As a team that has played catch-up since Christmas, DePaul isn't the type to shy away from a race.
The Blue Demons' speed, a feature coach Jerry Wainwright often trumpets, has helped them win seven of nine to reach the .500 mark. Quick-footed freshman Dar Tucker has ignited the transition offense, and Demons defenders are closing out better on 3-point shooters.
Speed will be a crucial element Saturday night at No. 21 Marquette (7 p.m., ESPNU), a squad led by the three-man relay of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews.
"If you give them an edge out of the blocks, you're not gonna catch 'em," DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright said. "Their vertical speed is as good as any team in college basketball."
The good news for the Demons?
"I would like to think that we're able to run with them," Wainwright said. "That's when we're at our best, too."
DePaul's high-tempo style backfired in nonconference play, as it constantly found itself on the wrong end of scoring shootouts. Speed without defense translated into a 2-7 start.
The Demons haven't downshifted but instead started to put their quickness to better use. Wainwright started taking more risks on defense and his team responded, averaging 8.8 steals in the last nine games.
An intermittent press proved effective in the last two games, as DePaul forced 35 turnovers in wins against Rutgers and Florida Gulf Coast. Pressing Marquette the entire game is chancy, but a pinch of pressure every now and then could disrupt the Golden Eagles' rhythm.
"They're a fast team," Demons swingman Karron Clarke said. "If we slow them down a little bit, that could play a part in us winning."
James has been slowed by a sprained right wrist, shooting 40 percent or below in his last five games. The 5-11 junior leads Marquette in scoring (13.8 ppg), but his average has dipped each season.
"He just continues to work his way through it," coach Tom Crean said. "He's such an integral part of what we do, but there's no doubt that over the last couple weeks, it's affected him, probably mentally to a degree, and certainly physically."
Rebounding plagued Marquette in its last two games, both losses to bigger teams (Louisville and Connecticut).
The Golden Eagles essentially start four perimeter players - Lazar Hayward does most of his damage from the outside - and need consistent boards from forwards Dwight Burke and Ousmane Barro. They didn't get much against Louisville and Connecticut, losing the rebounding battle by a combined count of 80-58.
DePaul has rebounded well since a timid performance at Villanova. Forwards Mac Koshwal and Matija Poscic provide the court speed and size needed to jostle Marquette, and Wainwright looks for a big game from Clarke, who has struggled in league play (6.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg).
"Karron is due," Wainwright said. "He gives us the matchup at that off-size (power forward) that Marquette specializes in."
Winning on the road has been tricky in the Big East, and Marquette enters Saturday night on a 12-game home win streak, stretching back to last season. The Demons are among the 10 Big East teams with a road league victory, and they nearly had a second before crumbling at Villanova.
Crean called DePaul "fearless on the road."
"We get this one, we're in a good spot," said senior guard Draelon Burns, a Milwaukee native. "The way our conference is going right now, anybody can take the title."
DePaul (9-9, 4-2) at Marquette (13-4, 3-3)
When: 7 p.m. Saturday at the Bradley Center
Radio: WSCR 670-AM
The skinny: After two convincing losses, Marquette should be keyed up for DePaul, which hasn't won at the Bradley Center since Feb. 16, 2000. The Blue Demons have been the steadier team in Big East play and could easily be 2-0 in league road games. With Dominic James still bothered by a wrist injury, Marquette likely will look more to forward Lazar Hayward (12.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and guard Jerel McNeal (13.4 ppg). "I would love to have a guy like (McNeal)," DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright said. "He's absolutely fearless. He's got one of those eight-chamber hearts. He plays with such intensity." The Demons can't forget about Golden Eagles forward Dan Fitzgerald, who has averaged 17 points in his last two games against them.