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

The Blue Demons are resetting their roster in Year Three of Tony Stubblefield’s tenure.

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Seton Hall
Da’Sean Nelson is DePaul’s leading returning scorer and rebounder.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Team: DePaul Blue Demons

2022-23 Record: 10-23, 3-17 Big East

2022-23 Big East Finish: 10th, one game ahead of Georgetown

Final 2022-23 Ranking: #135, down from their preseason rank of #88

Final 2022-23 T-Rank Ranking: #139, down from their preseason rank of #88

Postseason? They upset Seton Hall on the first day of the Big East tournament by just one point before falling to Xavier in the quarterfinals.

Key Departures: DePaul loses five of their top six scorers, including each of the top three. DePaul loses four of their top five rebounders, including both of the top two. DePaul loses two of the three guys who averaged more than two assists per game, and both of the top two.

Umoja Gibson’s departure was a known issue since he was on his bonus season of eligibility anyway, but he was still DePaul’s leading scorer at 15.8 points per game, and he topped the assists list at 4.7 per game, too. Same goes for Javan Johnson’s departure after two years at Troy, one at Iowa State, and two at DePaul. He was the #2 scorer at 14.2 points, plus he added 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.

Nick Ongenda’s final season at DePaul was a bit of a mess as he only played in the final eight games of the year with the Blue Demons going just 1-7. Ongenda wasn’t the reason why as he was a bundle of energy the entire time, averaging 12.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.4 blocks per game. He elected to turn pro after the season even though he had his extra season of eligibility to use.

We’re starting to dig down into guys who maybe more qualify as rotation players as opposed to stars on the team, but Eral Penn was the leading rebounder at 6.8 per game. He also chipped in 8.3 points and a block per game while starting every game and averaging nearly 29 minutes a night. This was also his fifth season of eligibility, so it’s not a surprise to anyone that he’s not on the roster anymore.

Philmon Gebrewhit started 21 times in 31 appearances, averaging 5.8 points and 2.1 rebounds while playing over 21 minutes per game. Yor Anei didn’t contribute much by way of stats at 5.0 points and 3.4 rebounds, but he did average 1.3 blocks in his 17 minutes of action in 21 appearances. He was DePaul’s starting center when he was healthy and/or when Nick Ongenda wasn’t healthy, as Anei’s minutes nearly completely disappeared for the final eight games.

Do we want to count Ahamad Bynum here? He averaged 12.7 minutes per game this past season.... but it was only in 11 appearances... and his last appearance of the season was on January 4th before he was apparently suspended indefinitely. I think it’s worth mentioning him because those 11 games are the only games that the former four star prospect and sixth best DePaul high school signee since 2000 ever played for the Blue Demons in two seasons, and now he’s at Trinity Valley Community College.

Key Returners: Da’Sean Nelson is DePaul’s leading returning scorer at 10.0 points per game. He also only started four games last season, but he did average over 24 minutes a night while appearing in 32 of 33 games. He also added 4.8 rebounds per game, which makes him the leading returning rebounder, too.

Caleb Murphy had a lot of hype coming in as a transfer last summer, but a preseason injury limited him to appearing in only DePaul’s final 15 games of the season. Even with that being the case, he was a complimentary piece at best, averaging 5.3 points and 2.0 rebounds per game in 21 minutes a night. Murphy does get to be DePaul’s returning assists leader after averaging 2.3 per game, though.

Zion Cruz and Jalen Terry were regular rotation players for the Blue Demons last season. Terry appeared in 24 games after missing a chunk in the middle of the season and he started 16 times to average 19.8 minutes. 5.7 points and 3.0 rebounds are perfectly acceptable numbers for a guy playing that role, and he did knock down 37% of his three-pointers, too. Cruz came in as the third best DePaul signee since 2000, but he was kind of buried on the bench even if he did play in 27 games. 2.4 points and 1.1 rebounds in 10.8 minutes per game isn’t anything notable, but it is notable that Cruz’s minutes effectively disappeared as the season wound down. He played in just three of DePaul’s final nine games and none of the last three.

Key Additions: We’ll mention Dramane Camara (#35, 6’5”, 205 lb., Guard, Paris, France) here because 247 Sports’ internal rankings have him as the #136 prospect in the country coming out of the NBA Academy system. He’s one of two freshmen on the roster, but after Zion Cruz struggled to gain traction in the rotation last season as a higher rated prospect, I don’t know how seriously to judge the possibility of Camara being a notable contributor this season.

DePaul will be attempting to replace five of the six guys who started at least 16 games last season, including all three guys who appeared in all 33 games, by bringing in five Division 1 transfers and one junior college transfer. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that all five D1 transfers appear to be looking for a bigger role than they had at their last location is up to you.

Chico Carter (#2, 6’3”, 192 lb, Guard, Columbia, South Carolina) is on his bonus year of eligibility after two years at Murray State and two years at South Carolina. He averaged 9.8 points and not much else for the Gamecocks last season, but he did knock down a career best 48% of his three-point attempts. Jeremiah Oden (#25, 6’8”, 201 lb, Forward, Chicago, Illinois) has been a most of the time starter for Wyoming over his three years with the Cowboys. He maxed out at 9.6 points per game last season while also grabbing 3.6 rebounds in 25 minutes a night.

Mac Etienne (#12, 6’10”, 235 lb, Forward, New York, New York) was only just recently announced as transferring to DePaul, but he’s been a bit player at best at UCLA for two seasons. He’s played just 364 total minutes in 45 games with a medical redshirt year in the middle of his two campaigns for the Bruins. Elijah Fisher (#22, 6’6”, 190 lb, Guard, Toronto, Ontario) was a top 50 prospect when he landed at Texas Tech last season, but that turned into 12 minutes a game in 28 appearances. His playing time did seem to get a little bit more consistent in the back half of the season, but he still wasn’t knocking the socks off of anyone. Jaden Henley (#10, 6’7”, 200 lb, Guard/Forward, Ontario, California) was a lightly regarded prospect when he enrolled at Minnesota, but he turned that into 18 starts — half at the beginning of the season, half at the end — in 31 appearances. He did connect on 38% of his three-point attempts, but he wasn’t being asked to shoot it much at just 1.2 attempts per game.

Keyondre Young (#11, 6’8”, 180 lb., Guard, River Grove, Illinois) is the junior college guy, but he did start his college track at Valparaiso in 2021-22. He played in eight early season games for them, averaging just under 10 minutes a game, but that was it. With Triton College last season, Young averaged 10.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game while starting in 16 of 25 appearances.

Coach: Tony Stubblefield, entering his third season in charge at DePaul. He has a record of 25-39 with the Blue Demons and 27-51 overall thanks to a 14 game interim head coach run at New Mexico State in 2005.

Outlook: I am willing to give Tony Stubblefield the tiniest of passes for what happened to DePaul this past season.

As you can see from the top of the page, DePaul did not end up being remotely close to as good of a team as the computer algorithms thought they would be. Some of that is not Stubblefield’s fault. The algorithms were projecting full seasons from Caleb Murphy and Nick Ongenda, and instead the Blue Demons got 550-ish total minutes out of 6700 from those two men. DePaul played like the #125 team in the country once Murphy got into the lineup, and they were #132 with both Murphy and Ongenda in the lineup. Without either of them? #177 in the country, #144 on offense, #205 on defense. By the time that Murphy made his debut for the season, DePaul had already gone 8-10 overall with a loss to Duquesne and overtime wins over Samford and Loyola Chicago and started out just 2-5 in Big East play.

Now, to be clear, once Murphy made his debut in the lineup on January 18th, DePaul went 2-13. They won the game he debuted in, knocking off Xavier at home, 73-72, but the Blue Demons wouldn’t win again until the Big East tournament. They were playing better, but the results clearly got much worse. That’s why I can only give Stubblefield the tiniest of passes. They got into a hole because of things he largely couldn’t control, but they couldn’t win a game. This includes being the first Big East team to lose to Georgetown since the Hoyas won the 2021 Big East tournament.

At least they weren’t the only Big East team to lose to Georgetown last season? (Hi, Butler.)

The most positive reading of the prospects for DePaul’s 2023-24 season is that the returning rotation guys can take a step forward and the transfers are all ready to excel now that they’re being given a chance to shine. The catch to that is that DePaul can’t have 10 guys all shining at the same time. There are multiple someones on this roster who are effectively going to be doing the same thing they were doing last season, whether that’s for DePaul or whatever team they were with last season. Is that a good thing for Stubblefield as he tries to post a winning record for the first time in three seasons? It doesn’t sound like it’s a good thing. Yes, someone’s going to lead this team in scoring and rebounding and whatever other stat you want to talk about. Every team has someone who leads them in a category or two or three. Javan Johnson was good enough to latch on at least for Summer League and training camp with the Golden State Warriors, but that didn’t help DePaul win basketball games.

To put a finer point on it: projects DePaul at #126 in the country next season. That’s a far cry from the top 90 ranking that last year’s team started with, which means the algorithms are not enthused about this roster. What happens when all the new guys don’t click and the returning guys don’t take a step forward..... and they’re actually worse than the computers predict, just like they were last year? How long can Tony Stubblefield just keep attempting to staple transfers into his program and expect things to get better?