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2022-23 Big East Women’s Basketball Summer Check-In: DePaul Blue Demons

Doug Bruno’s losing a lot of production from last year. Can the Blue Demons make it up and start a new NCAA tournament streak?

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - First Four - Iowa
How far can Aneesah Morrow take DePaul this season?
Photo by Rebecca Gratz/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Team: DePaul Blue Demons

2021-22 Record: 22-11, 14-6 Big East

2021-22 Big East Finish: Fourth, one game behind Creighton and one ahead of Marquette.

Final 2021-22 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #51 out of 356 teams.

Postseason: After getting throttled by Marquette in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, the Blue Demons couldn’t figure out a way to get back on track. While they qualified for the NCAA tournament as one of the inaugural First Four teams in women’s tournament history, DePaul fell behind 29-21 in the first quarter on their way to a 31 point loss to Dayton.

Key Departures: The Blue Demons are going to be reorienting their offense from last season as they have lost three of their top four scorers. Sonya Morris averaged a very strong 17.6 points per game last year to go with 3.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Deja Church did a lot of things for the Blue Demons, including 14.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. Lexi Held is the final part of the big trio of losses, and her team high 5.2 assists a game was third best in the conference last year. Held also added 12.7 points, the last of the four players to average more than 10 a night, and 2.3 rebounds per game as well. All three of these women were a major contributor to DePaul’s run and gun style, as they all knocked in at least 33.9% of their three-pointers a year ago.

We’re also going to note the departure of Dee Bekelja, who played nearly half the game on average in her 21 appearances last season. 5.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game isn’t anything to light the world on fire and her three-point shooting was very not good last season on two attempts a game. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a “key” departure, but the thing to remember about DePaul is they had five women playing 30-ish or more minutes a night and Bekelja was one of just three bench players to regularly contribute in a big way.

Key Returners: The lone top four scorer returning from last season is, thankfully for them, leading scorer Aneesah Morrow. 21.9 points per game is pretty good, good enough for second best in the Big East as one of just two players to average more than 20 a game, and it was easily best amongst freshmen by a long shot. Morrow led the entire conference in rebounding as well, hauling in 13.8 caroms a night as the only player in the league to get north of 10. When your best returning player is a double-double machine, you’re in a pretty good spot, even if you are losing the next three best scorers.

Because I know you can do math, you’ve already figured that DePaul is returning a second starter. That’s Darrione Rogers, who went from a mostly bench role as a freshman to starting in all but one of the Blue Demons’ games last season. Her numbers were pretty consistent year to year, which makes sense because her minutes didn’t change all that much. 9.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.7 assists a night is pretty good, and she hit over 40% of her three-pointers as well. She was already attempting well over four per game, so it certainly seems like Rogers isn’t going to have to be encouraged to shoot it some more.

We’ll make note of Kierra Collier and Kendall Holmes here. Collier is the obvious option to be elevated to a starting role this season after starting three times in 24 appearances last season and averaging over 24 minutes a night. Given her role on the team, 7.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 1.8 assists is perfectly good, and draining nearly 42% of her threes fits right in with DePaul’s MO. Collier will probably have to start looking for her shot more, but she was already attempting over three triples a night. Holmes is an interesting test case for DePaul, as she appeared in 28 of 33 games and averaged just a touch north of 10 minutes a night. Her counting stats aren’t anything to write home about and neither is her shooting. However, she did have the fourth best season last year out of all the returning players, so we’ll see what that means one year later.

Finally, we have to point out that Jorie Allen is on the roster. She had a season ending injury that terminated her 2021-22 campaign just two games in. The former Indiana Miss Basketball had a very good season for DePaul in 2020-21 while appearing in 18 of 24 games. 8.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in 23.6 minutes a night will be more than welcomed on this team given what they’re losing, but the question is whether or not Allen is ready to go one year after her injury.

Key Additions: DePaul has two transfers on their roster, both of whom are probably expecting to contribute quite a bit. Jade Edwards is on her bonus season of eligibility after spending four years at American University. She started every game she appeared in for the Eagles in the past three seasons, averaging at least 12 points per game in all three years. The Chicago native was a two-time all-Patriot League First Team performer with American and has NCAA tournament experience from last year’s Patriot League championship team. It will be interesting to see how she fits in with DePaul’s rotations since Edwards has never shown a knack for hitting the long ball.

Anaya Peoples comes to DePaul after three seasons at Notre Dame, so we’ll have to wait and see if she’s in Lincoln Park longer than just this season. The former McDonald’s All-American had a great freshman year, averaging 12.6 points and 8.1 rebounds while playing over 31 minutes a night..... and then her minutes just kept dropping from there, first to 28.0 and then to 19.7 a night last season. Perhaps a change of scenery is just what she needs, but it must be pointed out that just like Edwards, Peoples does not have a reputation as a shooter, at least not from long range.

There are also five freshmen on the DePaul roster. Only two of them are listed by Blue Star Basketball, but they’re both top 150 prospects. Madisen Wardell (#90) is a 6-foot guard/forward from Detroit, while Zaria Hurston (#137) hails from Georgia and is listed as a 5’10” forward. With two starters and a big time bench contributor returning alongside two transfers who could probably be considered locks to be in the rotation, DePaul might have their starters locked down, but someone’s going to have to provide minutes off the bench. That’s going to fall to the freshmen, one way or another.

Coach: Doug Bruno, entering the 35th season of his second stint in charge of DePaul women’s basketball, and 37th season overall in Lincoln Park. He has a record of 726-352 in this go-round and 753-368 overall.

Outlook: I don’t have a good feeling about DePaul this season. This feels like a team that is going to go as far as Aneesah Morrow can drag them, and I can’t help but think that “the WNIT” is going to be that end result.

I kind of alluded to it along the way while talking about the departures and the newcomers, but let’s hang a sign on it. Last year, per Her Hoop Stats, DePaul ranked #44 in the country in three-point shooting percentage at 34.3% and #5 in the country in possessions per 40 minutes. They actually didn’t shoot a lot of threes relative to the function of their offense, ranking #132 in the nation in that regard, but when you’re playing that fast, you’re shooting a lot of threes just because of how many possessions you’re jamming into the game.

On a per-player basis:

40%+: Kierra Collier and Darrione Rogers
35%+: Lexi Held
33%+: Deja Church and Sonya Morris

Everyone else? Under 25%. Remember: Held, Church, and Morris are gone now, while Collier and Rogers will definitely make big contributions for this year’s roster. That’s probably not ideal for the Blue Demons, because you could easily argue that Collier and Rogers got such good looks because they weren’t the primary options to let it fly and defenses were focusing on either their teammates behind the arc or on Aneesah Morrow in the paint.

What about Doug Bruno’s transfer additions? Can they make up the difference? It doesn’t seem likely, that’s for sure. Jade Edwards had a career best 31.2% as a sophomore at American, but has gone 22% over the past two seasons on just 99 attempts in 43 games. Anaya Peoples is 7-for-40 (18%) across three seasons at Notre Dame.

I don’t think I’m completely out of pocket to think that Morrow was able to do a lot of what she was able to do last season because teams were wildly afraid of leaving the other four people on the floor open at all, even to a tiny sliver of a degree. What happens to DePaul’s offense if they can’t shoot it any more and that allows teams to collapse on Morrow?

I make this point because DePaul needed the #11 offense in the country per Her Hoop Stats to drag the #234 defense kicking and screaming into the NCAA tournament.... and they only got into the first ever women’s First Four where they got absolutely demolished and sent home before anyone else had a chance to realize the tournament had even started. If the tournament hadn’t expanded, DePaul would not have qualified at all.

This is particularly relevant here because in 2021, DePaul missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002. Had it not been expanded to 68 teams in 2022, it would have been two straight misses for the Blue Demons, something that would have been unthinkable for Doug Bruno’s team. And now, there’s a whole lot of offense missing, and a lot of a specific kind of offense that helped free up their superstar freshman sensation, from a team that desperately needed their offense to carry them to that liferaft of a tournament berth.

Doug Bruno’s a great coach. You don’t make all of those NCAA tournaments through multiple different conference alignments without being a great coach. But I don’t know if “well, he’ll coach them up” is going to cover the difference between what this looks like it might be and the standard that DePaul women’s basketball has lived up to over the past two decades. It’s possible that there’s people on DePaul’s bench that I’m just discounting because they didn’t play much last year and maybe we get an explosion of new faces doing big things for them..... but if Bruno thought they could contribute, you’d think that he might have used them last year to get that team into a little bit better position than they ended up having.

Maybe it all works out. I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for it, though.