Blue Demons vs. Bulldogs: Can DePaul make it three in a row?



Sophomore forward Paul Reed and the DePaul Blue Demons battle the Butler Bulldogs tonight at Wintrust Arena. Richard Bodee I The DePaulia

DePaul is on a roll.

After defeating No. 24 ranked St. John’s 79-71 on Saturday in New York, the Blue Demons have now strung together back-to-back wins in Big East Conference play for the first time since January 2015 and have now defeated a ranked opponent for the first time since Feb. 2, 2016 when they took down the No. 11 ranked Providence Friars (they were 0-15 against ranked opponents since that game before the win Saturday).

With a little momentum to build upon, the next opponent on the DePaul Blue Demon’s (10-5; 2-2) docket is the Butler Bulldogs (10-7; 1-3). The game goes down at 7:30 p.m. at Wintrust Arena and FS1 will televise the event. The Bulldogs have beaten the Blue Demons in the last nine matchups between the two teams and lead the all-time series 10-6.

“I think the biggest key for us is to take it one moment and one day at a time,” Blue Demon head coach Dave Leitao said. “It’s cliché, but it’s the way we’ve tried to operate all season long whether in good times or in bad times. So we need to keep that mantra.”

Butler comes into the game with a 1-3 record in Big East play. They’ve lost their last two games by one point apiece with their only conference victory coming in the form of an 84-69 home win against a Creighton squad that is also 1-3 in Big East play. Butler’s most significant nonconference win was a Nov. 23 victory against Florida in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

Preseason All-Big East First Team selection Kamar Baldwin is the best player on this team. The 6-foot-1-inch junior guard has averaged team highs with 17 points (ninth in the Big East) and 5.1 rebounds per game and is second on the team with 4.1 assists per game (sixth in the Big East). He ranks top 10 in the Big East in scoring, assists, minutes played, steals, and free-throw percentage.The Bulldogs are an experienced bunch with all but one of the five players who have started at least 14 games this season owning junior eligibility or above.

Surrounding Baldwin are shooters. Paul Jorgensen (41 percent from 3-point land), Sean McDermott (42.7 percent from 3-point land), and Jordan Tucker (38.9 percent from 3-point land) space out the floor nicely for the Bulldogs. These three players combine for 16.5 3-point field goal attempts per game. The Bulldogs have shot the ball from deep at an above average 36.4 percent clip this season (85th best in the country). Another thing that Butler has going for them is its ball security. They only turn the ball over 10.6 times per game, which is 14th lowest in the nation.

Meanwhile, the Blue Demons have used an old-school approach to spark their recent surge in conference play. Traditional, non-shooting big men Femi Olujobi (13.3 points per game on 57.9 percent from the field in conference play; 27 points against St. John’s), Jaylen Butz (a quiet 9.0 points and 5.8 rebounds in conference play), and Paul Reed (13.8 points and 8.3 rebounds in conference play; posted his first career double-double against St. John’s) are the best things that the Blue Demons have going for them right now.

Tonight, DePaul’s big men could provide the Blue Demons with a decisive advantage. Butler doesn’t rebound the ball well. They average 32.5 total rebounds per game which is tied for 320th best in the nation and is last in the Big East Conference. The 6-foot-1-inch Baldwin is the leading rebounder on the team. They also don’t have a shot blocker [their leading shot blocker averages 0.5 blocks per game] and the Bulldogs average 2.1 blocks per game as a team for the season [No. 319 in the nation].

“We’ve identified that [big men play and rebounding] as a strength of ours so we are going to continue to emphasize it every game,” Leitao said. “Particularly against a team that statistically anyway doesn’t rebound like we do. But on any given night we could be really good at it or not so good at it or your opponent can be really good. So we need to be mindful that that can happen in a positive way for us and we have to make sure it [a good rebounding game] doesn’t happen on their end either.”

The Blue Demons winning three conference games in a row [which would be the case if they can beat Butler on Wednesday] has happened more recently than you probably expected. The Blue Demons opened up their 2014-2015 Big East Conference slate with three consecutive victories finishing that season with six conference wins, which has been the most conference wins they’ve recorded since the 2007-2008 season when they also notched six wins.