As DePaul lost their seventh straight game Wednesday night against No. 6 Villanova, there was a feeling of lifelessness in Allstate Arena. It wasn't the half-empty arena that's a 30-minute drive away from campus. Nor was it the emotions running through DePaul after its star departed the team for good Monday.
It was the performance on the court, and the coach who, in four years, has done little to progress the program.
While Nova coasted their way to a 25-point drubbing of the Blue Demons (they won by 26 over DePaul last month in Philly), the home team proved why they have been the laughingstock of the BIG East since they joined the conference in 2005. DePaul shot 37% from the field, with just as embarrassing numbers at the charity stripe. The Demons were sloppy - like they were for much of the first half of the season - and handed the Wildcats the game after a strong showing in the opening minutes.
Granted, Villanova is a national title contender, and DePaul is......DePaul. But the horrid play taking place in Rosemont may have been the last straw for head coach Oliver Purnell.
Under Purnell, DePaul has amassed a gruesome 8-58 record in BIG East play over his 3+ seasons at the helm. They have finished in last place twice (when the conference consisted of 16 schools), and could be well on their way to another last place finish in 2014.
When DePaul signed Purnell to a 7-year deal in 2010, it was known that, unlike his other gigs, this wouldn't be a quick and easy fix. The program garnered just one conference win in the previous two years, and were in dire need of someone able to pick up the many pieces Jerry Wainwright left behind. A known turnaround coach, Purnell accepted the task of restoring Chicago's once-proud basketball program.
He had the credentials to do so. Purnell had a 15-win turnaround in his first head coaching job at Radford, led Old Dominion to the postseason in each of his three seasons, made Dayton relevant in the Atlantic 10, and took Clemson to the Big Dance in his final three seasons. The reputation he earned before taking over the Blue Demons was much earned.
But after four seasons and only eight conference wins, can DePaul afford to wait much longer on success that was promised four years ago? Purnell may have known what he was getting into, but he was yet to tap into the Chicago high school scene, which sees star recruit-after-star recruit flock to powerhouse out-of-state programs. He didn't sign a top 100 recruit until freshman Billy Garrett Jr. committed, and his father was already a member of the DePaul coaching staff. Looking forward, the Blue Demons have three players signed for next season, only one - forward Ray Doby - is even a three-star recruit.
Outside of recruiting, it has gotten to the point where top BIG East teams look at their schedule and circle "DePaul" as an automatic W. Purnell's program stands no chance at competing with the Creighton's and Villanova's of the world, and perhaps not even the Seton Hall's. Even before Cleveland Melvin left the team for good Monday following a team suspension, the Demons just looked like a lost herd without a shepherd.
After Wednesday's loss, it could only be a matter of time before Purnell is handed his walking papers.