A couple weeks ago, I took a look at the top five games (see to the right) on the 2015-16 schedule for the DePaul Blue Demons. Three of the five games selected fall during the Blue Demons' nonconference slate.
This post, however, is going to be a more in-depth look at not just those nonconference games, but every nonconference game on DePaul's 2015-16 schedule.
Western Michigan (November 14)
The first game of the season is not an easy one for the Blue Demons, as they'll welcome the Western Michigan Broncos to McGrath-Phillips Arena.
While David Brown, the Broncos' leading scorer from last season (15.5 PPG), has departed, Western Michigan has other scoring options. Connar Tava, a six-foot-six forward, averaged 12.3 PPG last season. Since he's now the main scoring option, he might give the Blue Demons a bit of trouble.
Western Michigan also has six-foot-ten sophomore center David LaMont anchoring the paint. LaMont had six points and five rebounds per game in his freshman campaign, and could be trouble for DePaul if they continue their rebounding struggles from last season.
Penn State (November 17)
The first road game of the year for the Demons takes them to Happy Valley for their Gavitt Games matchup with Penn State.
This isn't the Penn State team of last season with DJ Newbill scoring nearly 21 points per game, but this might still be a tricky matchup for DePaul. Penn State has Ross Travis, their leading rebounder from last season (6.3 per game) returning. As stated above, DePaul was one of the worst rebounding teams in college basketball last season (325th in the nation), so hopefully Dave Leitao has a plan in mind to shut down some of these quality rebounders they'll be facing.
Penn State also has a litany of talented freshmen coming in, but DePaul might get a break from the scheduling of this game. Oftentimes freshmen are still finding their way in the first few games of the season. This is the second game of the year for both sides.
Paradise Jam (November 20-23)
As a Chicagoian, I find myself being jealous of DePaul every year around Thanksgiving. Last season they got to go to Hawaii, this season they'll go to the Virgin Islands, while I sit in cold, likely snowy, Chicago. Some things in life just aren't fair.
In any case, we only know one matchup for DePaul at the moment, so after we take a look at the South Carolina Gamecocks, I'll give you a short blurb about each of the other teams that will be at Paradise Jam.
South Carolina (November 20)
This is DePaul's first matchup with an SEC team since they defeated Auburn in December 2012. The Gamecocks went 17-16 last season, their first winning season under Frank Martin.
A problem for DePaul in this game is that four of South Carolina's top five scorers last season return, including a pair of high-quality guards: Duane Notice (11.8 PPG), and Sindarius Thornwell (11.1 PPG).
The Blue Demons may have a little added fuel in the fire in this contest, however. South Carolina freshman Raymond Doby originally committed to DePaul under Oliver Purnell before reclassifying, and, ultimately, de-committing.
South Carolina was 102nd in the nation last season in rebounds per game, and return their two leading rebounders, as well. I'm starting to sound like a broken record about rebounding, I know. But, DePaul was so awful at it.
Hofstra OR Florida State (November 21 OR 22)
If DePaul beats South Carolina, they'll play the winner of this game on November 22. If the Blue Demons lose to the Gamecocks, they'll face the loser of the above game on the 21st.
If you're like me, you likely don't realize that Hofstra was really good last season! They finished in the top 70 in the country in points per game (13th, 78.4), rebounds per game (67th, 36.6), and assists per game (23rd, 15.5). Of course, the Pride also finished 273rd in the nation, allowing over 70 points per game. If DePaul and Hofstra do square off, defense will be optional. The Blue Demons allowed 73.6 points per game last season. Hofstra's guard duo of Juan'ya Green (17.1 PPG last season), and Ameen Tanksley (16.2 PPG) both return, so stopping them is a must for the Blue Demons.
Florida State is one of two teams (South Carolina) I could see winning Paradise Jam. The Seminoles come to the Virgin Islands armed with, arguably, the best recruiting class in school history. They also have their two leading scorers from last season in Xavier Rathian-Mayes and Aaron Thomas (14.9 and 14.8 PPG, respectively). The Blue Demons will certainly have their hands full if they match up with the Seminoles.
Ohio OR Tulsa OR Indiana State OR Norfolk State (November 23)
This is where things get fun. Depending on how the first two days go, the Blue Demons could find themselves facing any of these teams on the 23rd. You can see the scenarios for each in the bracket, which can be found right here.
It has been tough sledding for the Bobcats in the years since John Groce left for Illinois following a Sweet 16 appearance. They went to the NIT in 2013 and the CIT in 2014, but went one-and-done in the former and lost in the quarterfinals of the latter. 2014-15 was dreadful for Ohio, as new coach Saul Phillips saw the team to a 10-20 finish, including 5-13 in the MAC.
To make things even worse for the Bobcats, Maurice Daly Ndour and Javarez Willis, their two leading scorers last season, graduated.
If DePaul does end up drawing Ohio at Paradise Jam, the Blue Demons should prevail.
This would be a blast. Here's why: Dave Leitao and Frank Haith worked together at Missouri. Then Haith departed for Tulsa and took Leitao with him, where DePaul hired him from. That storyline alone would make this game fun.
From a basketball standpoint, this would be a great litmus test for DePaul. Tulsa was a bubble team in a major conference (I guess the AAC is a major conference), and are returning most of their team from last year. With SMU in a flux, Tulsa's likely the second best team in the AAC behind UConn.
Before we begin actual analysis, I have to say what I think every time I see Indiana State: Yes. Larry Bird went there.
The Sycamores have some familiarity with Big East teams, as they face Butler every year. They went 15-16 last season, but 11-7 in conference play, which is not something you generally see.
In any case, Indiana State found themselves in the NIT last season. They lost to Arkansas in their first game, but the Sycamores have the bulk of their team returning this season. They had three players average double figures last season (Khristian Smith, Brenton Scott, and Devonte Brown), and all three are returning this season.
In the years following their upset of Missouri in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, Norfolk State has seen some sustained success. They've made one NIT and two CIT's the in three years.
However, with leading rebounder (and second leading scorer) RaShid Gaston transferring to Xavier, DePaul only has to focus on one player to shut down the Spartans: junior guard Jeffrey Short. Short averaged 19.2 points per game last season, including one 30 point outburst against James Madison.
If DePaul can slow Short down, they can handle the Spartans if they face off.
University of Illinois-Chicago (December 2)
I wouldn't normally bother doing a write-up for a major conference team playing a 10-24 Horizon League team, but DePaul almost lost to UIC last year. At home.
Remember that? UIC had a lead with ten seconds to go in the season opener last season and Billy Garrett hit a three with seven seconds to go to give the Blue Demons to win.
We'll see how this one shakes out. Everything about this game is quite weird, though.
Chicago State (December 5)
Chicago State was 343rd in the NCAA last year with 58 PPG. Their leading scorer graduated. That number might get even lower this season. There aren't many games you should circle as guaranteed wins as a DePaul fan, but you can go ahead and circle this one.
Drake (December 9)
Have to wonder if DePaul called Drake on their cell phone to schedule this game. Get it? It's a joke about Drake, the musical artist.
Anyways. Drake wasn't very good last year. 9-22 and 6-12 in the Missouri Valley. DePaul beat them pretty handily last November, 80-62.
Drake was one of the only teams in the land to rebound worse than DePaul (349th). They also were 334th in the nation in points per game at 59.5. Leading scorer Reid Timmer (11.5 PPG) returns, but second leading scorer (and second leading rebounder) Gary Ricks Jr. graduated. Drake has a nice four-man recruiting class, but it's unknown how much they can expect any of those guys to contribute, especially a month into the season.
It's never easy to go on the road and win, no matter who you are, but I like the Blue Demons' odds in this game.
Arkansas-Little Rock (December 12)
Arkansas-Little Rock hasn't won a road nonconference game since November 2013. They come to the Rosemont Horizon on December 12 looking to change that.
They weren't a great team last year. 13-18 overall, 8-12 in the Sun Belt. They scored 69.2 points per game, which is good. But, they also gave up 70.3, which is bad.
Formidable big man James White (11.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG) transferred to Georgia Tech. Leading scorer Josh Hagins (12.1 PPG) returns, but that likely won't be enough to propel the Trojans past DePaul.
Stanford (December 15)
Here's where this article gets fun. Remember last season when Stanford went into the Rosemont Horizon and the Cardinal got absolutely dominated? Well, it's time for the return game!
DePaul will travel to Palo Alto to face a Stanford team that looks a bit different than last year. Chasson Randle, the Cardinal's leading scorer who scored over 1000 points in his Stanford career, has graduated. Anthony Brown, the Cardinal's second leading scorer and leading rebounder, was drafted by the Lakers. Stefan Nastic, the Cardinal's third leading scorer and second leading rebounder, declared for the NBA Draft, went undrafted, and is now in Serbia.
On paper, this is a much easier matchup for DePaul than last year, and the Blue Demons should roll. But, they don't play games on paper. Sophomore forward Reid Travis will look to build upon his solid freshman campaign, while Rosco and Marcus Allen (no relation) will try to help Travis pick up some of the slack caused by the departure of the above three.
If Myke Henry and Tommy Hamilton combine for 43 points again, though, DePaul has a good chance. Billy Garrett (nine points when these teams met last year) should also have an easier time scoring with Randle and Nastic out of the picture.
Northwestern (December 19)
Illinois universities have had a problem the last few years. It seems that every high-caliber recruit (Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis, Jabari Parker, Cliff Alexander, Jalen Brunson) from the Chicago area go play their college basketball somewhere outside Illinois. There are a variety of reasons for this, but one big one is that the two Chicago area universities don't take advantage of their location as much as they should.
That's why, when Northwestern and DePaul announced this five-year series, it was met with general excitement. Below is what Northwestern coach Chris Collins, a Chicago native, had to say on the day of the announcement,
If you take this series, and couple it with DePaul's new arena, the Blue Demons could absolutely be on the road to success in terms of getting local recruits to play for them.
Northwestern and DePaul certainly are no strangers to playing each other, as they've met 30 times throughout both school's histories, including 14 times since 1987, but to have an annual meeting guaranteed for the next five years is a huge step in the right direction for both programs.
As for the actual game, it should be a good one. Northwestern, who have never made an NCAA Tournament, look like they might finally be able to get over the hump this season.
The problem for the Wildcats, however, is they don't play a particularly strong nonconference slate. North Carolina, Missouri or Kansas State, the former of whom was an historically bad power conference team last season and have arguably regressed even further, and Virginia Tech are the only power conference teams the Wildcats will face other than DePaul. Assuming they lose to North Carolina, Northwestern will need to win those three other games to have an NCAA Tournament shot, unless they shock the world in conference play.
With all that being said, DePaul has a chance both to play spoilers, and get this five year series off to a good start. This will be a fun contest.
George Washington (December 22)
The Blue Demons finish their nonconference slate likely with some revenge on their minds as they play the back half of a home-and-home with the Colonials.
Going into the game against GWU last season, DePaul was 6-1 and flying high. They lost to George Washington by a wide margin and then proceeded to lose their next five games after to fall to 6-7. The Blue Demons were able to climb back above .500 in the first couple weeks of Big East play, but one has to wonder how their season could have played out if they had won even two of those six games they lost.
This won't be easy for the Blue Demons, though. GWU's Patricio Garino, who had 19 points and five steals when these teams met last year is back for his senior season. Kevin Larson and Joe McDonald, who had 18 and 19 against the Blue Demons, respectively, also return.
As tough as some of these games look, I could see DePaul putting together a .500 nonconference slate depending upon their Paradise Jam match-ups. It will be interesting to see what Dave Leitao does differently than Oliver Purnell if a nonconference losing streak comes to fruition again.