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Game Preview – DePaul, Huggins renew longstanding rivalry

After defeating Hofstra, 83-71, last Wednesday night at McGrath Arena in Lincoln Park, Chicago, the DePaul Blue Demons are on their way to Manhattan to continue their run in the 2007 National Invitation Tournament. So that means mission accomplished, right?

For many years, the number one goal for any team that has been given the opportunity to participate in the NIT has been to make it to the Tournament semi-finals and championship Game at the famed Madison Square Garden in the Manhattan borough of New York City.

But Jerry Wainwright’s Blue Demons squad is headed to Manhattan, Kansas to take on the No. 2-seeded Kansas State University Wildcats in a nationally-televised second-round NIT contest on Monday night.

This will mark the first meeting between the two schools since a 66-58 victory by the Wildcats in the second round of the 1988 NCAA Tournament, when K-State was led by All-American and future six-time NBA All-Star guard, Mitch Richmond. KSU leads the all-time series 3-2.

Under first-year head coach, Bob Huggins, K-State is currently sporting a 23-11 overall record after finishing 10-6 in the Big 12 Conference (Fourth place). The Wildcats are coming off of a come-from-behind 59-57 home win over Vermont at Bramlage Coliseum on Wednesday, a Game in which the visiting Catamounts led by a many as 12 points with 10:30 remaining in the second half.

Wainwright has certainly made note of KSU’s impressive late-Game comeback. “In the last ten 10 minutes, they started pressing,” Wainwright told WSCR radio. “They obviously are a team that has great length, size, and speed. They were playing in front of almost 10,000 fans. They also had energy there. Ultimately they wore down the smaller team.”

Huggins, who was ousted as the long-time coach at the University of Cincinnati shortly before the 2005-06 season after leading the Bearcats to 14 straight NCAA Tournament appearances (including a Final Four in 1992), faced the Blue Demons many times in the past during the years when DePaul and Cincinnati were rival members of the Great Midwest Conference and then Conference USA [both schools are now members of the Big East Conference]. Huggins holds a 26-7 overall record versus the Blue Demons.

Although he has never faced a Bob Huggins-coached team since taking over at DePaul in 2005, Wainwright is very familiar with the way Huggins’ teams have always been known for playing over the years.

“It’s a typical Coach Huggins team,” Wainwright told WSCR radio. “They really defend. They’re really physical. You better put your helmet on, because it’s going to be a war on the glass. They’ve done a really good job bringing back excitement to Kansas State basketball. Without question he’s a hall of fame coach. I’ve had the opportunity to play him many times especially when I was at Wilmington. We played him in the NCAA’s one year, the year that Kenyon Martin had broke his leg.”

K-State is led by Second-Team All-Big 12 performers, Cartier Martin and David Hoskins. Martin, who also won the Big 12’s Sixth Man award this season, leads the team in scoring at 17.0 ppg, which places him eighth overall in the conference.

Martin, a senior, also ranks Fourth in the Big 12 in free throw percentage (80.6%) and eighth in the league in field goal percentage (45.7%).

Despite Martin’s ability to put the ball in the basket, Huggins elected to bring the high-scoring forward off the bench for much of the season, as he has registered only 17 starts in 34 Games played.

However, Huggins has recently opted to go with a smaller line-up by inserting Martin into the starting rotation during the past two weeks in place of 6-10 freshman, Louis Colon. Martin is now K-State’s tallest starter at 6-7.

Hoskins, a 6-5 junior G/F, ranks second on the team in both scoring (14.2 ppg) and rebounding (6.0 rpg). Lance Harris, a 6-5 senior guard, also averages double figures for the Wildcats at 10.7 ppg.

At only 6-6, senior wing Akeem Wright leads KSU in rebounding at 6.3 rpg, which is good for twelveth place among the Big 12 leaders.

By going with the small starting unit of late, Huggins now has plenty of size that he can bring off of his bench, in the form of Colon, 7-3 freshman center, Jason Bennett, and 6-9 forward, Serge Afeli.

Bennett ranks second in the Big 12 in blocked shots (1.85 bpg), behind only Kevin Durant of Texas.

The Wildcats roster also features a little bit of Big East flavor with 6-4 reserve guard Jermaine Maybank, a transfer from St. John’s University.

Common Opponents: The Blue Demons are 4-0 against common opponents (Kansas, California, Chicago State and Rutgers) while KSU is 2-4 against those team, with three of the losses coming against Kansas.