The opponent for the Sweet 16 has been known all week. When the brackets were released, the Ags road to Nashville looked like it would have to go through the 2 seed Duke. But instead the Ags are in Lincoln playing a team from the Land of Lincoln.
DePaul had an interesting weekend. First they collaborated with Oklahoma set an NCAA tourney record for the most points scored in regulation in a 104-100 win. Then they upset 2 seed Duke on their home court.
The Blue Demons are a very balanced team, with 6 players averaging between 9.1-15.5 ppg and 23.1-29.2 minutes per game. DePaul has two 6-4 players on the roster and a 6-3, but Brandi Harvey-Carr at 9 min/game is the only one with significant playing time. Harvey-Carr played 1 minute against Duke and 8 minutes vs OU and had little impact in either game. Most of the time DePaul seems to play a 4 guard lineup with 6-1 Sr Jasmine Penny in the middle. Brittany Hyrnko (pronounced Renko; she's easy to pick out because of her distinctive hair) and Chanise Jenkins seem to alternate playing the point while in the game at the same time. They have 198 and 183 assists on the year, respectively, and they are tied with 11 apiece for the tourney. 6-2 wing Megan Podkowa is the leading rebounder at 6.3/game. The Demons have two Megans: Megan Rogowski is the leading scorer at 15.8/game. She's the main 3 point bomber with 111 treys for the year from 243 attempts behind the arc.
On TexAgs radio, Coach Blair compared DePaul to Paul Westhead's teams, first with the men at Loyola Marymount and more recently with the Oregon women. Like Mizzou, they embrace the 3-pointer. But in rewatching their OU game, they weren't shy about attacking the basket with drives and backdoor cuts. They took open threes, but there was less of the drive and kick play than Mizzou would use. The drive and kick was used more against the zone that Duke used against them. DePaul coach Doug Bruno disagreed with the comparison to Westhead's teams
this is not a Paul Westhead copy up here, we're not trying to just give up points just to score points. At the same time we want do... we want to score the ball. We believe the that defensive basketball is for the purpose of getting the ball back and scoring the ball. So we're trying to score the ball. We are going to shoot the ball quickly if we are open. If we are not open we won't shoot the ball quickly.
On defense they like to press to set up the break. They appear to play mostly man to man defense in the bits that I saw, but Duke's offense was so stagnant in those clips that there were possessions where it looked like they were playing zone. The fast pace means that DePaul can be prone to turnovers - they average 14.6 turnovers/game but force 20.4. They've blown some big leads this season including a 16 point lead vs Creighton in January and a 19 point lead vs OU in the opening round. DePaul's offense down the stretch let them survive a 66 point second half from the Sooners.
On defense, I expect Coach to go with Tori over Achiri, and the same Tori/Jennings tag team that was on Burkholder may spend time checking Rogowski. Achiri will get minutes when/if we go small to counter their quickness. Against Duke the Demons shot 14-33 from outside the arc; that was more than half of their shots and more than half of their made shots. I don't expect that against the Ags because of man vs zone defense. But A&M has had trouble stopping really good penetrating guards all year (especially if the refs allow the kind of fullback leading the run through the point of attack play that Vandy used). Also, the Ags man defense won't help if they don't take care of the ball vs the press or get back in transition. DePaul shoots a lot of its 3s off the break.
On offense, the Ags should be able to use their size advantage, mainly with Karla. Before the Duke game, DePaul players talked about being used to playing bigger lineups.
Duke forward Elizabeth Williams leads a group of tall and strong Blue Devil defenders. The Blue Devils have four players that are taller than six feet. It's quite a comparison to DePaul, who has often played four guards on the court at the same time.
"We've played against a lot of big teams like Marquette and Georgetown," DePaul forward Megan Rogowski said. "Throughout the season, we've been preparing for games like (Monday's) game against Duke."
DePaul swept 11-21 Georgetown and went 2-1 vs 21-10 Marquette (11-7 in conference, eliminated in by Indiana in the NIT). I don't think those really prepared them for Duke or A&M. Not that this helped Duke… It will be interesting to see whether the Demons will try a man defense or whether they will either start in a zone or switch to one the way JMU did.
In some ways this feels like an upgraded version of JMU. The Demons want to press, play man and run. They shoot the ball well but are vulnerable in the paint. While they don't have a Kirby Burkholder, there's plenty of firepower overall.
Misc DePaul factoids:
- DePaul is one of nine teams to make it to 12 consecutive NCAA tourneys
- The win against Duke was Coach Bruno's 600th career win
- They're the only team in Men's or Women's Bouncy Ball from the State of Illinois that is still dancing
- They've never made it past the Sweet 16
- Despite their record of NCAA tourney bids, their average home attendance is averaging just 2674 over 15 games. Perhaps that factored into the Ags being able to go to Chicago and recruit 6-5 5-star post Khaalia Hillsman for next year
- The two teams will get a rematch next season when the Ags go to the Maggie Dixon tournament, which will be in Chicago
Time, Place, and TV
Possible Elite 8 Opponents
If the Ags make it out of the Sweet 16, they will face one of two possible opponents on Monday night. To be determined in the first game starting at 3:30 CDT.
The Cougars are the Cinderella of the 2014 tourney. As a 12 seed they're the lowest remaining seed by far. DePaul and LSU are a pair of 7s, OK State is a 5 who didn't have to beat the 4. The other 12 teams are at their seeded expectations. The NYT ran a profile on BYU on Tuesday, and over at Swish Appeal, Nate Parham has written about how teams in the WCC have been more effective against the Cougars 6-7 Jennifer Hamson than BYUs first two tourney opponents. In some ways what we've seen in the upsets of NC State and Nebraska is reminiscent of how teams had to adjust to Britney Griner's shot blocking ability. Hamson is not the scoring threat that Griner was and BYU doesn't have an Odyssey Sims, but as Nate has written in the linked piece above, they do have players who can score and defend. In the first round win vs the Wolfpack, guard Lexi Eaton went off for 25 and NC State was held to 27.4% shooting. Against Nebraska, BYU jumped ahead again but the Huskers adjusted in the second half and looked like they might pull off the comeback. But how BYU is more than Hamson was illustrated by the way the Cougars increased their lead late in the game with Hamson on the bench with 4 fouls. Partly that was from the Cougars hitting open jumpers, but it also looked to me like the Huskers had distorted their offensive game plan while Hamson was in and took rushed shots instead of going back into the paint. Thurl Bailey's niece, F Morgan Bailey, plays a key role in the interior defense, so this may be a case of the heritability of being a team of destiny.
In a Swish Appeal round table of SBN WBB writers, I actually gave BYU the best chance of the teams not named Notre Dame or UConn of beating Notre Dame or UConn. This is not to say it's a good chance or that they would have the best chance in a single game.
4. Based on what you've seen during the tournament or this season, which team has the best shot of beating either UConn or Notre Dame (outside of them beating each other)?
BYU. Yes, BYU. Here's why: the small chance of winning against UConn or Notre Dame has to be multiplied by the probability of making it to face them. In isolation I'd say Tennessee, but the Vols and everyone else in the Louisville and Stanford regions have to get past each other to have a shot at the Huskies or Irish in the finals. The two teams that are guaranteed a game vs UConn or Notre Dame are BYU and Oklahoma State, who see them in the S16. BYU has taken advantage of teams that have not seen Hamson before, so I give them the edge over OK State.
Coach Blair would also say that BYU is "playing with house money" at this point, and maybe UConn will have adjustment problems (esp. depending on how fouls are called in the paint). On the other hand, they aren't going to sneak up on UConn, who has had all week to prepare. Although UConn hasn't faced a Hamson this year, they played Baylor and Griner several times. So, the best chance of an upset is not remotely the same as a good chance of an upset. UConn will probably win comfortably.
In the very unlikely event that BYU knocked off UConn, they'd present an interesting problem for the Ags, who aren't going to attack over the top with a 3 point barrage (as DePaul might).
Undefeated UConn is the #1 team in the country by most measures with the only doubt being whether undefeated Notre Dame has a case for that honor. They are the defending National Champs whose finals MVP from last year, Breanna Stewart, was a freshman who has gotten scary better. UConn is so good that they didn't miss a beat when Kalena Mosqueda-Lewis, who would be the star on almost every other team, was out twice during the season. Questions about whether KML was fully recovered from mono were answered by her triple-double in the second round. UConn is so good that Bria Hartley, who could be a first round WNBA pick, is the starter who gets the least attention. Oh, and then therre's Stephanie Dolson, who is another first-rounder.
I got to watch the Huskies dismantle the Ags by 31 last season. They're even more impressive in person than on TV. UConn is more than the sum of its parts, and their parts are better than your parts anyway. Since 2008-9, the Huskies have lost only 11 times: only one of those losses was to a team that would not make the Final Four that year. UConn has made the Final Four every year since 2007-8; their worst finishes in the lifetimes of some of the Ags are a couple of Sweet 16s.
So, UConn is the overwhelming favorite to win the regional. But Karla Gilbert and Kristen Grant will remember how Baylor was the overwhelming favorite in the regionals their freshman year. And we know how that turned out.
* Finebaum version courtesy of Dr. Norris Camacho in the JMU recap