DePaul Blue Demons vs. Pittsburgh Panthers Preview and Pick – Point Spread

DePaul Blue Demons (8-4 SU, 3-3 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (10-2 SU, 4-5-1 ATS), 7:00 p.m. EST, Monday, December 28, 2009, Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh, Pa. TV: ESPNU
by Ryno of Predictem.com

Point Spread: DePaul +12.5/Pittsburgh -12.5
Over/Under: N/A

The DePaul Blue Demons failed to win a Big East regular season game last season, finishing the season with an 0-18 conference record. The Blue Demons look (so far) like they could possibly go winless in the Big East once again. They have a chance to end their losing streak and start the 2009-2010 Big East season on the right foot when they play the Pittsburgh Panthers on Monday night at the Petersen Events Center.

DePaul started the season just fine with wins over Northern Iowa and St. Joseph’s in November and a four-point loss to Tennessee on a neutral court. All three of those games were in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. But after starting off 5-1, the Blue Demons have won just two of their last six games, including losses to Florida Gulf Coast and American in the last two weeks.

Pitt has faced two BCS conference schools this season - Texas and Indiana - and has lost both of them. The Panthers have played a fairly weak schedule, as their best wins have come against Wichita State and Duquesne (in overtime).

Pitt has a young, inexperienced team this season after losing DeJuan Blair, Levance Fields and Sam Young from last season. The Panthers are led by the three-guard attack of Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker and Travon Woodall. All three can certainly shoot the ball from the outside, but all three of them are shooting 35 percent or less from 3-point range. Athletic wing Gilbert Brown was ineligible for the first semester but just became eligible for the last game, so his addition is a big boost for Pitt. Jermaine Dixon was injured to start the season but has played in the last four games and has started the last two over Woodall. He is still trying to get back into the groove of things, but once he does Dixon will be one of the leaders for the Panthers. Down low, Pitt doesn’t have much depth. Gary McGhee is a 6-foot-10 junior with a limited skill set but can fill up space. Dante Taylor is a 6-foot-9 freshman with a strong upside. With only two real big men, the Panthers will almost always have four guards or wings on the floor. Wanamaker and sophomore wing Nasir Robinson have helped out a lot down low, both averaging around six rebounds per game.

DePaul is led by 6-foot-10 center Mac Koshwal, who is averaging 15.2 points and 13 rebounds per game. Koshwal missed a bulk of the season thus far with an injury but returned in DePaul’s last game and should be in full force for this game. Koshwal’s presence should be a big advantage for the Blue Demons since Pitt doesn’t have much of an inside presence. Devin Hill is also a solid big man to compliment Koshwal down low. On the perimeter, DePaul has a trio of guards - Will Walker, Eric Wallace and Jeremiah Kelly. Walker leads the team in scoring with 16.5 points per game but he is only shooting 37.6 percent from the field. He, Wallace and Kelly all must shoot well to give DePaul any chance at defeating Pitt.

In a 54-51 loss to Florida Gulf Coast last Tuesday, Koshwal had a nice return with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Kelly had 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting and four assists. Walker had 11 points and four assists, but he shot 4-for-18 from the field and 2-for-13 from beyond the arc. Walker is more than capable of carrying the scoring load for DePaul, but he can’t force shots like he did against Florida Gulf Coast. The Blue Demons have other players that can score some points, so if Walker’s shot isn’t falling he needs to be more of a facilitator.

Ryno’s Pick: DePaul was awful over the last few weeks, but now it’s a new season with conference play beginning. Koshwal is back and the Blue Demons are at full strength. Pitt is also at full strength with Brown and Dixon back in the lineup. The Panthers have a ton of capable guards but they have no inside game. Koshwal should be able to exploit that and have a big game to keep DePaul relatively close. As long as he stays out of foul trouble, it will be up to Walker and Kelly to score some points for the Blue Demons. If the two of them especially shoot well, DePaul will have a chance to win the game. The Blue Demons must also get a hand up on Pitt’s outside shots. All of the Panthers guards can stroke it from beyond the arc, but they are also capable of shooting poorly. In the end, DePaul will give it a strong effort in its Big East opener and the game will go down to the wire. Take DePaul +12.5.