"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

Sunday, October 30, 2022

DePaul Preview, 2022-23

DePaul Blue Demons

Head Coach: Tony Stubblefield (15-16 at Butler, 17-28 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 118.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 112.7

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 89

Projected Starters: PG Jalen Terry (6'0" Jr), SG Umoja Gibson (6'2" RS Sr), SF Javan Johnson (6'6" RS Sr), PF Eral Penn (6'7" RS Sr), C Nick Ongenda (6'11" Sr)

Tony Stubblefield is leading the Blue Blue Blue Demons

Photo from USA Today Sports

The first year of Tony Stubblefield looked a lot like the second tenure of Dave Leitao. They had a strong non-conference performance, going 9-1, then fell flat in conference play, beginning 1-9 en route to a bottom-two finish, marking the seventh straight year they landed at or near the bottom of the league. From that team, they lost their top-three scorers, including wing David Jones who transferred to St. John's. One year after starting his rebuild, Stubblefield looks to be rebuilding again.

The good news is that Jalen Terry and Nick Ongenda are back, giving some consistency at the point and center positions. Terry, however, has been turnover-prone and only a marginally effective shooter. Ongenda, on the other hand, seems to be developing in reverse. He posted a career high in minutes last year but career lows in eFG%, defensive rebounding rate, and block rate. The more he plays and the higher his usage gets, the less effective he seems. A pair of transfers join them in the starting lineup. Umoja Gibson blossomed as a scorer for Oklahoma last year, putting up a highly efficient 13.3 ppg. He's a bucket and will be expected to take much of the Javon Freeman-Liberty role. Eral Penn was a late transfer from LIU who was first team all-Northeast Conference last year and has been a high-level scorer and rebounder, but at a lower level. The other expected starter is Javan Johnson, who really seemed to be blossoming in late January before a hand injury ended his season. The wildcard might be Caleb Murphy, who is being touted as a future pro, but in two years at South Florida he was a high-usage, low efficiency volume shooter who primarily served as a drag on the Bulls' offense. Big man Yor Anei, wing Philmon Gebrewhit, and talented freshman guard Zion Cruz provide additional options for Stubblefield.

While DePaul started conference play terribly, they finished it much better. The Blue Demons went 5-6 beginning in February. Limiting turnovers went a long way in that improvement. Stubblefield is looking to reinforce the back court improvement by bringing in Gibson and Murphy. His hope also has to be improving their shot-making, particularly when 4 of their top 5 in terms of three point makes last year are gone. Gibson should help, but neither Murphy nor Penn cracked 30% last year so it's hard to see where that shooting will come from. On defense, their big man tandem provides solid rim protection and helps limit inside scoring, but as a team they give up too many threes, allow too many offensive boards, and don't turn teams over. Stubblefield is trying to put length at every position, but this was not a good defensive team.

What likely makes this even more frustrating for DePaul fans is looking at the age of the roster. After the first year of the rebuild, they lost their top-three scorers. This year, their rotation will feature four graduate seniors that aren't eligible to return and two more seniors that could also depart. It's hard to see how Stubblefield can build a foundation for the future when he only has two freshmen and no sophomores on the roster. If everything goes right this year, maybe Gibson, Murphy, and Penn can replicate what Freeman-Liberty, Jones, and Brandon Johnson provided last year. Maybe JUCO Da'Sean Nelson can be a different but equally effective bench presence to what Courvoisier MacCauley gave them. But even with those players, DePaul was one of the worst teams in the league, so if the new pieces come in and equal them, this is still a bad team. It must be hard to find optimism in Chicago when the best case scenario looks like bottom-3 in the league and there's a good chance 6 starters or rotation players will be gone at the end of the year.

Marquette Memory: When Tom Crean took over at Marquette, the hope was that he would return Marquette to the relevance they had a few years earlier before Kevin O'Neill left. They started the 1999-2000 season 8-4 and were staring down a three-game gauntlet of ranked opponents. After dropping a game to #3 Cincinnati, Crean took his team to Chicago in hopes of notching the program's first win over a ranked opponent in more than three years. Early on, it looked like smooth sailing for Marquette as they took a 36-26 lead into the break, but Quentin Richardson and DePaul seemed to take inspiration from the Blue Demon mascot parading around the Rosemont Horizon with the head of the Marquette mascot on a stick. DePaul rallied to tie the game at 44 and kept it close down the stretch. With the result in doubt, Cordell Henry and Olouma Nnamaka took over. First, Henry nailed a three to stretch the lead, then Nnamaka made a pair of baskets to put it away. Marquette beat DePaul 69-60 and followed that up with an overtime win over Louisville to take two of three from the most difficult stretch of the season.

No comments: