Northwestern (7-5) has had life easy the last three games with home games against mid-majors, but things will get a slight bit tougher for the Wildcats tomorrow night when they host the DePaul Blue Demons (7-5).
“It’s always exciting when you play somebody that’s so geographically close near you,” redshirt senior Drew Crawford said. “It will be an exciting challenge.”
Still, DePaul has struggled every time it has faced formidable competition. The Blue Demons played Southern Miss close in a home loss, but they also were blown out by Wichita State, Texas, and Arizona State.
Most recently, the Blue Demons lost at Illinois State, a team that also beat Northwestern in Evanston on Nov. 17.
DePaul’s starting lineup features a bizarre mix of experience and youth with three seniors and two freshman.
Two seniors, forward Cleveland Melvin and guard Brandon Young, lead the team in all the major statistical categories.
Melvin leads the Blue Demons in scoring, rebounding and blocks with 16.5 points, 7.2 boards and 1.2 rejections per game, and he is also the team’s best three-point shooter despite being a big man. At 6’8″, he is shooting 50% from deep.
Young is second in scoring with 15.3 points, and he leads DePaul with 4.3 assists and 1.5 steals per contest. He is also the Blue Demons’ most efficient scorer inside with at 63.1% on two-pointers.
Sani Marcius, a Purdue transfer, is the third senior in the starting five. He averages 5.7 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 58% from the field.
The two rookies who are the keys to DePaul’s future are guard Billy Garrett Jr., a top-100 recruit out of high school, and forward Tommy Hamilton IV.
Both have naturally struggled as freshman, but they have also showed signs of a bright future.
Garrett is averaging 10.8 points and 3.6 dimes, and Hamilton is averaging 10.4 points and 5.3 boards.
Facing sub-par opponents in its last three games, Northwestern’s defense has climbed into the top 70 on Kenpom. Although DePaul is far from a great team, the Blue Demons do have a top 100 offense, and they will give the Wildcats a solid test before entering Big Ten Play.
“I’m impressed with their size and their athleticism,” Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said. “They have a really big front line, which for us is going to be a little bit of a contrast of styles.”
Northwestern junior JerShon Cobb has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, and his status for Friday is unknown. If Cobb misses a third game, the Wildcats will need someone to step up aside Crawford on the offensive end.
“[JerShon] is just one of those guys who’s able to score, he plays great defense, and he does everything,” Crawford said. “We just feel a little more comfortable with him on the court.”
Crawford, who redshirted last season, has been great this season with 16.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game, but Northwestern has not had a consistent option aside from him and Cobb.
Last time out against Brown, sophomore Kale Abrahamson stepped up with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Redshirt sophomore Tre Demps, who had seemingly been growing into a more efficient offensive player, regressed against Brown with seven points on 2-of-8 shooting.
At least one of those guys, or someone else like freshman forward Nate Taphorn, will need to step up at home Friday.
Tip-off at Welsh-Ryan Arena is set for 8 p.m. CT, and the game will be televised on Big Ten Network.