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2023-24 Big East Women’s Basketball Summer Check-In: DePaul Blue Demons

How much trouble is head coach Doug Bruno in?

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament Quarterfinals-Villanova vs DePaul
Anaya Peoples is one of two rotation players returning from last season for the Blue Demons.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Team: DePaul Blue Demons

2022-23 Record: 16-17, 8-12 Big East

2022-23 Big East Finish: Seventh, two games behind Seton Hall and two games ahead of a tie for eighth place.

Final 2022-23 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #73

Postseason? The Blue Demons won on the first day of the Big East tournament and came damn close to altering the field in the quarterfinals, but ultimately they fell short, losing to #2 seeded Villanova, 71-70, to end their season.

Key Departures: They don’t get much more Key Departure-y than losing your team leader in points, rebounds, and steal. In this case, that’s Aneesah Morrow saying “the hell with this” after two (historically speaking) disappointing seasons in terms of team results in Lincoln Park and transferring to reigning national champion LSU. Morrow averaged 24.7 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 2.6 steals per game, but shot just 43% from the field largely because she was allowed to shoot 6.3 three-pointers per game at a 25% conversion rate.

Also gone is Darrione Rogers, who led DePaul in assists per game and minutes per game as well. DePaul will also be without Kendall Holmes, who started all 33 games and averaged 9.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in over 36 minutes a night. Rogers headed to Mississippi State, while Holmes is now at South Dakota. Both women just finished up their junior year at DePaul.

Keke Rimmer turned herself into a rotation player this past season after two years of spot minutes here and there for the Blue Demons. She averaged 6.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in 16 minutes a night in 30 appearances, and she was one of the better shooters on the roster at 36% from long range. She’s staying in Chicago, electing to transfer to UIC. Tara Daye was a rotation player as a freshman more often than not, averaging 11.8 minutes in 27 appearances last season. Her other stats aren’t that particularly interesting, but it is worth noting that the New Jersey native found a landing spot in the Big East as she has transferred to St. John’s.

Key Returners: Get your warm ups in everyone, because we’re going to be doing some stretching and reaching here. Anaya Peoples is your leading returning scorer at 9.5 points per game after tying Holmes for third best overall last season. Honestly, given that Morrow shot it nearly 25 times a game, averaging 9.5 is pretty good. Peoples also chipped in 5.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Jorie Allen was right behind Peoples on the scoring chart at 6.8 points per night, and she added 5.5 rebounds and nearly two assists. Allen was DePaul’s most accurate three-point shooter at 44% on the year, but she attempted less than one per game for whatever reason even though she was averaging 26 minutes per game.

That’s it for actual full season long returning players with key roles. Maeve McErlane played in 13 games, but none before New Year’s Eve as injuries messed around with her freshman year. She had a run of games in January where she was playing lots of minutes, including a 36 minute outing against UConn. But by the end of the season, her minutes were back down into the single digits. Jade Edwards started both of DePaul’s first two games last season, but went down with a season ending injury just six minutes into the second one. She was a double digit scorer for the three previous seasons at American, and averaged more than 6.5 rebounds per game in each of those three years as well. If she’s back to 100%, then she’s got a lot that she could contribute, even though she went 0-for-3 from the field in 23 minutes in last year’s season opening 96-45 win over — weirdly enough — American.

And that is it coming back from last year in terms of notable contributors.

Key Additions: There are four freshmen on the roster, but only one earns mention from Blue Star Basketball... and I’m kind of surprised that they’re ranking players out to #300 anyway. We should mention that Lisa Thompson, #101 in the country according to Blue Star, is listed as a DePaul commitment. She did sign with the Blue Demons back in November, but she asked for and received her release in the spring, and now she’s at Rutgers.

Make of that what you will.

There are also four transfers on the roster, and the fact of the matter is that not a single one of them has done anything that would be noted as “was star player” at their previous stops. That’s not to say that they won’t work out for DePaul, it’s just a note that they’re not bringing in any experienced scorers to fill some voids here.

Katlyn Gilbert (#0, 5’10”, Guard, Indianapolis, Indiana) suffered through multiple injuries in four years at Notre Dame, although she had a sophomore year where she averaged 13.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in 31 appearances. That was in 2019-20, though, and she played just 14 games for the Irish after that. Last year, she was at Missouri. Gilbert played in 31 games, starting eight times. She averaged 4.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.2 assists a night in a little over 20 minutes per game. Michelle Sidor (#23, 5’9”, Guard, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey) has finished up four years at Michigan where she never played more than the 11.4 minutes she averaged as a freshman and only appeared in one game last season due to injury.

Brynn Masikewich (#5, 6’3”, Forward, Calgary, Alberta) missed all of her second year at UCLA due to injury and all but two games of her third season. Last year, her fourth year in Westwood but third where she saw any action, saw her average 5.6 minutes per game in 24 appearances. Kate Clarke (#25, 6’1”, Guard, Carmel, Indiana) was a top 100 recruit according to ESPN, but she played just 43 minutes in 14 appearances for Michigan as a freshman last season.

Coach: Doug Bruno, entering the 36th season of his second stint in charge of DePaul women’s basketball, and 38th season overall in Lincoln Park. He has a record of 742-369 in this go-round and 769-380 overall.

Outlook: In a word? Bad.

It’s not a good sign that DePaul effectively started every game last season with 25 points and 12 rebounds in the statbook from Aneesah Morrow but couldn’t figure out a way to win more than eight games in Big East play. It’s also not a good sign that Morrow no longer wanted to be at DePaul and playing in her hometown and instead elected to go to the other side of the country to play on an LSU roster that’s clearly not going to let her shoot the ball as much as Doug Bruno let her do in Lincoln Park. It’s also not a good sign that two more of DePaul’s full time starters from last season followed Morrow out the door, and it’s not just because they were pursuing grad transfer opportunities after four years with the Blue Demons. It’s also not a good sign that DePaul’s two top 150 freshmen from last season also hightailed it out of town after effectively not playing at all last season.

All of this after a season where DePaul couldn’t even hit the mark of “make the WNIT” that I threw out as their best case scenario a year ago, and that was because they couldn’t finish over .500, which is a requirement for that event.

I don’t know what’s happening with the Blue Demons, but they’re heading south as a program in an awful hurry. 2021 saw them miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002. 2022 saw them only qualify for the NCAA tournament because they were one of the first play-in participants in tournament history, since that was the year the field expanded to 68 teams. And now this, where they were clearly outside the field for the second time in three seasons. This isn’t a “well, UConn’s in the league now, and so they have to take a back seat” situation. From 2014 to 2020, DePaul reached the Big East tournament title game six times. Three times, they got there as the #1 seed, and they were the #2 seed in the other three.

Over the past three years? 11-5, 14-6, 8-12, never better than fourth place in the league. This isn’t taking one step back, this is hitting a loose rock and starting to fall down the hill. What’s the argument here that things aren’t going to be even worse in 2023-24? Is it “well, losing Morrow is actually addition by subtraction, and DePaul will benefit by defenses not knowing where the ball is going next?” That’s a reasonable idea... but it’s going to require multiple people on this roster to suddenly turn into 10-ish points per game scorers. Crossing your fingers that Jade Edwards is going to just be healthy and able to do that isn’t a great plan, and there’s no one in the transfers that’s shown a long history of being able to do that, no matter what team they were with before coming to DePaul.

There’s also the issue of what’s going to happen with DePaul’s defense. When DePaul was running the Big East, they did it with incredibly efficient offense and defense that was somewhere between good and “good enough given how much they’re scoring.” As it turns out, the drop from top 60 defenses according to Her Hoop Stats between 2015 and 2018 to sub-80 the next two years were a warning. For the last three seasons, DePaul has been a sub-200 defense according to Her Hoop Stats’ defensive metrics.

This is the part of the show where I remind you that Aneesah Morrow ranked #31 in the country in defensive rebounding rate last season and #131 in steal rate.

And DePaul was an awful defensive team anyway.

And now they’re going to have to figure out how to steer out of a three year awful defensive trend and a five year downward trend without Morrow doing all of that work to end possessions on her own.

Can it be done? I mean, anything is possible, sure, but there’s nothing about the trend of this program under Doug Bruno’s direction and the history of the players on this roster that suggest that you should expect it to happen.