Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Once conference foes, Rutgers and DePaul meet at the Gavitt Tipoff Games

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far away, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the DePaul Blue Demons were members of the original BIG EAST Conference.

Driven by football, Rutgers would be one of the schools the old BIG EAST retained as the rebranded American Athletic Conference in 2013 and left the non-football schools in limbo.

The BIG EAST name would be retained as a "new" conference formed with leftover "Catholic 7" members (DePaul, Marquette, Providence, Villanova, Seton Hall, Georgetown and St. John's), along with newcomers Creighton, Butler and Xavier in 2013.

Fast forward three-plus seasons as Rutgers and DePaul rekindle the days of the original BIG EAST Conference in the Gavitt Tipoff Games at Allstate Arena on Thursday.

While not on the upper tier of the Big Ten and BIG EAST standings respectively, the Scarlet Knights and the Blue Demons have met 10 times since 2006.

Rutgers holds a slim 6-4 lead in the series on DePaul as the last meeting took place in the 2013 BIG EAST Tournament first round at Madison Square Garden. 

In a 76-57 win for the Scarlet Knights, Wally Judge finished with a double-double at 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Myles Mack chipped in with 19 points. In the loss, Cleveland Melvin produced a game-high 25 points for the Blue Demons.

Changes galore since 2013:

A lot has changed since the last meeting as Rutgers went from the BIG EAST to the American Athletic Conference for one season, before joining the Big Ten in 2014. DePaul remained with the other catholic schools and formed the current incarnation of the BIG EAST in 2013.

Coaches have come and gone in the stretch as Rutgers' Mike Rice was fired a month after the meeting and Eddie Jordan would be named the head coach on April 18, 2013. Jordan lasted three seasons before being dismissed on March 10, with Steve Pikiell being named head coach nine days later. The Blue Demons fell in the same boat as Oliver Purnell resigned from his coaching duties on March 14, 2015, which opened the door for Dave Leitao to return for his second stint as coach 15 days later.

Players to watch for in Thursday's meeting, Rutgers' Corey Sanders:

Rutgers' hopes for making any kind of improvement in the 2016-17 season will hinge on sophomore sensation Corey Sanders.

Sanders' skill set was on full display last season as he was one of two freshmen to average at least 15.9 points, 4.3 assists and 1.8 steals. The other player was Ben Simmons (LSU), who ended up the No. 1 overall pick in June's NBA Draft.

After going through workouts at the combine, Sanders withdrew his name from the 2016 NBA Draft class and Rutgers could be a dark horse in the Big Ten with the sophomore running the show at point guard.

DePaul's Billy Garrett Jr:

Experience can go a long way into a team's success rate and DePaul has stability in Garrett. The senior is the leading returning scorer averaging 12.6 points per game last season.

Garrett started the 2016-17 season with a balanced effort across the board with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists in a 78-72 win over Robert Morris on Nov. 13.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.