vs. CONNECTICUT HUSKIES (21-9, #9 seed in Big East)
Big East Tournament – Opening Round
Tip-off: Tuesday, 12:00 p.m. EDT – New York, NY
Line: Connecticut -14.5, Total: 137
They say a tie is like kissing your sister. In the Big East conference the only thing worse than a tie is playing Game 1 on Day 1 of a five-day tournament that involves 16 teams. That is because if you are playing in Game #1 it means one team finished dead last in the conference (16th) while the other team finished at the top of the bottom half of the conference (9th place). Enter No. 21 Connecticut and DePaul to the start of the Big East Tournament. Odds.
The Huskies find themselves in ninth place after losing their final two regular season games last week to West Virginia and Notre Dame. A win over the Irish Saturday could have settled them into the 8th spot, but the Huskies blew a late, five-point, second-half lead, and were outscored 10-2 in the final 4:13. As for DePaul, they find themselves in 16th place because, well, they went 1-17 in league play, were 321st in Division I in rebounding (30.7 RPG), shot 43% from the field this season, and frankly were not very good. The Huskies easily defeated DePaul in Chicago 82-62 back in January. That would seem to indicate that the rematch shouldn’t be much of a match at all right? Maybe so, but when you’re playing the 16th-seeded team on day one (meaning that you finished ninth in the conference), and you haven’t won a Big East tournament game in six years, you really can’t be assured of anything.
While Connecticut may be 0 for the past 5 conference tournaments, the Blue Demons are 2 for the past 3 seasons, as in they have just two regular season Big East victories in the past three years. DePaul (7-23, 1-17) is coming off a 107-59 annihilation at the hands of the Syracuse Orange. It was the kind of defeat that probably had Oliver Purnell thinking of the title of an old Natalie Portman movie: “Anywhere But Here.” The Blue Demons allowed six ‘Cuse players to score in double figures, as the Orange shot an unconscious 71.4% for the game, and 78% from beyond the arc. Syracuse was in such a zone, they were even making their free throws to the tune of 90% (compared to 66% from the line for the season). DePaul shot 39% from the floor and just 16% (3-for-19) from beyond the arc. It was going to be a long shot anyway for the Blue Demons in Syracuse without its leading scorer, standout freshman Cleveland Melvin (14.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG) in the lineup. Melvin sprained his left thumb against St. John’s February 23 and is out for the season. Without Melvin, DePaul will likely lean heavily on sophomore forward Tony Freeland (9.7 PPG) who scored 25 against the Orange, and second leading scorer Brandon Young (12.4 PPG), who struggled on Saturday, scoring just five points on 2-for-10 shooting. Despite its recent woes, DePaul has won a Big East Tournament game more recently than Connecticut. It happened in 2009, when the Blue Demons (also seeded 16th) defeated Cincinnati 67-57 to break what was an 18-game losing streak. Scores.
When the Huskies make the short bus ride to New York City to play in Madison Square Garden, there will be more than a few demons (as opposed to Blue Demons) to exorcise. While the team has not won a conference tournament game since defeating Georgetown 66-62 on March 10, 2005, its star player has had some MSG memories he’d just as soon forget. February 10 this year, Kemba Walker, who hails from the Bronx, shot 4-of-16 against St. John’s in that 89-72 loss. In last year’s tournament loss to St. John’s, Walker went 4-of-17. Prior to that game last season, he went 5-for-14 against Kentucky in a three-point loss. About two weeks prior to that contest, he went 4-for-12 in a nine-point loss to Duke. All totaled, in his past four games in the Garden, all Husky losses, Walker is shooting just under 29%. If the Huskies are to break a number of losing streaks (six straight in the tourney, four straight in the garden, two straight presently) they will need their best player to get hot early and stay hot. Walker is currently hot, coming off a huge 34-point effort in Saturday’s loss to Notre Dame. He also scored 31 in the January victory over DePaul while teammate Jeremy Lamb chipped in with 13. If they can show anything close to that form again, they should be ticketed for a Wednesday duel with Georgetown at high noon.
But is UConn really 14½ points better than DePaul? Based on these numbers for the Huskies — 3-8 ATS in past 11 games, 7-11 ATS in conference and 3-5 ATS after SU loss — would signify the answer is no. Also consider that the Blue Demons are 5-2 ATS in the past seven games when pitted as a double-digit underdog and are nearly .500 in conference play ATS (8-9-1). Connecticut should win, but if the Huskies get a huge lead, don’t be surprised to see Walker take a seat and the final margin shrink as Jim Calhoun tries to keep his star fresh for Wednesday. The pick here is DePaul to cover. The FoxSheets provide another highly-rated reason to side with the Blue Demons.
Play On – Neutral court teams (DEPAUL) – revenging a home loss vs. opponent, off 2 straight losses against conference rivals. (38-11 over the last 5 seasons.) (77.6%, +25.9 units. Rating = 3*). Las Vegas odds.
The FoxSheets also show a four-star reason to choose the Under.
Play Under – Neutral court teams against the total (DEPAUL) – off a road loss by 20 points or more, a bad team, winning 20% to 40% of their games on the season. (43-12 over the last 5 seasons.) (78.2%, +29.8 units. Rating = 4*).
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