DePaul focused on playing own style against No. 1 Syracuse

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DePaul’s Cleveland Melvin, right, dribbles past the defense of Chicago State’s D’Jari Nelson in the first half Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011, at Allstate Arena in Rosemont. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

DePaul was the No. 1 team in the country when it moved into its new home, the Rosemont Horizon, in 1980-81.

The Blue Demons’ fortunes have ebbed and flowed since then, and the name (Allstate Arena) and looks of the building have changed, too.

But no No. 1 team has played DePaul there, and that element will add to the atmosphere of the Demons’ Big East-opening game Sunday against top-ranked Syracuse (4 p.m., Ch. 26.2, 670-AM).

Not that DePaul (9-3) is star-struck.

‘‘They’re a regular team,” guard Brandon Young said of the Orange (14-0). ‘‘I’m excited to play them, but I can’t get too excited. We’re a little more familiar with how they play [a matchup zone] and know what to expect and how to attack it.”

Guard Jeremiah Kelly echoed the sentiment, saying the Demons are more focused on the need to play their own style against Syracuse.

‘‘We have a different team now, more talent and guys who want to compete,” Kelly said. ‘‘It’ll be fun on Sunday. We’re preparing and taking it one day at a time. We know we’re playing the No. 1 team in the country, but we have our own style we want to play.”

That style of defensive pressure can be effective or fatal against a team that leads the nation in steals (11.6 per game) and features 7-foot center Fab Melo, who already has 41 blocked shots.

‘‘Melo has improved so much over last year,” DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. ‘‘You have to be smart playing him.

‘‘Individually, they’re talented and play zone defense. This is a special team they’ve put together with a Hall of Fame coach [Jim Boeheim], but they also have to deal with us.

‘‘Our style is no secret. We like to push the ball and press, and we’ve done it pretty well in the nonconference season. But we need to be better.”

Especially in rebounding, a deficiency the Orange can exploit with its dominating inside play.

Syracuse has been winning games by a Big East-leading average of 22 points, with no sign of distraction from the child-molestation allegations surrounding longtime assistant Bernie Fine, who was fired in late November.

‘‘I’m so excited to play them,” forward Cleveland Melvin said. ‘‘I didn’t get to play them last year because I was hurt [a thumb injury]. I’m looking forward to it. We finished up strong in our nonconference, but we have to take care of business in the conference now.”

‘‘We’re excited [because] we’re looking to have a good year,” Kelly said. ‘‘We have an opportunity [against] the No. 1 team in the country, but we want to work hard and get better and go farther.”

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