Madison Square Garden will showcase this Big East Conference tournament game that might be sneaky good, for fans of bruising affairs with hard-fought points and especially NCAA betting aficionados of Under wagers.
Providence boss Ed Cooley and DePaul coach Dave Leitao might as well just square off in a best-of-three arm-wrestling duel at center stage, spittoons at their sides and nearby wet towels to wipe their brows.
This is about when the college basketball tournaments, and the rest of the sporting world, shut down one year ago due to the pandemic, no better reason to savor every second of the Big East tourney and the coming March Madness.
- Providence -6.5 vs. DePaul, Total 133.5, Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET
- Action: Under 133.5
Sixth-seeded Providence (13-12, 9-10) and 11th-seeded DePaul (4-13, 2-13) battle to determine who advances to play No. 3-seeded Connecticut in a Big East quarterfinal Thursday.
|Providence||-6.5 (-110)||O 133.5 (-110)|
|DePaul||+6.5 (-110)||U 133.5 (-110)|
It remains to be seen if junior shooting guard and Chicago native Javon Freeman-Liberty will be available for the Blue Demons. He was involved in a collision at home Feb. 13 against Providence, departed to gather himself and returned, but was clearly shaken.
He has not played in DePaul’s past five games. So even if he returns to the court for this one, it’s anybody’s guess as to how effective he might perform against the Friars after seeing no game action for nearly a month.
Freeman-Liberty had scored 74 points in his previous four tilts going into that Providence game. That’s when he got rattled, and he finished with only seven points, on 3-of-11 shooting, in 26 minutes.
Defenses Don’t Rest
That game against Providence provided a microscope for both teams. The Friars won, 57-47, a halftime score for a typical matchup between some of the nation’s élite programs.
Looking closer, defense has been a staple for DePaul and Providence. In fact, the Blue Demons own an adjusted defensive efficiency of 43, by Ken Pomeroy, a rating bettered by only Connecticut (at 29) in the Big East.
In his second stint at DePaul, sixth-year coach Dave Leitao has fashioned a squad that allows foes to hit only 31.3% of their 3-point attempts. In his nine total seasons with the Demons, that’s the stingiest they’ve been defending the perimeter.
And their 93.6 adjusted defensive efficiency is also his best such figure in his total tenure in Chicago. But it might not be enough to save his gig. He was 29-65 in his first three seasons back at DePaul, and this season’s record is a pock.
Thirteen of DePaul’s 17 games have finished Under, among the top seven lowest-scoring outputs in the country. Seven of the past 11 Providence games have finished Under. And in the past five Friars games with a total in the 130s, four finished Under.
A pro-bettor pal raves about backing DePaul when it gets double digits, but this game’s 6.5-point spread nullifies any action, either way, on that side.
Ever So Cooley
It is difficult not to cheer for Ed Cooley, Providence’s energetic and engaging 10th-year coach who grew up in the city and starred at Central High, half a mile south of the Friars’ Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
Providence foes shoot a paltry 29.9% beyond the arc, among the best 21 perimeter defenses in the country and the second-lowest in his tenure with the Friars.
Neither team shoots well from long range, so that part of the game will be futile. And the Friars have the edge at the line, where they hit 71.1% of their free throws compared to DePaul’s 67.7%.
The Cooley duo that figures to control this game are junior point guard David Duke (17.2 ppg, 4.8 apg) and senior center Nate Watson (16.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg), who combined for 41 points and 18 rebounds in one of their two victories over DePaul this season.
DePaul is spiraling, having lost eight of its past nine games. In a macro way, too, it’s in a decades-long spin, since the Demons have won only one NCAA Tournament game over the past 31 years.
DeWayne Peevy, DePaul first-year athletic director, told the Chicago Sun-Times he was hired “to fix” a hoops program that has long been broken.
“I didn’t come here to be last,” Peevy told the paper. “We’re last again … I’m not afraid to make changes, if that’s what we need to do.”
Of course, he’ll be in the Garden, observing Leitao and the Blue Demons. At least publicly, he seems to be somewhat supportive. “Let’s make a run. Let’s just see what happens.”
If the pattern persists, what happens will not be good, even if Freeman-Liberty suits up and plays.