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

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The Blue Demons have been dethroned as the perennial favorite in the Big East, but have they been knocked down?

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Seton Hall vs DePaul
Is Sonya Morris the new star in Lincoln Park?
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Team: DePaul Blue Demons

2019-20 Record: 28-5, 15-3 in the Big East

2019-20 Big East Finish: First place, beating out Marquette by two games in the standings.

Final 2019-20 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #23

Postseason Projection: High Post Hoops said that the Blue Demons were on track for a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Key DePartures: The Blue Demons only lost three players from last year’s roster, with two of them falling into the department of “key players.” There’s Chante Stonewall, who led the team in scoring at 17.4 points per game a year ago. That would be a big enough loss on its own, but Stonewall also contributed 5.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 2.2 steals, too. Kelly Campbell might actually be the bigger loss of the pair, as the 5’10” guard led the team in rebounding at 8.1 per game as well as in assists with just over six per contest. Campbell also shot 46% from behind the arc while averaging 8.8 points per game, which makes her a well developed threat all over the floor.

Key Returners: Well, I count 11 women returning from last year’s roster, and that seems pretty good. Now, to be clear, four of these women appeared in fewer than 20 games a year ago and averaged less than seven minutes per game when they did play. That just means that this roster is deep as hell.

Three of the other seven were regular starters for DePaul last season. Sonya Morris is the leading returning scorer at 15.6 points per game, and she added 4.2 rebounds and nearly three assists per game. Morris is the returning assists leader on the squad, so that’s worth noting, as is Morris’ preseason all-Big East honors. Lexi Held (15.4) and Deja Church (10.8) both averaged in double digits in the scoring department, so the Blue Demons won’t be lacking for experienced scoring options with Stonewall gone. Church is also the leading returning rebounder at 5.2 per game last season, while Held made it onto the preseason all-league team with Morris, so that means this trio is pretty solid in terms of providing a good core for DePaul.

Dee Bekelja was DePaul’s super-sub last season, averaging 18.7 minutes per game while only starting eight times in her 33 appearances. The Blue Demons used their starters an awful lot last season with Bekelja coming up as one of just two other women on last year’s team that averaged more than 10 minutes per game outside of the starting five. 7.8 points and 2.5 rebounds per game is pretty good stuff for a first sub off the bench, but if she’s going to be promoted to starter this year, she’ll have to produce more.

Maya Stovall was the other non-starter averaging at least 10 minutes per game, although she wasn’t that far over at 11.7. The minutes are the important thing here, as none of the women in this paragraph scored or rebounded all that much, but Stovall played more minutes than they did. That leaves us with Kiara Dallman and Jolene Daninger. They averaged 9.0 and 8.3 minutes respectively while appearing in 25 and 24 games. That’s pretty regular play in a 33 game season, but a lot of it. They knew their roles out there, though, which is why neither of them did all that much statistically. Still, if you’ve got seven women who played most every night coming back, you’re doing pretty good.

Key Additions: There are four names on the DePaul roster that weren’t there a year ago, but one of them is Jorie Allen, a transfer from Indiana, who won’t be eligible this year. Of the other three, the one that jumps out at you right away is grad transfer Courtney Fredrickson. The 6’2” forward was at Wisconsin, starting nearly from the get-go in Madison. However, she missed nearly all of the 2018-19 season due to a knee injury before returning for 14 games last season. She was never a big scorer for the Badgers as she averaged 7.8 points per game when she was totally healthy in her first two years, although she did average 4.8 rebounds per game in her first 61 games. I don’t know how the Blue Demons plan on working her in or what her health condition is now two years removed from her injury, but she grad transferred to DePaul to a reason.

There are two freshmen on the roster for the Blue Demons. I’m going to give the “most notable” edge to Darrione Rogers, a 5’11” guard out of Roselle, Illinois. Both ESPN and Prospects Nation says that Rogers is the #50 prospect in the country. Blue Star Basketball says that she’s #44, so that all seems pretty good. She averaged 25.9 points and 10 rebounds a game in her final year of high school hoops, which also seems pretty good. Kendall Holmes is the other freshman on the roster, and she’s also a 5’11” guard from the greater Chicago area. Blue Star marks her as the #201 prospect in the country.

Coach: Doug Bruno, entering the 33rd season of his second stint in charge of DePaul women’s basketball, and 35th season overall in Lincoln Park. He has a record of 690-331 in this go-round and 717-347 overall.

Outlook: Gone are the days of DePaul rolling the ball out and knowing they had, at worst, a good chance of winning a Big East title. Since The Reformation, DePaul has won six of the seven Big East regular season titles, tying for three and winning three outright by at least two games in the standings each time. In the year they didn’t win the regular season title, DePaul finished second by just one game. The Blue Demons have also won five of the seven Big East tournament titles, including each of the last three, and they reached the title game in one of the two years when they didn’t win it.

And that’s over now. Connecticut is back in the league. The Huskies have won 19 regular season Big East titles and 18 tournament titles. UConn is going to be favored to win the league going forward, and anyone who thinks differently is a liar. In fact, just to put icing on the cake, DePaul holds a 1-17 all time record against the Huskies, with the lone win coming in the first ever meeting back in 1983. Y’know, back when Geno Auriemma was an assistant at Virginia.

So the title contention thing is probably over now. Such is life.

However, that doesn’t mean that DePaul isn’t still a great basketball team that the rest of the league has to watch out for. The Blue Demons have qualified for 17 straight NCAA tournaments, and they would have made it 18 had the 2020 event actually occurred. That includes each and every year that DePaul was in the Big East that contained the Huskies previously.

As we talked about a little up at the top, it looks like DePaul comes into the 2020-21 season loaded up with an experienced roster that knows how Doug Bruno wants to play. They return three starters, with Sonya Morris and Lexi Held starting the year off as preseason all-Big East honorees. Deja Church is the other returning starter, and we can probably go ahead and promote Dee Bekelja to a starting role after appearing in all 33 games a year ago.

The big question is who on the DePaul roster finds their way into the primary rotation? Last year, the Blue Demons essentially went only six deep with an assortment of players appearing here and there. With the pace that Doug Bruno prefers to play at — they were 12th in the country in possessions per 40 minutes last season according to Her Hoop Stats — getting lots of players on the floor is a big deal for DePaul. It’s hard to say that happened last year when only six women averaged over 12 minutes per game. However, three more women, all of whom are back this season, appeared in at least 24 games. That’s good news in terms of knowing the system, but it means that there has to be big time steps up for lots of people.

Morris and Held probably can’t do much more in the scoring department, since they were already over 15 points per game. Someone — Church? Bekelja? — has to turn into a third reliable option for DePaul. I’m not as worried about trying to replace Kelly Campbell’s passing, as DePaul’s entire deal does lend itself to lots of people averaging at least two assists per game. That’s going to solve itself to a certain extent, but figuring out where Campbell’s rebounding to going to go won’t. Based on rates as shown on Her Hoop Stats, it would seem that Kiara Dallman is your most likely option in terms of returning players, as she was in double digits on both ends of the floor.

There is, of course, the newcomers to consider. Courtney Frederickson didn’t grad transfer to DePaul to do nothing, and she made a pretty good dent in the rebounding department for the Badgers when she returned from injury last season. If she can go, and she can go at the pace that DePaul wants to play, then she could be in line for big minutes. I have to figure that Bruno has big plans for Darrione Rogers right out of the gate. If she can rebound in college like she did in high school at only 5’11”, then that will help big time. The scoring mentality it takes to average 25 points per game in high school might come in handy as well while DePaul looks for another option on the floor. If Rogers can be a distributor as well, then she might just slot right into Campbell’s spot on the floor. If that works out that cleanly for DePaul, then the non-Connecticut squads in the Big East are in an awful lot of trouble.