"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 25, 2019

DePaul Preview

DePaul Blue Demons
February 1, fiserv.forum; March 3, Wintrust Arena, Chicago, IL
Coach: Dave Leitao (106-116 at DePaul, 191-211 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 174.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 133.3
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 139

Projected Starters: PG Devin Gage (6'2" Jr), SG Jalen Coleman-Lands (6'4" Sr), SF Romeo Weems (6'7" Fr), PF Paul Reed (6'9" Jr), C Jaylen Butz (6'9" Jr)

To start the New Year, DePaul was the ultimate "almost" team. They had squandered second-half leads of 14 points (Northwestern), 9 points (Boston College), and 6 points (Xavier) to lose. Hold on in those three games and they would've been a NIT lock and even had a chance to make things interesting as a fringe bubble team, especially with sweeps of fellow Big East bubble teams that did make the field in Seton Hall and St. John's. Instead, they went to the CBI, where they made it to the final before falling 2-1 in a best of three series to South Florida. Even still, DePaul finished with a winning record for the first time since 2007. Then they lost their top three scorers, Max Strus, Eli Cain, and Femi Olujobi, to graduation.

There are some reasons for optimism. Paul Reed is back and was picked to the preseason All-Big East Second Team after averaging 12.3 ppg/8.5 rpg last year. Jalen Coleman-Lands returns from injury and, along with Devin Gage, give hope of reliable complimentary scorers. Romeo Weems is a top-50 recruit who adds scoring and athleticism. Butz is a reliable presence while Charlie Moore, Darious Hall, and Lyrik Shreiner give them options off the bench.

On offense, Leitao likes to run a four-out one-in motion offense. Lots of cuts and screens to get the top scorers open. Last year that often led to Strus threes, but most of the time Leitao's teams will seek to use those cuts to drive inside, attacking the interior and crashing the offensive glass. With a front court of Butz, Reed, and Weems, there's reason to believe that will work. On the other end, it's tough to tell what will work. Leitao has only had a top-50 efficiency defense twice in his career. His first year at DePaul with Pat Kennedy's players and two years ago. So what made them successful in 2017-18? Frankly, I think it was a fluke. They did well at turning teams over, but in large part because they were top-50 in non-steal turnover percentage. Turnovers were their one real strength but more than half their turnovers came of the non-steal variety. While that includes taking charges, it also includes opposing players throwing the ball away, being out of control, or otherwise making any number of errors.

I really like Paul Reed. I like the potential of this front court crashing the boards. I even think Gage and Coleman-Lands can form a decent backcourt. But 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. Maybe in two years, when the juniors are seniors and Weems has some experience, this team can claw their way up the league, but this year it just doesn't seem possible. DePaul did beat some tourney teams last year and will probably win a few they shouldn't, but any finish higher than 10th would be a massive accomplishment for this team.

Marquette Memory: In every season that ends without a NCAA Tournament bid, there are moments that can be pointed to as to why. In the 2015-16 season, there were three. The opening night loss to Belmont. The James Milliken three at the Bradley Center that sealed Creighton's road win. And then there was the DePaul game at home. The largest lead for either team had been 6 points, but when Duane Wilson's tip in with 8 seconds to play put Marquette up 56-54, it seemed the game was over. Instead, Billy Garrett drove right down the heart of the Marquette defense and Luke Fischer seemed to realize he couldn't make the stop so instead allowed Garrett to score, forcing overtime. Somehow, despite Fischer allowing the basket without resistance, the refs called a foul and sent Garrett to the line with 1.1 to play. Unlike the foul, the free throw was no phantom and Marquette lost another nailbiter, and along with the aforementioned losses, any hopes of postseason play for Henry Ellenson.

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