Musketeers storm Wintrust Arena for Blue Demon’s regular season finale


Pantelis Xidias is always active on the sidelines durning the games and often dances at center court during pre-game warmups. (Richard Bodee | The DePaulia)

The DePaul Blue Demon’s (11-18; 4-13) grand finale to the 2017-2018 regular season is an 11 a.m. date at Wintrust Arena with the Big East-leading Xavier Musketeers (26-4; 14-3).

The Musketeers are playing for an outright claim to the Big East regular season title. On Wednesday against Providence, they clinched at least a share of the conference regular season title with an 84-74 win over the Friars. They are a game ahead of the second place Villanova Wildcats in the standings, and if the Wildcats win on Saturday over Georgetown and the Musketeers lose then the two teams share the title. Villanova would also own the tiebreaker for Big East tournament seeding if they win on Saturday and the Musketeers lose since they’ve knocked off Xavier twice this season.

So, Saturday isn’t going to be a case where an unfocused Musketeers team shimmies into Wintrust already looking past the Blue Demons ahead to the Big East tournament next week. On paper Xavier should roll, but after the Blue Demons played them tough in the first matchup between the two teams, Musketeers head coach Chris Mack said that his team will come in focused and that they will have to play well to win.

After a flat effort against Creighton in Omaha on Tuesday where DePaul fell 82-57 at the hands of the Bluejays, the Blue Demons need to refocus if they expect to end the season on a high note in front of their home fans. They trail 9-12 in the all-time series against Xavier and head coach Dave Leitao is still searching for his first victory over the Musketeers (0-8).  The Musketeers earned a 77-72 win in comeback fashion at the Cintas Center the first time the teams met in late December.

In that game, junior guard Max Strus poured in a season high 33 points, but the Blue Demons collapsed allowing the Musketeers to erase a 16-point deficit in the second half to emerge with a five point victory.

Two seniors shoulder most of the scoring burden for the Musketeers. Guard Trevon Bluiett averages 19.3 points per game (sixth in the conference) and has an effective field goal percentage of 57.3 percent which is the seventh-best mark in the conference. The preseason All-Big East First Team selection makes teams pay if they leave him open from deep, shooting at a 43.2 percent clip from behind the 3-point line.

Fiery senior J.P. Macura is a perfect complement to the more mild-mannered Bluiett. Macura backs up his healthy dosage of trash talk with 12.4 points per game on 46.7 percent from the field and 4.4 rebounds per game. He’s also a good perimeter defender.

But the secret to Xavier’s high-powered offense (eighth in the nation in points per game, fifth in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy)  is it’s balance. Eight players average at least seven points per game, and all eight of those players shoot the ball at least 40 percent  from the field.

The Musketeers also have good size across their lineup. Their shortest player out of the guys who average at least five minutes of playing time per game is 6-foot-3-inch guard Paul Scruggs. Unsurprisingly, the size makes them a good rebounding team and they lead the Big East in rebounding margin (+6.9) and defensive rebounds per game (31.2). They rebound by committee, with Bluiett leading the way with 5.6 rebounds per game and then seven other players averaging at least three boards per game.

But, the Blue Demons are dangerous simply because they have nothing to lose in this game and are hungry to end a forgettable season on a high note. However, they’ll need to play a lot better than they did in an 82-57 blowout at the hands of Creighton on Tuesday night where they shot 35.5 percent from the field and 21.7 percent from behind the 3-point line.

Getting graduate senior center Marin Maric back on track is important. He had only six points and took just seven shots in the game against Creighton. The Blue Demons need his dominate presence inside to have any chance of beating Xavier while also needing to have Strus and fellow guard Eli Cain to collectively have more efficient scoring nights on the perimeter.

The game on Saturday against Xavier will air on Fox and WSCR 670 AM.