Forward Cleveland Melvin (6-foot-8, 205 pounds)
31.8 MPG, 18.1 PPG, 45.6 FG%, 6.7 RPG, 1.13 BPG
No. 20 Sophomore Guard Brandon Young (6-foot-3, 193 pounds)
30 MPG, 14.9 PPG, 43.3 FG%, 4.8 APG, 1.5 SPG
No. 21 Wing Jamee Crockett (6-foot-4, 202 pounds)
15.7 MPG, 7.7 PPG, 46.9 FG%, 40.9 3FG%, 2.3 RPG
Notre Dame
No. 0 Sophomore Guard Eric Atkins (6-foot-1, 182 pounds)
37.4 MPG, 12.8 PPG, 40.2 3FG%, 3.5 APG, 3.2 RPG
No. 22 Sophomore Guard Jerian Grant (6-foot-5, 195 pounds)
35.1 MPG, 12.6 PPG, 40.4 FG%, 4.8 APG, 3.1 RPG
No. 45 Junior Forward Jack Cooley (6-foot-9, 248 pounds)
26.8 MPG, 11 PPG, 59.4 FG%, 8.5 RPG, 1.4 BPG
Quick Look
After ending a five-game losing streak Jan. 25 against Rutgers, DePaul has struggled to find sustained momentum since and is on a three-game losing streak heading into Saturday's contest.
In two of the past three losses DePaul has built up double-digit first half leads only to see them fade away as the game went along. This has become an unfortunate trend as the season has gone along.
DePaul continues their maddening inconsistency with stretches of strong basketball followed by periods of scoring droughts and defensive lapses. Playing the same way for a full 40 minutes has been arguably the biggest reason for DePaul's failure to string together victories in conference play.
The most pleasant surprise in the past few weeks has been the improved play of freshman Jamee Crockett. The ultra-athletic wing has averaged 15.2 points on 56.2 percent shooting from the field over the past five games. He has also connected on 13-26 from three-point range in that stretch.
A big question mark plaguing DePaul had to do with a reliable third scoring option to support sophomores Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young. Inconsistency has plagued other DePaul supporting players, but Crockett has embraced that third scoring option role and appears to be a fixture in the starting lineup for the time being.
While Crockett has been steadily improving, the play of Young has gone the other way. In his past five games he has scored in single digits on three occasions and has shot 28.3 percent from the field. Young played a season-low 16 minutes in Monday's loss to Marquette and managed only two points. Junior Worrel Clahar replaced him at times and had a career-high 16 points in 22 minutes.
Notre Dame enters the game as arguably the hottest team in the Big East. They have won their past five games, which included a home upset of Syracuse and three road victories.
The early season injury which sidelined senior forward and leader Tim Abromaitis threatened to derail Notre Dame's chances of advancing to the NCAA tournament. Head coach Mike Brey, through adjustments to style, defense and from contributions from young players, has pulled Notre Dame through adversity and into contention for a Big East regular season title.
Notre Dame's defense has been a strong suit of this year's squad. They rank in the top six in the Big East for points allowed and opponent's field goal percentage.
Taking care of the basketball has led to a more efficient offense by allowing Notre Dame to maximize each offensive possession. They average the fewest turnovers per game in the Big East.
Sophomores Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins have helped pick up the slack left by the Abromaitis injury. Grant, son of former NBA player Harvey Grant and nephew of former Chicago Bull Horace Grant, ranks second on the team in scoring and first in assists after not playing during his freshman season.
Atkins has been a consistent scorer all season. He leads the team in three-point field goal percentage.
Three Keys to a DePaul Victory
1. Control the pace for 40 minutes
A significant factor in DePaul's chances for a victory Saturday relies on their ability to control the tempo of the game. DePaul ranks no. 1 in the Big East in possessions per game with 72.6 per game. When DePaul can get transition baskets off of their defense and force turnovers off their press, they force opposing teams to play to their style.
Notre Dame would rather get into a slow-down, halfcourt type of game to highlight their effective halfcourt offense. Notre Dames ranks 15th in the conference in possessions per 40 minutes. However, as seen by their recent strong stretch of games that included an upset of then no. 1 Syracuse, this type of style suits them perfectly.
Although they have been unable to play an effective 40 minutes of this type of style for the duration of conference play, it may be their only chance to win this game.
2. Transition defense
For DePaul be effective to in that up-tempo style of play they need to do a better job of cutting down on fastbreak opportunities for the opposition. Marquette came back from a one-time double-digit first half deficit largely due to their ability to get out in transition and get easy baskets. They had 16 fastbreak points in the contest.
A big reason for DePaul's struggles in this area has to do with them simply not getting back on defense out of their diamond-and-one press. They are consistently giving up odd-man breaks to the opposition with sometimes sluggish efforts by players to recover from the press.
While Notre Dame tends to slow the game down, they will no doubt be looking at this as an opportunity to exploit DePaul. There has to be stronger efforts by the entire team to recover from the press and off of misses on the offensive end.
3. Brandon Young needs to play like a leader
For the second consecutive season Young's play has slipped in conference play. In recent games his ineffectiveness has significantly hurt DePaul.
Young has the ability to be a dynamic, play-making guard each time he steps on the floor. He has good size, quickness and vision to find open areas to attack or teammates to pass to. That type of strong play is needed the rest of the season if DePaul wants to get to turn their season around.
DePaul has to get that type of dynamic effort that made Young one of the league's best freshmen last season and one of the primary leaders on the team.