The Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois hasn't been the happiest of places for the DePaul Blue Demons over the last decade or so. The Blue Demons have spiraled in the cellar of the Big East Conference almost since they arrived in 2005 with the exodus of several programs from Conference USA.
Those woes have continued in this new era of the Big East Conference. In the last two seasons of the Oliver Purnell Era, DePaul did their best 'J.O.B. Squad' impression by going 9-27. Mind you, that's a winning percentage of 25.0 percent. The Blue Demons have won merely one-quarter of Big East games in two seasons. To say that dismal play has been the hallmark of this program might even be an understatement.
There are some reasons to be excited about the future. Dave Leitao has done a solid job in the realm of recruiting since retaking the job this past spring. Any kind of forceable imprint in Chicago would greatly benefit this team going forward.
But we're here now to talk about the present. Right now, DePaul has a tough test in front of them as the competition around them has only gotten better, save for maybe the mass exodus in Jamaica, Queens in the most recent offseason.
With that said, let's take a look at DePaul's Big East schedule and decipher what needs to be done for moderate success to occur:
Georgetown (December 30)
DePaul's quest to get off the schneid doesn't start off well for them to say the least. They'll welcome the Georgetown Hoyas to the Rosemont Horizon on the second-to-last day of 2015 for a primetime matchup on FOX Sports 1. The Blue Demons were able to pull off a stunner on the Hoyas in the opening round of the Big East Tournament two seasons ago but a lot has changed since that matchup. Both the Hoyas and Blue Demons will be coming off of eight-day breaks prior to this matchup, so it is possible that one team could catch the other napping if rustiness comes into play. I don't foresee DePaul pulling off an upset here, so a repeat performance of the 2015 Big East season in which they started off unbeaten is unlikely.
Seton Hall (January 2; Newark, NJ)
This game, however, could prove to be a different story. I say this partially because of the start time. DePaul will be meeting Seton Hall in Newark at 10 a.m. CT on the second day of 2016 as the Big East New Year's Tip Off's first game of five. An 10 a.m. CT tip off (or 11 a.m. ET for readers currently in the Eastern Time Zone) does no favors to either team but given that SHU might be in some flux this year and we don't know what they'll be bringing to the table, suggesting that the Blue Demons escape Newark with a victory isn't out of the question. I think this matchup could play right into their hands and give them a much-needed win given the impending stretch that they will be undertaking.
Butler (January 5)
I'm rather intrigued to see this matchup, mostly due to the guards that will be in play here. The tandems of Tyler Lewis and Kellen Dunham for Butler and Billy Garrett Jr. and Aaron Simpson for DePaul will provide some entertainment if nothing else. The 'Dawgs have the edge in talent and have thumped DePaul ever since taking a double overtime loss to the Blue Demons at Hinkle in January 2014. Though guard play should be the story here, I suspect that the Bulldogs will walk into Rosemont Horizon and win. Then again, nobody expected John Cena to give Kurt Angle fits in June 2002 in that very same building, did they?
Georgetown (January 9; Washington, D.C.)
The second part of DePaul's rough stretch sees the Blue Demons traveling to The Hilltop to take on the very same Georgetown Hoyas they met in the Big East opener. There are some positives and negatives to this. The negative is that they have to play an extremely talented Georgetown team twice in four games. The positive is that they get to get these matchups out of the way early. Given the fact that this is a Noon ET tipoff, if Georgetown can't shake the cobwebs off then it could leave them susceptible to the Blue Demons catching them off guard. We'll see what happens but I can't imagine anything better than a split with G'Town for DePaul. I think the Hoyas get the best of them at home.
Xavier (January 12; Cincinnati, OH)
Now before writing DePaul off in this matchup it's very important to note that they were able to knock Xavier off in their building last season. And that was arguably against a better team than the one that will be taking the floor this fall. X did make the Sweet 16 after all, and an unintimidated Blue Demon squad rolled into Cintas Center and came away with a stunning victory last January. Could we see the same thing happen this year in Cincy? I'm not ready to completely write off the possibility if things break down. Typically though, X does have a strong home court advantage and it can play right up their alley, and they have one of the most talented players in the conference in the form of sophomore Trevon Bluiett. I'll lean the Musketeers way here in any event but history repeating itself isn't out of the question.
Creighton (January 17)
A Sunday Noon CT tip off between the Jays and the Blue Demons is up next on the slate. DePaul pulled off one of the more surprising wins of the season last year when they went into the raucous CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska and beat Creighton by a hearty 10 points. They proceeded to follow that up in late February with a 13-point loss at home. What does it all mean? Well, we're not too sure. What we do know is that Creighton is much more talented than they were a season ago with the additions of point guard Maurice Watson and power forward Cole Huff. Creighton is pretty stockpiled with good guards in the form of Watson, James Milliken, and Isaiah Zierden as well. I think DePaul's woes against Creighton are due to continue here but maybe DePaul gives a hard, concerted effort that impresses a lot of people. You know, like Stone Cold did against Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13 when he didn't say the words "I Quit." Something like that.
Marquette (January 20; Milwaukee, WI)
After hosting the Bluejays, Dave Leitao & Co. head up I-94 to the 414 to take on the Marquette Golden Eagles. MU has dominated the series over their fellow former Conference USA peer since moving to the Big East in 2005, leading 13-2 in the win-loss column. If DePaul wants to have any chance of ending their woes over Wojo and the young Golden Eagles this year, they will certainly have to have a lot of breaks fall their way. Especially in this matchup away from home in the BMO Harris Bradley Center, a venue that doesn't often play kindly to its visitors.
Butler (January 27; Indianapolis, IN)
Speaking of which, the Butler Bulldogs and their home venue doesn't often welcome guests with hospitality either. Hinkle Fieldhouse is often times tough to play in, with the 'Dawgs only losing three times last season inside their home venue. DePaul will have to do quite a lot in this two-game road trip to piece together a victory against two extremely talented teams that might be tournament-bound.
Xavier (January 30)
The Blue Demons wrap up the month of January with an encounter with the Xavier Musketeers. It will mark the second time in five games that they'll have to handle X, which is no enviable task to say the least. This will be an afternoon tip on the CBS Sports Network that could benefit the Blue Demons due to the early afternoon tip time, if nothing else. To their credit, sans the February 2014 trip to Cincinnati, DePaul has played X pretty close in the last two seasons including their stunning 3-point win at the Horizon a year ago. Will this prove to be the same?
Providence (February 2)
Speaking of unenviable tasks, DePaul will welcome Kris Dunn and the Friars to the Northwest Suburbs on the second night of the second month of 2016. Dunn was terrific against DPU last year, scoring a combined 48 points in the two meetings they had in 2015, and racked up a combined 15 assists in the two contests, with 11 of those coming in an 83-72 victory for the Friars over the Blue Demons at the Dunkin Donuts Center on January 29. It would come as no surprise to anyone if the New London, Connecticut native left his mark in this game, and he will have to be the primary weapon to stop if DePaul wants to win. You can thank Captain Obvious for that remark.
Creighton (February 6; Omaha, NE)
Trivia: Who was the first team to give Creighton a home loss in conference play as a member of the Big East? DePaul! That's who. Creighton's skid in Big East play continued on in the third matchup of the year as DePaul went in and beat them by 10 points in the CenturyLink Center. That's no easy task to say the very least, but the Bluejays are bolstered up in 2015 with the additions of transfers Cole Huff and Maurice Watson, Jr. from Nevada and Boston University respectively. Like most matchups, it'll be tough sledding but an improved DePaul squad could challenge Creighton in what is a pretty intriguing encounter on paper.
Villanova (February 9)
The homecoming game for Jalen Brunson will take place on the ninth of February. Brunson, a Lincolnshire, Illinois native, will tag along with the highly touted Villanova Wildcats to meet up with DePaul on their home floor. If Brunson performs as well as he did in his final game at Stevenson High School then 'Cats fans could be in for a treat. Meanwhile, the Blue Demons will be looking to spoil the fun here. Villanova will likely be the favorites in this game, and it's certainly going to take a lot for DePaul to pull off the upset.
St. John's (February 17; Queens, NY)
Eight days later, DePaul heads east to meet the St. John's Red Storm at Carnesecca Arena in Jamaica, Queens. Carnesecca Arena has been very unkind to DePaul, with the Blue Demons losing in their last five consecutive trips to the intimate venue on the St. John's campus. The last time that DePaul defeated St. John's at Carnesecca Arena, the leading scorer for the Blue Demons on that night was Dar Tucker, while Justin Burrell picked up 18 for the Johnnies with Anthony Mason, Jr. complementing him with 11 of his own. Needless to say, it's been a little while.
Marquette (February 20)
The second portion of the I-94 series occurs exactly a month after the first one, as DePaul welcomes Marquette on February 20 after battling MU on January 20. MU could be seeking the beginning of a stretch run to get them enough wins for NCAA Tournament consideration at this point, so it's not out of the question to suggest that DePaul could play spoilers for the Golden Eagles in this matchup if they find themselves out of the Big East race at this point in time.
St. John's (February 25)
DePaul concludes their series against St. John's eight days after the first matchup between the two teams. Given that these two teams were predicted to finish near the bottom of the conference, this might not have the most zeal if the predictions/projections are correct. A matchup of two desperate teams to this point int he season could provide for some theatrics and entertainment however if all goes according to that plan. Who knows though? Perhaps these two teams will surprise and this game will have significant impact on the Big East season. Stranger things have happened, right?
Providence (February 27; Providence, RI)
DePaul closes out the month of February with no easy task as they will head to 'The Dunk' to take on Kris Dunn and the Friars. The Blue Demons will look to recreate the magic they generated on January 5, 2013 when Cleveland Melvin, Jamee Crockett and Brandon Young combined for 53 points in an 83-73 road win. DePaul hasn't had much success at the Dunkin Donuts Center since joining the Big East Conference in the 2005-06 season, losing five of the seven games to occur in the venue. One might say they might be due to win if that's the case, so we'll see what happens in this late-season showdown when it arrives to us.
Villanova (March 1; Villanova, PA)
The penultimate Big East Conference game for the 2015-16 DePaul Blue Demons comes against the toughest foe of them all. With the fact that 'Nova is playing Georgetown in the final game of the Big East season, this could represent an opportunity for the Blue Demons to catch the Wildcats napping in a possible trap game. Whether or not this occurs is left to be seen, but the possibility certainly looms and makes this perhaps the most interesting game of the entire slate for DePaul in their 2015-16 Big East season.
Seton Hall (March 7)
The Big East season concludes for DePaul with a Saturday morning matchup against the Seton Hall Pirates on March 7. With an 11 a.m. CT start time in place, DePaul will be facing a Pirates team that will be shedding cobwebs in the central time zone as both teams will be looking to finish strong. We'll likely know much more about these teams by this point - both coming in with question marks and intrigue this season - and DePaul fans will be hoping that this season goes much differently than the last few have.