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2020-21 Big East Men’s Basketball Preview: DePaul Blue Demons

Last year was one good month and three very bad months. Will this year be any different?

Big East Basketball Tournament - First Round Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Team: DePaul Blue Demons

2019-20 Record: 16-16, 3-15 in the Big East

2019-20 Big East Finish: 10th, aka dead last, two games behind a Georgetown squad held together by toothpicks by the end of the season.

Final 2019-20 KenPom Ranking: #94, the only sub-70 team in the entire league.

Postseason Projection: You mean when the season actually ended or back on December 7? Because hoooooboy, are those two different things. Anyway, no, no NCAA tournament future for DePaul, and probably not a lot of NIT hope after that 3-15 Big East mark.

Key Departures: We start with double-double machine Paul Reed, who declared for the NBA Draft after his junior campaign. The 6’9” big man from Florida averaged 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds while hammering out a spot as DePaul’s obvious best player all season long. Jalen Coleman-Lands was third on the team in scoring as a senior last season, chipping in 11.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game while starting all 32 contests.

Key Returners: Charlie Moore is the big one, back for his fifth year of college basketball and his second active season at one place. The 5’11” guard actually led the team in scoring last year at 15.5 points per game, beating out Reed by 0.4/game. Moore also averaged 3.3 rebounds, which is great for a sub-six-footer, as well as 6.1 assists. That made him the only guy in the Big East to average more than six assists last season, topping #2 Quincy McKnight by nearly a full assist per game. Jaylen Butz returns for his senior season after starting in all 31 of his appearances last season. The 6’9” forward averaged 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds. Romeo Weems rounds out our list of impact players after he averaged 8.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.3 steals as a freshman last year. That’s pretty good stuff from the former top 70 prospect.

Oh, and Pantelis Xidias returns after spending November guaranteeing that he would shave his head if DePaul missed the NCAA tournament. He did not shave his head, but also there was no NCAA tournament, so I guess it’s a push.

Key Additions: DePaul followed up their top 40 recruiting class a year ago with....... one sub-200 high school prospect coming in. Okay then. The Blue Demons add three graduate transfers to the roster this season in Pauly Paulicap, Brian Patrick, and Ray Salnave. Paulicap is a 6’8”, 220 pound forward out of New York who averaged 9.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in 72 appearances for Manhattan. The 6’5”, 200 pound Patrick spent two years at Kansas State before transferring to IPFW. After sparse minutes in Manhattan, he started 31 of 32 appearances for the Mastodons last season, averaging 11.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and an assist. Salnave is the most accomplished of the three. Hailing from the same hometown as Paulicap, the 6’3”, 205 pound guard averaged 14.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.2 assists last year for Monmouth. He earned his way into the starting lineup for King Rice as a freshman and stayed there (almost) ever since.

Coach: Dave Leitao in his second stint in Lincoln Park. He has a career record of 207-227, an overall record of 122-132 at DePaul, and a record of 64-98 this time around. In 2020-21, he will be attempting to finish with three straight seasons with a record of at least .500 for the first time since 2008. Then again, he didn’t have a head coaching job between 2009-10 and 2014-15, so that’s actually not as bad as it sounds. He picked up a contract extension in April, so he’s set up through the end of 2023-24.

Outlook: I’m going to start this off with what amounts to a continuation of the discussion of Dave Leitao as head coach. I wanted to leave the “Coach” section set aside as purely facts before moving on to speculation and opinions over here, and also this is going to go on for much longer than the “Coach” section should actually be.

Okay, so as an operator of a sports blog website centered around Marquette athletics, I would consider myself very well aware of the opinions of a strong section of MU fans when it comes to their men’s basketball head coach. In short, they’re not pleased with him, and he has two NCAA tournament appearances and has an overall winning record in six seasons. Dave Leitao does not have those things, not even if you give him credit for his first time on the sidelines for DePaul.

Dave Leitao presided over a 9-0 start to the 2019-20 season for DePaul, including two road wins over Major Seven opponents and a home overtime win over a third M7 foe and had the squad on the verge of being ranked for the first time since the third week of the 2000-01 season. All they had to do was beat Buffalo at home on a Sunday so everyone would see the 10-0 record and give them AP votes.

What happened?

In a horrendous omen of what awaited the Blue Demons in the rest of the season, DePaul gave up a 26-4 run that bridged halftime as Buffalo swung the game from 28-24 DePaul to 50-32 Buffalo. The Blue Demons had two separate “gain 10 points” runs in the second half and it did. not. matter. as Buffalo won 74-69. No AP votes for DePaul.

They would close non-con play with three more wins, moving them to 12-1 on the season, which is fine. In fact, according to the press release on Leitao’s extension:

DePaul’s 12-1 start to begin this past season was the best non-conference record since the Blue Demons joined the Great Midwest Conference in 1991. The 86-65 win over UIC on Dec. 14 marked the first time since the 1999-00 season that a DePaul team won at least 10 games in a season before Jan. 1.

Seems great!

What happened next? DePaul lost their first four Big East games, inexplicably beat #5 Butler, and then lost their next eight games. They went from 9-0 and 12-1 to 13-13 and just 1-12 in Big East action before finishing 16-16 and just 3-15 in the league. A literal season killing stretch. Literally their best start to a season in this millennium, poof gone like dust in the wind. The most successful non-conference campaign in nearly 30 years, totally meaningless.

AND DEPAUL GAVE LEITAO AN EXTENSION FOR THIS.

I can not imagine how angry DePaul fans, however few are left, are at this decision. I mean, I can kind of guess, actually, because one of DePaul’s three Big East wins on the season came against Marquette in the second to last game of the regular season in what was a “hey, y’all better beat this total disaster of an opponent to stop your season ending skid” game and MU blew a seven point lead with five minutes left. So that was not fun.

In what has to be even more maddening for DePaul fans, athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto announced her retirement almost exactly two months after Leitao’s extension was announced. She gave an extension to a guy who just presided over a three month long spontaneous combustion and whose best season in the Big East involved finishing in a three-way tie for last and then went la-di-da out the door, saddling the next shmuck with that problem for another four years.

Honestly, it’s probably best for DePaul that there probably shouldn’t be fans in the building for home games this season, because I don’t know how they would have even come close to averaging 5,100+ people in a 10,000 seat building like they did last year after all of this. On top of a half-checked out athletic director giving a new contract to a guy who absolutely does not deserve it and really didn’t do anything in the most recent season to deserve it........ uh, DePaul’s probably going to be terrible again.

They lose Reed and JCL and are going to attempt to replace them with three grad transfers that, collectively speaking, weren’t particularly great at their previous stops. Moore and Reed as a 1-2 scoring punch worked pretty well, but there’s no one here that’s immediately obvious as an instant replacement for Reed...... so where do you go to get his production? Hope that Butz can step up in his place? Maybe it’s Weems, although that’s just getting production from a different spot on the floor? That’s the case for Butz, too, as both Weems and Butz were starting along side Reed last year and playing north of 27 minutes a game.

Moore can’t do much more than he was already doing, especially as a career 32% three-point shooter. Quite honestly, it’s kind of a real problem that he shot 165 threes a year ago, but then again, DePaul didn’t have anyone that could hit threes regularly enough where you wanted them letting it fly. I guess Patrick (35% last year with IPFW) and Salnave (36% last year with Monmouth) can help in that department, and if you’re looking to those guys to take up a whole bunch of slack anyway, that’s your move.

Of course, embracing shooting threes would require a big mindset change from Dave Leitao, as his DePaul teams in this go-round have consistently been hovering around the 300s in terms of three-point shooting rate. You’d like to think that a guy would say, “Y’know, my usual deal isn’t working here, maybe it’s time to try something new, maybe that whole pace and space thing that’s so popular these days,” but Leitao seems to be resistant to it. He also has never had a quality three-point shooting team either, but that might actually be by design given how his teams end up playing.

Oh, look, I found a whole new cavern full of “What the hell is Dave Leitao doing?” questions, and I didn’t even mean to do it. Fun!

What a mess. I’m glad I’m only in charge of making jokes about it. [remembers that Steve Wojciechowski keeps losing to bad DePaul teams at the most inopportune moment] Dammit, they’re gonna lose to this DePaul team in late February, aren’t they?