GAME NOTES: Cross-town rivals are set to square off at Allstate Arena on Saturday afternoon, as the DePaul Blue Demons do battle with the Loyola- Chicago Ramblers.
Loyola has been a pleasant surprise during the early part of the season. At 8-3, it has already won more games than it did all of last year. The Ramblers have been especially hot of late, winning six of their last seven games, most recently going on the road last Saturday to take down Saint Peter's, 54-49.
One of the few teams in the nation that is playing better than Loyola right now is DePaul. Following a 69-61 win over UMBC last Saturday, the Blue Demons extended their winning streak to seven, their longest since winning nine in a row during the 1993-94 season. They haven't lost in Allstate Arena since falling to Gardner-Webb on Nov. 15 (71-59).
This bout marks the 56th all-time meeting between these two teams, with DePaul holding a 38-17 advantage, which includes wins in 14 straight matchups.
Loyola's output at the offensive end of the court has been modest at best, connecting on 42.9 percent of its field goal attempts for a disappointing 63.1 ppg. But it has found plenty of success thanks to an outstanding defensive stand as it holds the opposition to just 40.3 percent shooting and 57.5 ppg. The story was much of the same in its last outing as while the Ramblers struggled from the floor (.366), they held Saint Peter's to just 49 points and 38.9 percent shooting in the five-point win. Ben Averkamp has seen better days from the floor (2-of-7), but he connected on all 13 of his tries from the free throw line to finish with a game-high 17 points. Joe Crisman tallied 12 points and was one of the few Ramblers who were on point with his shot (5-of-5), while Christian Thomas narrowly missed a double-double with nine points and eight rebounds. On the season, Averkamp is unquestionably Loyola's catalyst, leading the team with 16.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 1.4 bpg, while shooting 46.4 percent from the field and 86.9 percent from the charity stripe. Devon Turk (8.1 ppg) has drained half of his 3-point attempts (22-of-44) and Cully Payne (7.1 ppg) hands out 4.5 apg.
DePaul has found success a little differently than Loyola has this season, as it typically outshoots its opponents with a .454 field goal percentage en route to an average of 75.8 ppg. The Blue Demons weren't nearly as efficient as usual in their latest outing, shooting a modest 40.8 percent from the field, but they held UMBC to an even lower 39.3 percent while causing 20 turnovers in the eight-point win. Cleveland Melvin was once again a force in the frontcourt, tallying 24 points and eight rebounds in the triumph, and he has been one of the Big East's best players on the young season (17.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg, .506 FG percentage). Jamee Crockett added 11 points and six boards in the win, while Worrel Clahar came off the bench to record 10 points, five assists, and four steals. Typically, Brandon Young is DePaul's second option on the scoring front, as he puts up 16.1 ppg while adding 4.8 apg to boot.
It will be strength versus strength when Loyola's solid defensive pressure tries to slow down the high-powered offense of DePaul. It's sure to be a tight one, but expect Melvin to come up with a big play or two down the stretch to help lift the Blue Demons to victory.