After 11 consecutive losing seasons, the DePaul basketball program finally broke through with a winning record last season.
The Blue Demons earned a bid to the CBI and advanced to the finals before losing to South Florida in a best-of-three series. While taking part in the CBI is not exactly something you brag about, the stigma of finally breaking through with a winning record could do wonders for the DePaul basketball program.
The Blue Demons had a relatively soft non-conference schedule and did not take advantage of it. They went only 7-4 with their best win coming against Penn State. DePaul picked it up in Big East play, though. The Demons amassed seven conference wins (its most wins since the 2006-07 season). Along the way, the Demons swept two teams (St. John’s and Seton Hall) that made the NCAA Tournament.
On a personal level, Max Strus had a standout season while being named to the All-Big East Second Team after averaging 20.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. Meanwhile, forward Paul Reed was the conference’s Most Improved Player of the Year after averaging nearly a double-double. He averaged 12.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, while also shooting 56.2 percent from the field.
Reed is back, and he has only just begun to scratch the surface of his immense potential. He has excellent footwork and is in the middle of seemingly every play. He can score with ease around the basket. The hope is he can keep expanding his perimeter game (he connected on 15 of his 37 3-point attempts last season).
“I can improve a lot,” Reed said at Big East media day when asked how much more he can improve. “I can add to my three-point shooting, (improve) my ball-handling skills, taking the ball up the court and add to my rebounding too.”
Back from injury will be Jalen Coleman-Lands. Known as a sharpshooter at Illinois, Coleman-Lands got hurt after nine games with the Blue Demons. The hope is he comes back recharged and can give the DePaul basketball program some desperately needed outside shooting.
Junior big man Jaylen Butz is also back. He provides the team with a garbage-man role while cleaning up a lot of messes. He is a great rebounder and defender and is good at running the floor.
Butz has been working hard in the offseason to become a complete player.
“I have been working on my body,” Butz said. “I’m shooting more, I’m handling it better. I continue to work on things I haven’t done (in the past). “
The recruiting class is headlined by two four-star recruits in 6’7” combo forward Romeo Weems and 5’11” point guard Markese Jacobs. The class is rounded out by 6’4” combo guard Oscar Lopez and 6’11” center Nick Ongenda.
Weems is the big prize, as he unanimously is viewed as a top-50 player in the country. The Jordan Brand All-Star has tremendous athleticism and has a motor that won’t quit. Meanwhile, Jacobs is coming off a partially torn ACL, and it’s unknown how much of an impact he will make this year. Reports are he is looking good, though.
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While that is a nice class, it is the addition of two major transfers that is creating perhaps the most buzz.
The biggest catch is Kansas transfer, Charlie Moore.
Moore, who is on his third school, just recently got an immediate waiver claim to play right away. While Moore struggled mightily at Kansas (2.9 points per game), he showed great potential at California, where he averaged 12.2 points and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 35.2 percent from three-point territory.
The expectation is Moore will be closer to his Cal self than the Kansas version. After playing marvelously in DePaul’s summer European tour, where he averaged 20.7 points per game while shooting 56.3 percent (9-16) from three-point range and 84.6 percent (11-13) from the free-throw line, he looks raring to go.
He is in line to supplant Gage at point guard, given Moore’s pedigree and ability to keep teams honest with his jumper—something Gage can not replicate.
The other major transfer is Arkansas combo forward Darious Hall.
Hall is perhaps DePaul’s most athletic player, and that’s saying something when you consider the team also has Reed and Weems on the roster. Hall can attack the rim with ease. He even can knock down shots, as he shot 40.6 percent (13-32) from three-point range at Arkansas.
Leitao likes the versatility that Weems and Hall add.
“There is a thing right now in basketball called ‘position-less basketball,” Leitao said at Big East media day. “There is not a traditional center anymore, no traditional power forward. It’s gone. So, multi-dimensional players are the order of the day.”
Legato feels Weems and Hall embodies that sentiment.
Reed feels with the added playmakers and athleticism, DePaul will be playing more above the rim this season.
“I’m expecting lots of lobs and a lot of dunks,” Reed said with a grin.
Many critics will point to the loss of Strus, along with two other notable contributors last year in wing Eli Cain and center Femi Olujobi, as a reason for tempered expectations. However, when you have Reed — who is only getting better — a return to health for Coleman-Lands, and adding Weems, Jacobs, Hall, and Moore, you got a very talented core.
It’s all about building chemistry and getting the new pieces integrated with the holdovers. While there may be some bumps early, there is optimism that by the end of the year, this is a team that can contend for an NCAA bid or at a minimum, an NIT bid.
How DePaul navigates, the schedule will be the major storyline.
The DePaul basketball program will play its hardest schedule in Leitao’s second stint with the Demons. DePaul will have six major challenges in Iowa, Minnesota, Texas Tech, Buffalo, Northwestern, and Boston College. The first five teams listed all reside in Ken Pom’s top-75.
If DePaul can at least split those games and win seven or eight conference games, the Demons will be on the precipice of a tourney bid.