No. 14 Villanova must weather the storm -- and DePaul

With the wind-chill factor projected to go as low as minus-60 degrees, local newscasts have declared Wednesday might be the coldest day in many Chicagoans' lives.

Looks like Mother Nature wants to try to accomplish something Big East teams can't: cooling down No. 14 Villanova.

The Wildcats (16-4, 7-0) take an eight-game winning streak into Wednesday night's contest against DePaul (11-8, 3-5) at Wintrust Arena in downtown Chicago.

In Big East action, Villanova leads everyone in field-goal percentage (47.6) as well as field-goal percentage defense (43.2). The Wildcats are hitting a league-high 12.3 3-pointers per conference game -- and they're shooting 40.0 percent from beyond the arc to do it.

Fifth-year seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall have taken turns dominating over the last month -- and frequently they have both been too much to handle.

During Villanova's eight-game streak, Booth and Paschall each has paced the Wildcats in scoring four times as they are among the six Big East players averaging 20-plus points in league play. Booth also leads Big East shooters with 29 3-pointers in seven games as he's drilling 48.3 percent from long range.

"We still have a lot of work to do," Villanova coach Jay Wright told reporters after Sunday's 28-point thrashing of Seton Hall.

"A lot of this (success) has to do with Eric and Phil. I think they're two of the best players in the country. They're leading the team and they're not just doing it by scoring points. They're defending and rebounding and getting their teammates shots. And what they do off the floor is impactful on these young guys."

While Villanova and Marquette have transformed the Big East into a two-team race -- every other school owns a sub-.500 record in league play -- it's important to remember that Villanova and DePaul were an even match when they met on Jan. 2 at Finneran Pavilion in the Wildcats' conference opener.

Then-unranked Villanova claimed a 73-68 win but didn't take its first lead until Booth hit a 3-pointer with 7:58 to play. DePaul had a chance to tie in the final moments, but senior forward Max Strus' 3-point attempt went awry with eight seconds left and Booth added two insurance free throws.

Since that initial meeting, DePaul hasn't been nearly as reliant on Strus (17.4 points per game) and senior guard Eli Cain (12.6) because graduate transfer big man Femi Olujobi and sophomore power forward Paul Reed have become consistent forces.

In DePaul's last seven games, Olujobi has averaged 17.6 points while shooting 61 percent from the field and 83 percent at the line. The North Carolina A&T transfer even has extended his range to the 3-point arc.

Reed, meanwhile, has averaged a double-double over the last six games (18.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg) while hitting 59 percent of his shots. How remarkable has his recent improvement been? The wiry 6-foot-9, 220-pounder had never put together a single double-double prior to this run.

DePaul needs everybody who plays to be big contributors because head coach Dave Leitao boasts a short bench. He has used just eight players in Big East play -- and freshman guard Flynn Cameron barely counts as the New Zealand native has logged just 29 minutes.

--Field Level Media
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