It’s not the ‘Big Dance’ but there’s a Championship Game on Wednesday night. Its Game Two of the CBI Tournament between South Florida and DePaul. USF won a narrow 63-61 victory in the first game and just managed to get the cover as -1.5 point favorites. Now DePaul will try to keep their season alive in Game Two. Game Three if necessary will take place on Friday night.
The past decade or so hasn’t been kind to the once elite DePaul Blue Demons. They haven’t been to the NCAA tournament in 15 years which is shocking given that they were once a postseason fixture. The decline in DePaul basketball is worse than even that sobering statistic would suggest. Since the Blue Demons last NCAA tournament appearance in 2004 they had only two winning seasons until the current campaign where they’re 18-16. In his second tenure at the school head coach Dave Leitao has made positive though incremental progress. After 9 win seasons in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 his team went 15-15 in 2017-2018. It might not be fast enough of a turnaround for some DePaul backers but he’s at least got things heading in the right direction.
This game will be played at the Wintrust Arena at McCormick Square which at one point was known as DePaul Arena. That means that its a home game for the Blue Demons as will be Game Three (if necessary). The first game was played at Tampa’s Yuengling Center meaning the Blue Demons put up a tenacious effort in the opposing team’s building. Considering that DePaul went 3-10 SU on the road this season this is commendable. Home court has been a big deal in the CBI in recent years–the past three tournaments have been won by Nevada, Wyoming and North Texas and all three had home court advantage.
DePaul had little trouble in their first three rounds of the CBI played here at the Wintrust Arena. They’re a team with balanced storing including four players averaging in double digits led by forwards Max Strus (20 PPG) and Eli Cain (17 PPG). In their first three rounds, they averaged an insane 96 PPG putting up 100, 97 and 92 against Central Michigan, Longwood and Coastal Carolina. They finished the regular season averaging 77.5 PPG for 59th in the country–its apparent that they like playing outside of the brutally competitive Big East for a change.
South Florida can’t trade buckets with DePaul so they’ll look for a slowdown game. This strategy was very successful against Utah Valley and Loyola Marymount but it was also on their home floor and everyone knows that teams get calls at home that they won’t get on the road. They’ll find the going tougher against a Blue Demons’ team with plenty of scoring options. Sports handicapping 101 dictates that in a ‘quick revenge’ situation you go with the team that lost the first game. For this fundamental reason plus the history of home court success in the CBI we’ll back DePaul.