Pirate attack at Wintrust


DePaul sophomore guard Pantelis Xidias appeared in his third game for the Blue Demons, but first since Nov. 12 against Morgan State. Richard Bodee | The DePaulia

When Monday rolls around the DePaul Blue Demon’s (8-5; 0-2) next opponent, the Seton Hall Pirates (11-3; 2-0), will likely see their name among the top 25 teams in the country on the AP poll.

Winners of seven straight, the Pirates have defeated No. 13 Kentucky, two Big Ten teams in Maryland and Rutgers, a previously undefeated St. John’s team, and a tough Xavier team on the road during that stretch. Their last loss was Dec. 1 against Louisville at home.

A noon battle with DePaul is next up on the Pirate’s docket, as the Blue Demons look to get the better of the Pirates for the first time since Feb. 3, 2015. The matchup will air on FS1 with Jeff Levering and Tariq Turner on the call. This is the 23rd all-time meeting between the two programs with the Pirates holding a 16-6 advantage in the series.

Obviously, the Pirates have retooled quickly after losing four of their five best players to graduation (leading scorer Desi Rodriguez, Ismael Sanogo, Khadeen Carrington, and rebounding machine Angel Delgado). All four players now play professional basketball in some capacity.

Retooling isn’t as difficult when you have the second-leading scorer in the Big East Conference on your side. Junior guard Myles Powell has averaged 22.6 points per game this season (17th in the country) on 47.4 percent from the field and he can also be a menace from long range, shooting it at a 37.9 percent clip this season. He exploded for 40 points against Grand Canyon on Nov. 22 and has produced 25 or more points in six of his 14 games this season. The steady presence of ninth-year head coach Kevin Willard has eased the transition from last year to this year as well. Willard has led the Pirates to four-straight winning seasons and three straight appearances in the NCAA tournament.

The emergence of Georgia-born (the country not the state) 6-foot-10-inch big man Sandro Mamukelashvili has also been a welcomed surprise for the Pirates. He averages 10.1 points on good efficiency while grabbing 7.6 rebounds per game. Not quite Delgado-level production, but he’s helped to begin filling that void for the Pirates this season.

As a team, a strength for the Pirates is defense (58th in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom). They’ve allowed just one opponent to shoot over 50 percent from the field (Miami) and have held opponents to below 40 percent from the 3-point line in 12 of their 14 games this season. They also force a lot of turnovers in the form of steals with both Powell (1.8 steals per game) and Quincy McKnight (1.6 steals per game) top five in the Big East in this category.

The Blue Demons look to break out of a disturbing pattern. They’ve been competitive for at least the first half of every game they’ve played this season, but on five occasions they’ve succumbed to big runs late in games from their opponents. Blue Demon star Max Strus has gotten out to an uncharacteristically slow start in Big East play, averaging 13 points on 32 percent from the field, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in two conference losses so far this season. The Blue Demons are 6-0 in games in which he has scored 18 or more points and are 1-5 in games in which he’s scored less than 18 points.

With heartbreaking losses the storyline of the season again, the Blue Demons could use a confidence booster in the form of a win against a solid Seton Hall Pirates squad.