Preview: DePaul looks to stay perfect against Central Michigan

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Alexa Sandler | The DePaulia

DePaul junior forward Paul Reed celebrates after a play in the second half against Cornell on Nov. 16 at Wintrust Arena.

The success of the season so far for DePaul and coach Dave Leitao can’t be understated. 

It’s the best opening to a season since 1986-87 when Joey Meyer was the coach and Rod Strickland was putting up 16 points and 6.5 assists. Anyone who saw the talent acquired going into this season could have expected a better roster. But not many saw this great start to the season, including two convincing wins on the road against Iowa and Boston College.

Yet the addition of Charlie Moore and Romeo Weems coupled with the immense growth of NBA-hopeful Paul Reed has put the Blue Demons on the radar of the entire country. They’ll have their toughest match of the young season when they travel to Minnesota on Friday, Nov. 29 to face the Gophers, before hosting national runner-up Texas Tech on Dec. 4.

Before Leitao’s squad turns their focus to beating another Big Ten team, they have Central Michigan waltzing into town two days before Thanksgiving at 7 p.m. at Wintrust Arena. Central Michigan is 5-1, including a  25 point loss to Minnesota last week. Yet in college basketball, no game can be overlooked.

The Blue Demons have been rolling this year thanks to a stifling defense that has improved in the past few seasons. Length is key with 6’7” two-time Big East freshman of the week Romeo Weems, 6’9” Jaylen Butz and 6’9” Reed, who has five double-doubles in six games all in the starting lineup. 

This frontcourt is assisted by senior Jalen Coleman-Lands and Kansas transfer Charlie Moore, who had 24 points including eight in the last two minutes of the game to seal the deal against Boston College. Junior guard Devin Gage, when healthy, has came off the bench to add an extra boost to the defense. 

A portion of the DePaul players have seen and handled Central Michigan in the past, with a 100-86 win in the first round of last year’s CBI.

Yet the Chippewas and the Blue Demons are in a whole new season. Central Michigan comes into this game averaging 99.7 points a game through their six games, while DePaul comes in holding teams to an average of 61.7 points a game. 

Central Michigan has five players averaging in double-figures this year including Dallas Morgan with 16.3 points and David DiLeo with 16 a game. 

Three things to watch for:

Paul Reed’s continued dominance

Iowa wasn’t fast enough. Boston College wasn’t smart enough. Alcorn State, UChicago, Fairleigh-Dickinson, and Cornell just weren’t big enough.

Paul Reed has been able to beat opposing defenders in a variety of ways. He is quick on his feet which gives some bigger players troubles. Reed can create his own shot and spread the floor with his mid-range jumper and his 3-point shot. Reed also can make quick moves in transition and with his footwork down low. 

Boston College center Nik Popovic was tasked with guarding Reed through the game last Saturday. Reed, as well as Butz, were able to frustrate Popovic and force him into fouls that kept him out of the game. Reed’s ability to be so crafty around the rim leads to a lot of trouble for the other teams. Against Central Michigan, who have some length of their own, Reed will be key for the offense.

Finding the offensive identity

The Blue Demons’ defense has been ahead of their offense for the main part of their historic start. On defense, DePaul will hound the ball-handler, force bad shots, and stuff it down low. On offense, there hasn’t been the same amount of fluidity and confidence across the board.

This team is very athletic and they excel in transition. With the ball in front of him, Charlie Moore will make plays. Reed, Butz and Weems are all scary as can be when they catch a lob near the rim. When the Blue Demons get into the half-court, there isn’t as much of a common identity.

There were a couple of plays on Saturday and through the season where DePaul couldn’t get the shot they wanted and were forced to shoot bad 3-pointers or contested floaters. They’ll need to be able to score from different parts of the court consistently if they want to beat teams like Minnesota and Texas Tech in the future.

Free throw shooting improvements

The biggest stain on the otherwise clean season has been the free-throw shooting. The Blue Demons have been shooting 61.7 percent from the line this year, and for a team that wants to bully other teams down low, that isn’t ideal.

Yet, it seems like something that the team has worked on over the past week. Against Boston College, they shot 14-for-18 which was key in a game that was tight down the stretch. This is the kind of shooting that needs to continue if the Blue Demons hope to make noise in the Big East.

Where to watch?

TV: FS1

Radio: 670 AM

Wintrust Arena at 7 p.m.

Odds:

DePaul -12 (3-3 ATS in 2019)