Preview: DePaul faces Xavier in first round of Big East Tournament


Alexa Sandler | The DePaulia

DePaul head coach Dave Leitao talks to junior guard Charlie Moore during the Blue Demons’ 74-68 win over Georgetown on Feb. 22.

When DePaul began Big East play against Seton Hall on Dec. 30, the Blue Demons looked like a team destined for the NCAA Tournament. With a 12-1 record and multiple impressive wins, DePaul built a resume that was strong enough to possibly earn an at-large bid in March.

But the Blue Demons failed to build on that success when conference play, going 3-15 and finishing in last place for the fourth straight year. As a result, DePaul is the No. 10 seed in the Big East Tournament and will face the seventh-seed Xavier Musketeers in the first round at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. 

DePaul (15-16; 3-15 Big East) lost both meetings against Xavier this season, with the most recent meeting coming at the Cintas Center on Feb. 25 and the Musketeers winning 78-67. That is also the last game that junior forward Paul Reed has played in. Reed has missed the last three games due to a hip pointer injury. In that game, the Blue Demons turned it over 22 times and gave up 12 3-pointers to Xavier.

Xavier is also dealing with an injury to junior guard Paul Scruggs, who is a game-time decision for Wednesday night’s first round game. The Musketeers are coming off a close loss to Butler on Saturday, with Kamar Baldwin hitting a 3-pointer at the end to give the Bulldogs a 72-71 win. With the loss, Xavier dropped to the seventh-seed and Marquette rose one spot above them. 

DePaul finished the regular season with a 93-55 road loss to Providence on Saturday, with the margin of defeat being the worst since head coach Dave Leitao was hired in 2015. The Blue Demons went into the break down 55-25 and were never able to climb out of that hole, with the lead reaching 45 points at one point in the second half.

DePaul and Xavier also met at Wintrust Arena on Feb. 4, with the Musketeers coming away with a 67-59 victory. In the first half, the Blue Demons scored a season-low 16 points and trailed by 19 heading into the break. DePaul rebounded in the second half by scoring 43 points, but still fell short by eight points. Reed finished that game with 18 points, nine rebounds and seven steals. For the Musketeers, however, Tyrique Jones scored 12 points and grabbed 18 rebounds 

After the season ended, Reed was named to the All-Big East second team and forward Romeo Weems was picked for the All-Big East freshman team

Xavier is led by Naji Marshall, who leads the team in scoring (16.9), assists (3.9) and steals (1.3). Marshall was recently named to the All-Big East first team. Jones, on the other hand, was named to the second team after averaging 13.7 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. 

Both the Musketeers and the Blue Demons are at the bottom in the Big East in 3-point shooting, but in their two meetings this season, Xavier went 20-of-50 from behind the arc. Both teams are also at the bottom in free-throw shooting, with Xavier sitting in ninth (65.9 percent) and DePaul coming in last at 65.5 percent. 

For DePaul, junior guard Charlie Moore leads the team with 15.5 points and a conference-best six assists per game. Senior guard Jalen Coleman-Lands is averaging 11.3 points per game on 31.9 percent shooting from the 3-point line, while junior forward Jaylen Butz is averaging 10.1 points per game on 59.4 percent shooting from the field.

Since moving to the Big East in 2005, DePaul is 2-12 in the Big East Tournament, with their most recent win coming in 2014 against Georgetown. Under Leitao, the Blue Demons are 0-4 in the tournament. Last season, DePaul lost 82-74 to St. John’s after sweeping them in the regular season. 

Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m. CT at Madison Square Garden, with the winner advancing to play Villanova Thursday night.