"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Friday, November 20, 2020

DePaul Preview, 2020-21

DePaul Blue Demons


Head Coach: Dave Leitao (208-227 overall, 123-132 at DePaul)

Three-Year NCAA Rank Average: 124.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 103.7

2020-21 T-Rank Projection: 81

Charlie Moore is a First-Team All-Big East selection

Photo from depaulbluedemons.com

Projected Starters: PG Charlie Moore (5'11" Sr), SG Javon Freeman-Liberty (6'3" RS Sr), SF Courvoisier McCauley (6'5" Jr), PF Romeo Weems (6'7" So), C Jaylen Butz (6'9" Sr)

At 12-1 with wins over Iowa, Minnesota, and Texas Tech, the #RankDePaul movement was in full swing. It appeared that the Blue Demons were back, led by a legitimate NBA prospect in Paul Reed and a dynamic guard in Charlie Moore. Then Big East play started, and the Blue Demons reminded us all why so many of their critics refer to them as "DuhPaul." They started conference play 1-12 on their way to another last place finish in the league, the tenth time they've occupied that spot since 2009. Then second-leading scorer Reed left early for the NBA and third-leading scorer Jalen Coleman-Lands transferred to Iowa State.

The new edition of the Blue Demons will be led by Moore, who finally found a home after previous stops at Cal and Kansas. A pair of transfers join the starting lineup. Freeman-Liberty has received some NBA hype after scoring 19.0 ppg for Valparaiso last year while Courvoisier McCauley was a Division II All-American capable of scoring inside and out. Weems was a top-75 recruit who flashed big play ability and will be expected to take a lot of the load Reed left behind. In the middle, Butz has developed into a reliable if unspectacular big man in the middle, though he is expected to miss time to start the season. Off the bench, there is a trio of transfers that will fight for minutes. Guard Ray Salnave was a solid scoring option for Monmouth, wing Brian Patrick was a reliable shooter and scorer for Fort Wayne after failing to crack the rotation at Kansas State, and DePaul's Pauly Paulicap is a physical forward coming in from Manhattan. Another one to watch is Nick Ongenda, a 6'11" center who was impressive late last year and may start in Butz's place at least early on.

The offensive strategy for Leitao is built around attacking early and often. His teams play at a fast pace and get the vast majority of their points inside the arc, which is good as they generally suck at shooting (Leitao last had a top-100 3PFG% team in 2007). Long, aggressive forwards allow them to also crash the offensive glass, though that may suffer without Reed. They also suffer when it comes to holding onto the ball; Leitao's team has been sub-200 in turnover rate every year in this second tenure at DePaul. Defensively, they want to slow teams down and force the turnovers that allow them to push the pace at the other end. Reed was also a prodigious shot blocker, so it remains to be seen how their defense will operate without him flying around as a defensive terror.

Last year, I wrote this about DePaul: "...this is a team that finished last in the Big East and lost their top three scorers. It's hard to imagine them being better than they were a year ago." This year, they lose two of their top three scorers including their best NBA prospect, so it's again difficult to project a big jump, even if there are things to like on paper about this team. How this team fits together is a big question. Five of the nine projected rotation players are transfers in, coming from Division II and mid-majors. Moore, Weems, and Butz give them some stability and proven Big East ability, but there are a ton of questions around slapping a roster together in this fashion. Add in a new Athletic Director at DePaul and Dave Leitao will be squarely on the hot seat and under pressure to perform with this team immediately. There's enough question marks with some other squads that DePaul might avoid the basement, but competing for the middle of the league and a NCAA bid seems like just too high a hill to project.

Marquette Memory: When Marquette drubbed DePaul 85-64 on January 29, 1977, it marked the 19th straight victory for the Warriors over the Blue Demons. On Valentine's Day, it would be a different story. A pair of late turnovers by Marquette star Butch Lee allowed DePaul to tie the game at 60 and force overtime. Marquette held on through overtime, but missed a pair of shots with 1:01 to play and had to survive a missed Gary Garland shot at the horn as the teams headed to double-overtime. The second extra stanza started with a three-point play for DePaul's Joe Ponsetto (yes, that name should sound familiar) that put DePaul ahead for good. After the loss, Marquette coach Al McGuire was pessimistic on his team's outlook, saying "I personally think it's very doubtful that we'll get a tourney bed. One more defeat and we're out. Because there's never been any love affair with us and the NCAA." The bad news was that Marquette was defeated not once but three more times before the end of the season, including the next two after this DePaul defeat. The good news was that McGuire was wrong and Marquette did indeed get a bid to the 1977 NCAA Tournament despite their 19-7 record. Not only did they get a bid, they won five straight once they got there, cut down the nets at the Omni in Atlanta, and captured the first and only NCAA Championship in program history while also setting a then-record for the most losses by a title-winning team.

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