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2016-17 Big East nonconference schedule analysis: DePaul Blue Demons

The Blue Demons have one final season in the Rosemont Horizon. Can they make it count?

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Providence Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing 9-22 finish in Dave Leitao’s first season back at the helm. The DePaul Blue Demons will look to take a step forward this season before they head to their fancy new arena on the Chicago lakefront for the 2017-18 season. This season will be a year-long tribute to the Rosemont Horizon, DePaul’s home since the building’s inception in 1980, if only just on this website.

The Blue Demons’ schedule this year has a little bit of everything. Bad local teams, good local teams, Rutgers, the list goes on and on.

Let’s jump right in. The opponent’s record from last year and KenPom ranking as of October 25 is in parentheses. For reference, DePaul checks in at #177 on KenPom.

Robert Morris (10-22, #299)

The Blue Demons open their season on November 13 at the on-campus McGrath Phillips Arena against the Colonels. Robert Morris was horrendous last year, finishing 339th of 351 teams in Adjusted Offense at 90.6. For those that don’t know, that means over 100 possessions, the Colonels scored 90.6 points. National average was 103.6. To make matters even worse for Robert Morris, that offense was only salvaged by Rodney Pryor’s 18 points per game. Pryor graduated and transferred to Georgetown in the offseason. The Colonels weren’t particularly good rebounders either, and Pryor’s 8.0 per game won’t be around anymore.

DePaul will start the season 1-0 for the ninth straight year.

Rutgers (7-25, #191)

What a game to kick off the final season at the Rosemont Horizon (Allstate Arena, if you’re a corporate sellout who also calls it the Willis Tower and recognizes Macy’s over Marshall Field’s).

Villanova won 35 games last season. Wanna know how many games DePaul and Rutgers have won in their last three seasons? 33 and 29, respectively.

This is part of the second annual Gavitt Games, and it’s a great tribute to Dave Gavitt. Two schools that don’t have football teams battling it out on the hardwood.

It’s no secret these teams haven’t been very good lately, but this should still be a pretty good game. All you can really ask of inter-conference showdowns is that they match teams evenly, even in the case of bottom feeders.

DePaul comes into this game with a winning streak over the Scarlet Knights, as the Blue Demons won the last two meetings when Rutgers was in the Big East. Rutgers has Corey Sanders, an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention and leading freshman scorer, returning this season. They also have a new head coach in former Stony Brook leading man Steve Pikiell. While the Blue Demons are favored in this game, per KenPom, they’ll have to find a way to slow Sanders down. Lucky for DePaul, guards are their strength, with Billy Garrett, Jr. and Eli Cain manning the backcourt.

Milwaukee (20-13, #227)

I know what you’re thinking. How is Milwaukee so low in KenPom going into the year if they finished 20-13? Well... they lost a lot of pieces. Head coach Rob Jeter? Gone (For pretty poor reasons, no less.). 2015-16 leading scorer and rebounder Matt Tiby? Gone. Graduated. 2015-16 second-leading scorer Akeem Springs? Gone. Transferred to Minnesota. 2015-16 third-leading scorer Jordan Johnson? Gone. Transferred to UNLV. 2015-16 fourth-leading scorer Austin Arians? Gone. Transferred to Wake Forest. 2015-16 fifth-leading scorer JJ Panoske? Gone. Graduated. Milwaukee’s leading returning scorer is senior Cody Wichmann. He averaged 4.8 points per game last season. The Panthers have a 2015-16 St. John’s Red Storm hole in their offense as a result of all the departures. Butler alum and new head coach LaValle Jordan certainly has his work cut out for him.

DePaul should be able to benefit from all the changes and Milwaukee likely won’t have gelled yet, as it’s the third game of the season. Blue Demons have the edge here.

Missouri State (13-19, #158)

The Bears roll into Rosemont on November 23 for DePaul’s fourth game in 10 days. Sort of like the inverse of Milwaukee, Missouri State returns a lot of talent. This is the big reason for their KenPom ranking being much higher than Milwaukee despite a far worse record last year. While leading rebounder and second-leading scorer Camyn Boone graduated, that was really the only loss the Bears suffered. All-Missouri Valley Honorable Mention Dequon Miller is back, as are All-Missouri Valley All-Freshmen Team members Obediah Church and Jarred Dixon. This could be the first real test of the season for the Blue Demons, who return just five scholarship players (Garrett, Cain, Darrick Wood, RJ Curington, Erten Gazi) from last season. If the Bears can start the season strong with their returning players, DePaul may be in trouble.

However, Missouri State wasn’t particularly good offensively last season. If that continues early in the year, DePaul has a good shot.

Drake (7-24, #236)

DePaul won three road games last season. If you throw out calling UIC a “road” game (UIC Pavillon is 4.6 miles from DePaul’s campus. Rosemont Horizon is 12), the Blue Demons won just two road games where they had to go farther than walking distance. One such road game was to Drake, where the Blue Demons pulled off a 74-71 victory. DePaul also beat Drake two years ago in Rosemont.

It really shouldn’t change this year, despite being on-campus instead of in Rosemont. Drake has been terrible defensively and horrendous at protecting the ball on offense each of the past two seasons. While last season they had a lot of freshmen who are now sophomores, it shouldn’t matter much. DePaul should be able to pick up a home win with relative ease.

Northwestern (20-12, #61)

Things that have happened since Northwestern last made the NCAA Tournament: Literally everything that has ever happened.

You probably knew that already. Northwestern is 0-for-77 in making the NCAA Tournament. It’s bad. The Cubs have won the pennant twice now since the NCAA Tournament started in 1939. Northwestern has made it there zero times.

Regardless of that, this game is good for DePaul. It’s good for the city of Chicago. Whether they like it or not, Chicago residents are stuck with these two teams as the closest major college basketball programs, so the two teams might as well start a little rivalry.

The Wildcats and Blue Demons played a fun, close, exciting game last season. Northwestern edged DePaul out in overtime. If Garrett and Cain can avoid foul trouble this season, DePaul might be able to steal a win at Welsh-Ryan.

However, Northwestern has a lot of talent looking to snap that 0-for-77 history. While Alex Olah and Tre Demps have graduated, Bryant McIntosh and Vic Law (who missed all last year with an injury but was very good his freshman year) are back.

A benefit for DePaul is that Northwestern isn’t particularly tall. If it comes down to a battle of backcourts, the Blue Demons have good odds.

The one thing I don’t love is the timing of this game. I wish it was later in December again instead of December 3. That’d give it a bigger feel, to me.

Lamar (11-19, #318)

After a “road trip” to Northwestern, the Blue Demons return home on December 6 to face the Lamar Cardinals.

Four of Lamar’s 11 wins last season came from teams that don’t play Division I basketball. That fact was given to you to let you know the type of team we’re dealing with here. Shockingly, they weren’t particularly good at much. There’s much more red than green on their KenPom page.

Lamar hasn’t beaten a “power conference” team since December 2008 when they defeated Texas Tech.

One bright spot, though, is sophomore Nick Garth. He was an Honorable Mention All-Southland player last season and second amongst freshmen in scoring with 13.4 PPG. DePaul has no reason to really worry. After Garth, Lamar doesn’t have much.

Temple (21-12, #117)

DePaul travels to a city where the heat is on all night, on the beach till the break of dawn for the HoopHall Miami Invitational. They’ll be facing Temple, a team from West Philadelphia.

Okay, Temple isn’t in West Philadelphia. But it’s in Philadelphia and when you have a chance to double down on bad Will Smith references, you have to do it.

Anyways, if you’re a Big East fan, you’ve seen Temple before. They lose to Villanova every year.

Last year, the Owls had two seniors, Quenton DeCosey and Jaylen Bond doing mostly everything for them. Seriously. DeCosey played a ton of minutes and Bond got a ton of rebounds. Temple was also the second best team in the country at not turning the ball over, a sign of both a strong veteran core and Fran Dunphy’s molasses offense.

DeCosey and Bond have graduated, and Temple will have to rely heavily on senior point guard Josh Brown.

The only problem with that? Brown hurt his Achilles in May, so his status for this season is a big question mark.

So, where does that leave Temple? Looking for a leader. Temple’s leading returning scorer is Obi Enechionyia (11.0 PPG). If Brown is unable to play, their second-leading returning scorer becomes Trey Lowe, who averaged just 4.8 points per game last season.

Enechionyia is 6’9, so his size could be a problem for DePaul, but if no one else on the Owls is able to step up and score, the Blue Demons could steal this one.

UIC (5-25, #267)

Illinois-Chicago’s first year under former Wyoming head coach and Indiana assistant Steve McClain didn’t go particularly well. The 5-25 record included a drubbing by these very Blue Demons.

To be fair, the Flames started four freshmen last season. That’s why they’re not in the 300s of KenPom despite being 20 games under .500 last year. They’ll probably give DePaul more of a challenge this year at McGrath-Phillips Arena, but the Blue Demons shouldn’t be too concerned.

If DePaul happens to fall to Temple in Miami, this should be a nice bounceback for them.

Chicago State (4-28, #339)

UIC was an example of a team that was bad last year and is on the rise this year. Chicago State is an example of a team that was bad last year and will be bad this year. It’s not entirely the program’s fault, though. If you don’t follow the news, the University is in dire straits.

Since 2001-02, the Blue Demons have faced the Cougars nine times, and are 9-0 with an average margin of victory of 17.2 points in those nine games. It’ll be 10-0 after this year.

Southeast Missouri State (5-24, #313)

SEMO was pretty inept offensively last season, finishing with the ninth-worst AdjO in the country at 90.1. It’s hard to imagine too much changing this year. It’s the second year of Rick Ray, formerly of Mississippi State, leading the ship. Ray’s offenses at Mississippi State were never better than bottom-100 in the country, either.

This is a nice final tune-up for DePaul before they head to Vegas.

Wyoming (14-18, #203)

As mentioned, DePaul closes their nonconference schedule with a trip to Las Vegas to play in the Las Vegas Classic (NOTE: Chicago State and SEMO are also Las Vegas Classic games, those two are just played in Rosemont instead of Vegas). Their first round opponent will be the Wyoming Cowboys.

Wyoming was pretty solid last season despite their 14-18 record. They had an above average offense and excelled and shooting threes.

This isn’t last year, though. Guard Josh Adams and his 24.2 points per game (third in the nation) graduated, and head coach Larry Shyatt resigned and works for the Dallas Mavericks now.

Wyoming replaced Shyatt with former Kentucky Wildcat and longtime Cowboys assistant Allen Edwards. While Edwards may very well end up being a good coach, it’s going to be near impossible to make up for Adams’ 24.2 PPG, especially for a first year coach.

USC (21-13 #59) OR Missouri State

Andy Enfield’s USC Trojans would be one of the better teams DePaul faces in their nonconference slate. Despite the losses of Julian Jacobs (NBA), Nikola Jovanovic (NBA), and Katin Reinhardt (Grad transfer who DePaul will see twice when they face Marquette), the Trojans return a decent core including Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu. Boatwright and Metu are 6’10 and 6’11, respectively, and could give the undersized Blue Demons some problems.

If the Blue Demons play Missouri State, it would be for the second time in a month, as the Bears head to Rosemont on November 23. That analysis can be found above. It would remain the same for this game.

Outlook

Overall, DePaul has a nice mix of mid-level “power conference” challenges and also games that they should be able to win by a significant margin. If all goes perfectly well for the Blue Demons, I don’t think it’s crazy to say they pick up nine wins in this slate. The Northwestern game will really show where the Blue Demons are at, provided they can get through the first five games with minimal challenges. I think there will be some growth from last season, and that’s really all you can ask for.