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2021-22 Big East Women’s Basketball Team Preview: DePaul Blue Demons

Doug Bruno’s team missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in nearly 20 years. One-off or bad sign for the future?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 06 Big East Women’s Basketball Tournament - Villanova v Depaul
Can Sonya Morris and the Blue Demons bounce back from a bad year by their standards?
Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Team: DePaul Blue Demons

2020-21 Record: 14-10, 11-5 Big East

2020-21 Big East Finish: Fourth, one game behind Seton Hall in the win column.

Final 2020-21 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #98

Postseason? After getting bounced from the Big East tournament in their first game by Villanova in overtime, the Blue Demons missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002. They did get into the WNIT, though, and they lost to Saint Louis in the first round before playing a guaranteed consolation game against Drake.... which they also lost.

Key Departures: Uh, no one, actually. Sure, there are four women on last year’s roster that are not on this year’s roster, but the most notable one is Jolene Daninger who appeared in 23 of 24 games for less than 10 minutes a night.

Key Returners: Hooboy.

Well, let’s start with Lexi Held and Dee Bekelja, who started every single game last season. Both women averaged north of 12 points a game, with Held holding the advantage at 16.6 a night. Bekelja did a little bit more rebounding (4.9 to 3.2) while Held did a little more passing (a team high 3.8 assists vs 2.1).

Sonya Morris was the team’s leading scorer a year ago, and she missed just one game as the season went on. 19.3 points per game went along with 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists as well as a 36% mark from behind the three-point line. Deja Church rounds out our list of double digit scorers from 20-21 after she averaged 13.3 points per game along with 5.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists, too.

Darrione Rogers ended up leading the team in rebounds per game with 5.5 even though she only started in five of DePaul’s 24 games while appearing in all of them. It seems her role as super sub (less than 26 minutes a night) might be the only reason that she didn’t join the first four women we mentioned in the double digit scoring department as Rogers averaged 9.5 per game.

Jorie Allen didn’t make it into a game until DePaul’s seventh game of the year, but she played in every game after that point and started 16 of them. 8.7 points is fine for 24 minutes a night, and 4.9 rebounds is pretty good.

Key Additions: Well, let’s talk about Anessah Morrow. Blue Star Basketball says she’s the #73 prospect in the country, so that’s pretty notable. The 6’1” forward starred at Simeon in Chicago where she led the team to their first ever state title in 2020. As a senior, she averaged 28.4 points, 14.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and just short of three steals a game.

If you’re reading carefully, hang on for a second. Morrow’s sister, Nazlah, has also joined the team. She’s a 6’1” junior after spending two years at Miami Dade Junior College and averaging 15.2 points and 13.2 rebounds last season. So let’s hit the big question: Yes, Anessah and Nazlah are the sisters of former Marquette men’s basketball forward Ed Morrow.

Kiera Collier is a 5’6” guard from Missouri who spent 2017-18 at Washington, then sat out for a transfer year at Drake, then played two seasons at Drake. DePaul’s roster says she’s a junior..... which I guess is technically true because she has only played three years and gets a COVID bonus year if she wants? Anyway, she averaged 11.7 points and 4.2 assists for the Bulldogs last year. She did shoot 38% from long range, and we do know that the Blue Demons love to shoot it.

Blue Star says that Kaitlyn Ammons is the #160 prospect in the country, so what the heck, we’ll count her here because there’s not really that much difference between 150 and 160. She stands 6’3” and hails from Morgantown, West Virginia, where she was an all-state player as a senior.

Coach: Doug Bruno, entering the 34rd season of his second stint in charge of DePaul women’s basketball, and 36th season overall in Lincoln Park. He has a record of 704-341 in this go-round and 731-357 overall.

Outlook: DePaul just had the worst season that the program has experienced in nearly 20 years..... and they still finished over .500 overall and in the league and still reached the WNIT. I’m going to go ahead and declare that it was a one-off COVID-caused goofball of a year.

The Blue Demons never had a major layoff during the season — 10 days appears to be their longest stretch between games — but for whatever reason, Doug Bruno had a rotation that he stuck to for the entire season. Well, almost all season, as Allen was a late addition to the active roster after she got a waiver a few games into the year. But the point is, for the most part, seven women played for DePaul, and that is about it. Sure, other people got into games here and there for a few minutes at a time, but night in night out, it was the same seven women. That’s not the best recipe for success in the best of circumstances, and last season was clearly not that to start with.

So DePaul struggled, or at least struggled for what counts as a struggle for DePaul. Let’s be clear: They lost four games to ranked teams. Twice to UConn, obviously, and they took losses early in the season in non-conference action to Texas A&M and Louisville. That’s literally 40% of their losses last season and they had an upset of #9 Kentucky to balance all of that out. Heck, on February 19th, DePaul was probably still looking pretty good as an NCAA tournament team. They were ranked #19 in the country and on a four game winning streak that moved them to 13-4 overall and 10-2 in the Big East.

Then they went 1-3 down the stretch and lost in OT to Nova in the Big East tournament. So long NCAAs, and losing to Saint Louis in the first round of the WNIT was not an encouraging sign that they were ready to make an NCAA run anyway.

Did DePaul just run out of gas down the stretch? It’s not weird for Doug Bruno to lean on just a few members of his roster to get through a year, but last year was going to be mentally tolling on teams in addition to the normal physical toll. In fact, it’s possible that they weren’t able to be ready for the normal physical toll as it’s possible that practices and workouts were limited in nature because of the pandemic.

DePaul returns everyone of note from last year’s roster. Will they be ready to attack this season to make up for how last year ended? Was last year just an off year? Was there something that people figured out about DePaul at the end of the year and is that going to carry over to this year?

If I was going to bet, I’d bet on a return to form in Lincoln Park. Lots of speed, lots of threes, and lots of wins.