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Nothing easy about Purnell’s Big East intro

Oliver Purnell’s success at turning around basketball programs is among the best in the college coaching ranks.

But will turning around DePaul as it competes in the rugged Big East be more difficult than, say, turning around a football-tradition school such as Clemson in the competitive Atlantic Coast Conference?

“DePaul will be tougher,’’ one veteran NBA scout said. “The difference is kids from South Carolina [where Clemson is located] who are good players and may not get into North Carolina or Duke or Wake Forest still want to play in the ACC. The kids [in the Midwest] want to play in the Big Ten more, not necessarily the Big East.

“But as he gets players, [DePaul] will get better.’’

Purnell will get his introduction to the rigors of Big East play tonight, when the Blue Demons (6-6) visit 12-0 Cincinnati (6, ESPN3, 670-AM).

“I see the league, which is a great one, has five teams in the top 10 of the polls, and Cincinnati [unranked] is still one of the unbeaten teams,’’ he said.

“The league didn’t do us any ­favors giving us two in a row at Cincinnati and at [No. 10] Georgetown [on Saturday]. But you get those games behind you, and at some point you get home games back.

“It’ll be a great test for our guys to go on the road and see what they can do. The thing I’ll emphasize to our guys is, ‘Let’s take all that we have learned and put it out there.’ If we do that, we’ll be a nightmare for a lot of teams — and if we do that, we’ll have some good dreams ourselves.’’

The nightmare will be the frenetic style Purnell has instilled. The ­Demons have improved in the system, winning their last three games.

“It’s demanding for a lot of teams because you have to face it for 40 minutes,’’ guard Jimmy Drew said of the all-out pressure style. “It’s not easy to play with someone in your face for 40 minutes, and it makes it tougher to make good decisions, so I think it will create a lot of problems [for opponents].’’

DePaul might find it more difficult to use its pressure against better guards, but it has proved to be a style that can keep the Demons in games even when they fall behind by double digits.

“The Big East is a whole different ballgame, so we’ll all have to step up our games,’’ Drew said. “I think we’re ready. We’ve been preparing for it all season. We’ve played a lot of good teams, and I think that will prepare us.’’



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