Riding high heading to Villanova three weeks ago, DePaul’s upset hopes were quickly quashed. Now the slumping Blue Demons enter the rematch dealing with some defensive issues and could have a rough day against an offense which may have rediscovered its groove.
Still, coach Jay Wright doesn’t expect his seventh-ranked Wildcats to have an easy time when they visit DePaul on Saturday, even though they’ve had plenty of time to prepare for an opponent facing a quick turnaround.
Villanova (18-2, 5-2 Big East) was looking up at the Blue Demons in the conference standings when the teams met Jan. 10, having already lost once in league play while DePaul was 3-0 despite being picked to finish last. The Wildcats raced to a 24-9 lead and were never challenged in an 81-64 victory.
"The last time we played them was kind of a strange game," Wright told the team’s official website. "They were 3-0 and had been really hot coming in. They kind of looked in that game like we did against Georgetown (a 78-58 loss Jan. 19). They were out of sync and we were hot at home.
"… We’re not really taking much out of that game. I think it’s going to be a completely different game."
The only team ahead of Villanova in the Big East is Providence, which eased past DePaul 83-72 on Thursday. That game was scheduled for Tuesday but postponed due to a blizzard, so the Blue Demons (11-11, 5-4) had to fly home that night and had only one day to get ready for this matinee.
The Wildcats haven’t played since routing Creighton 71-50 on Sunday – a long layoff that had Wright concerned after the win.
"How do we keep these guys fresh and hungry as we get ready for DePaul?" Wright asked. "It’s taken up a lot of my thought. Like, what do we do with these guys for five days?"
He hopes their strong performance offensively can carry over. Besides tying a season low with five turnovers after having 17 against Georgetown, Villanova hit 12 of 26 from 3-point range after going 13 of 41 in the previous two games while averaging 60.0 points.
The Wildcats rank second in the Big East in scoring (75.7 points per game), field-goal percentage (46.7), 3-point accuracy (36.3 percent) and assists (16.2 per game).
Slowing them down is a tall order for a DePaul team which has dropped four of six, giving up averages of 82.8 points and 53.6 percent shooting in the losses. One of those was to Villanova, which shot 53.6 percent with 13 3-pointers.
Darrun Hilliard scored a game-high 21 that day, hitting 8 of 12 from the field. The senior followed with a three-game slump, totaling 27 points on 7-of-25 shooting, but came back Sunday to hit 9 of 15 with six 3s for a season-high 24 points.
Hilliard averages a team-high 13.4, and Ryan Arcidiacono has scored 13.0 per game over the last five while hitting 15 of 26 from beyond the arc.
Tommy Hamilton is DePaul’s hottest player, with 37 points on 13-of-15 shooting in the past two games. He’s among four players averaging in double figures for a Blue Demons team which scores 72.4 per game.
"This is a very dangerous offensive team," Wright said.
Villanova has won eight straight in the series since an 84-76 road loss Jan. 3, 2008. That had been the last time DePaul defeated a ranked opponent, but that drought ended at 49 games with a win at then-No. 24 Seton Hall on Jan. 22.