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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, Nov. 9, 9 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: McGrath-Phillips Arena (3,000) -- Chicago, Illinois. Television: None. Home Record: UC Riverside 0-0, DePaul 0-0. Away Record: UC Riverside 0-0, DePaul 0-0. Neutral Record: UC Riverside 0-0, DePaul 0-0. Conference Record: UC Riverside 0-0, DePaul 0-0. Series Record: First meeting.
GAMES NOTES: The reclamation project that has been the DePaul Blue Demons begins its third season under Oliver Purnell when the UC Riverside Highlanders make their way to the Windy City for a bout at McGrath-Phillips Arena.
The Highlanders are in no way strangers to regrouping. After all Jim Woolridge's squad is one that has had just one winning record in the last 11 seasons, its first 11 at the Division I level. In the last four seasons the Highlanders have flirted with success as the 17-13 record of 2008-2009 began a string of four straight double-digit win seasons for the Highlanders. Last season the squad finished 14-17 overall and 7-9 in the Big West conference in part due to a 1-7 streak from mid-January to mid-February. UC Riverside will remain in Chicago for its next matchup against Illinois-Chicago.
There is a great deal of history of basketball success at DePaul but at this point that history is of the ancient variety. DePaul has made just two NCAA Tournament appearances in the last 20 seasons and has had a losing record in 11 of those years, including the last five. In Purnell's two seasons at the helm the Blue Demons have shown some life though improving their win total of seven in 2011 to 12 last season. That was largely in non-conference play with the Blue Demons just 3-15 in Big East play, including a disastrous 1-9 mark in the last 10 regular season games. It's off to Cancun for DePaul next as it is one of eight teams in the 2012 Cancun Challenge.
Neither of these teams will have any sort of familiarity to lean on in this matchup as this is the first-ever meeting between the squads.
For all the slight optimism that UC Riverside may have built in the last few seasons there is more reasons to be doubtful about this season. There are just three of 10 letter-winners back on the roster which lost a huge contributor in top scorer Phil Martin (17.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg). Losing an offensive force like Martin could be detrimental to an offense that was not exactly lighting it up last season (59.4 ppg). Robert Smith (8.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.2 apg) must instantly become a leader as the only senior on the squad and the top returning scorer. Chris Harriel, a transfer from Portland State will add some experience and offensive punch. The 6-4 junior averaged 12.6 points per game two seasons ago but was unable to play due to the transfer last season. After Smith and Harriel the roster sheet is rather empty in terms of players with experience. T.J. Burke (2.0 ppg) and Austin Quick (2.4 ppg) are the only players that played any significant minutes in the past, while nine different freshmen need to get acclimated.
Since joining the Big East in 2005, DePaul has been a team to circle on the calendar as a probable win. While wins did not come easily last year, points sure did, as the Blue Demons were the second-highest scoring team in the Big East (74.1 ppg). That type of offensive firepower won't be slowed this season with both top scorers back. Cleveland Melvin (17.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg) is the top option. Complementing Melvin from the backcourt is another prolific scorer in Brandon Young (14.5 ppg, 4.7 apg, 1.6 spg). The offense really runs through Young who moves the ball effectively and is a disruptive force on defense. While the Blue Demons racked up points last season, they struggled in preventing the opposition from doing the same, allowing 76.7 points per game which was last in the Big East and near the bottom of the nation overall.
Neither of these teams could really call last season a success. If DePaul is going to make improvements, defense will be key. DePaul will have no trouble scoring against a young UC Riverside team. In this game the Blue Demons will be able to see where they stand defensively against the Highlanders.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: DePaul 78, UC Riverside 60
11/09 10:34:43 ET
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