"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, October 06, 2023

DePaul Preview, 2023-24

DePaul Blue Demons

January 24, 2024 at Wintrust Arena and February 21, 2024 at Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Tony Stubblefield (27-51 overall, 25-39 at DePaul)

Three-Year NET Average: 144.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 126.3

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 123

Projected Starters: PG Jalen Terry (6'0" Sr), SG Chico Carter (6'3" 5th), SF Caleb Murphy (6'4" Sr), PF Da'Sean Nelson (6'8" Sr), C Mac Etienne (6'10" RS So)

Jalen Terry's shot avoids the O-Max Prosper block attempt

Photo by Jeff Hanisch | USA Today Sports

It's almost uncanny how DePaul manages to continue to struggle the way they do. Their last NCAA appearance was when Dave Leitao was coach, but not the most recent stint, the first time back in 2004. They are going on 20 years without a tourney appearance and last year it never looked possible. They sputtered to a 6-5 non-conference with zero wins over top-100 teams. In conference play, the highlight was a win over then-undefeated in the Big East Xavier, but was followed by losing their final 11 conference games and bowing out in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. Ultimately, Tony Stubblefield won half as many Big East games as his first season and finished 32 spots lower in kenpom despite being picked as a preseason top-100 team. In the offseason, they lost four starters (Umoja Gibson, Eral Penn, Javan Johnson, Nick Ongenda) and another player that started 21 games (Philmon Gebrewhit). For the third time in three years, Tony Stubblefield will be rebuilding his roster, and he's doing it with a lineup of five seniors expected to start which indicates that next year he will be 4/4 on rebuild seasons.

Jalen Terry is expected to return to the point guard role, where he has started the majority of games he's played at DePaul, though his minutes declined as the year went on last year. He's joined in the backcourt by Chico Carter from South Carolina, who was a lethal sniper (47.6 3PFG%) and high-efficiency player for a bad team. Caleb Murphy is perhaps one of the most highly regarded bad players in the country. He started 94% of his appearances for South Florida, but never managed a season offensive rating higher than 86.4 (100.0 is generally considered average). Last year he had a career low offensive rating (80.7) after pundits raved about his athleticism and NBA potential. Suffice to say, we don't see it. Da'Sean Nelson will most likely be expected to step up from a sixth man role where was a consistent, versatile threat. UCLA transfer Mac Etienne came to Chicago looking for a bigger role and will likely have a chance to emerge as a starter. Transfers Jeremiah Oden (Wyoming), Elijah Fisher, (Texas Tech) and Jaden Henley (Minnesota) are the most likely other bench contributors, particularly after highly-regarded recruit Zion Cruz left in September after just one year at DePaul.

DePaul runs an up-tempo offense that allowed them to stay competitive when the threes were falling.
They simply weren't strong enough inside to have a complete offense as they struggled on the glass and getting to the line. The hope will be Etienne can help that, but he only averaged 6.8 mpg last year for UCLA so it will be a big step up in responsibility. Defensively, their focus is on shutting teams down at the rim, but they don't have the muscle to limit second chance attempts and their aggressiveness in blocking shots often leads to being foul-prone. Last year they were undersized and underskilled to compete at this level, and none of their additions seem to significantly improve upon that.

In two years in Chicago, Tony Stubblefield has sputtered despite having legitimate stars in Javon Freeman-Liberty, David Jones, and Umoja Gibson. This upcoming season looks like his least talented roster thus far, though to his credit he did recruit three freshmen and three sophomores, so maybe the cupboard won't be completely bare next year. Still, DePaul looks like a team playing for a draft pick rather than to actually be competitive in the Big East, and it begs the question of just how long they are willing to wait for Stubblefield to produce results.

One Man's Opinion: This might be the toughest call in the league, but I have DePaul 10th in the Big East. I have no idea what Stubblefield's long-term plan is, but he's got a lot of experience in the starting lineup and the players he added in the portal are generally high-major players. If guys like Etienne, Carter, and Fisher really hit, this team could surprise and be in the mix for an NIT bid, but as mentioned above, if they didn't do it with stars like Freeman-Liberty, Jones, and Gibson, that seems unlikely. Still, they don't look like the worst team in the league. Stubblefield has managed to avoid the Big East cellar two years in a row and he might just have enough to do it a third time.

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