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Big East 2016-17 Season Preview: DePaul Blue Demons

The Blue Demons have a lot to prove this season.

NCAA Basketball: George Washington at DePaul Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

As year two of Dave Leitao v2 is set to get underway, DePaul finds themselves... where they’ve been for the last few years. After a frustrating 9-22 season, fans and players alike are ready for improvement. After all, DePaul hasn’t been to an NCAA Tournament since 2005.

With just one season left in their digs in Rosemont before moving to a shiny new arena, the Blue Demons will be looking to make lasting memories.

Will they be able to?

Last Year

9-22, 3-15 in Big East play

Notable Returnees (2015-16 Stats)

Billy Garrett, Jr - PG, Senior (12.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.5 APG, 28.0 MPG)

Eli Cain - G/F, Sophomore (10.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 28.3 MPG)

Darrick Wood - G, Senior (5.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG. 1.6 APG, 18.2 MPG)

RJ Curington - G, Senior (2.8 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 0.2 APG, 9.1 MPG)

Erten Gazi - G, Sophomore (2.2 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 14.6 MPG)

Peter Ryckbosch - F, Senior (1.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.2 APG, 9.7 MPG)

Notable Departures (2015-16 Stats)

Myke Henry - F, Graduated (13.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.0 APG, 28.9 MPG)

Tommy Hamilton IV - C, Transferred to Texas Tech (8.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 0.8 APG, 24.0 MPG)

Aaron Simpson - G, Graduated (6.0 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.6 APG, 23.9 MPG)

Rashaun Stimage - C, Graduated (5.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 0.1 APG, 17.7 MPG)

Develle Phillips, Oumar Berry, Fred Scott - F/C, Transferred

Note: Phillips, Berry, and Scott were all freshmen last season and holdovers from the Oliver Purnell era.

Notable Additions

Devin Gage - G

Brandon Cyrus - G

Chris Harrison-Docks - G

Tre’Darius McCallum - F

Al Eichelberger - F

Levi Cook - C

Projected Starting Lineup

PG - Garrett

SG - Wood

SF - Cain

PF - McCallum

C - Cook

Coach

Dave Leitao (67-56 in two stints at DePaul, 152-151 all time)

Storylines

One Last Time

It’s hard to believe, but Billy Garrett, Jr. is suddenly a senior playing (likely) his final season of college basketball for the Blue Demons. Garrett has been a model of consistency throughout his time with DePaul, hovering right around the 12 PPG mark his entire career. The 2014 Big East Rookie of the Year will also look to try and climb further up the school leaderboard this season, as he comes into the year 34th in DePaul history in scoring, and 15th in assists.

New Horizons

This season also marks the end of DePaul’s time at the Rosemont Horizon (Allstate Arena if you buy into corporate sellouts). As hard as it is to believe, their lakefront arena is slated to be ready for next season. While the Horizon was never anything special, it will always have special meaning for DePaul fans who saw Ray Meyer’s powerhouse programs of the early 1980s led by Chicago’s own Mark Aguirre. The new arena is the right move for DePaul, it’s modernized and closer to campus, but the Horizon will be missed.

New Faces

If you looked at the above section, you’ll notice DePaul only has five scholarship players returning from last season. That means the new guys will be tasked with a large workload from the jump. Whether or not they can handle it will be something to follow all season long. On the bright side, it’s not exclusively freshmen coming in. Harrison-Docks played at Western Kentucky last season and McCallum was in junior college (coincidentally, with new Providence addition Emmitt Holt).

Second Year Improvements?

Dave Leitao’s team last season was mostly inherited from Oliver Purnell, save for a couple pieces. With this being the first full offseason under Leitao it will be interesting to see if the Blue Demons come out looking a bit different given their different personnel and the different offensive and defensive styles between Purnell and Leitao.

Three Reasons for Optimism

Garrett and Cain

Garrett was discussed above, but don’t sleep on Cain. In his freshman campaign, the Willingboro, NJ native was one of just four freshmen to average double-figures in the Big East last year at 10.7 points per game. Cain got better and better as the season went on, as well, with his biggest offensive output coming in DePaul 80-65 loss to St. John’s in which he scored 25 points. If Cain can continue his progression this season, along with Garrett providing the spark everyone has grown accustomed to, DePaul might be able to make some improvement over last year.

New Blood Can Be Good

No one expected Eli Cain to make quite the impact he made last season as a freshman, yet he did. Perhaps one or two of DePaul’s incoming recruits or transfers can be difference makers this year and really turn the tide for the Blue Demons.

Anything’s Possible

DePaul shares a city with another team that wears blue and red who people thought would never be successful, and that team just won the World Series and had the biggest championship parade this nation has ever seen. Maybe Dave Leitao can embrace his inner Joe Maddon. Stranger things have happened.

Three Reasons for Pessimism

All Those Guys Left

I know I said above that new blood can be good, and I believe that. But... DePaul lost a ton of pieces from last year’s squad. We’ll ignore the three freshmen that transferred for the sake of this argument, there didn’t make much of a difference last season. However, if you take Henry, Hamilton, Simpson, and Stimage, that’s a total of 34 points per game from last season that are no longer with the Blue Demons, who only averaged 67.5 PPG as a team. Over half of their scoring left and it’s up to freshmen and transfers to learn on the fly and make up for it.

The Big East Got Better

If you look at the Big East, top to bottom, there’s no argument that it’s a better conference than last season. I believe DePaul is better, as well, but when the rest of the conference improves, it only means so much for a team like the Blue Demons.

History

DePaul has the longest NCAA Tournament drought in the Big East by quite a considerable margin. This isn’t like the professional ranks where you can only be bad for so long until you draft your way into success (unless you’re the Cleveland Browns), you can be unsuccessful for decades in college hoops. Just ask DePaul’s neighbors in Evanston. It’s important to look for small steps towards success instead of a giant leap, but that can be hard for some people.

Best Case Scenario

Garrett and Cain each average 15 PPG while the rest of the team steps up (specifically a freshman or two). The Blue Demons win a Wednesday night Big East Tournament game before gracefully bowing out to #1 seed Villanova in a hard fought game to finish the season with 14-15 wins.

Worst Case Scenario

DePaul struggles on defense and with inexperience and fail to crack the double-digit win mark for the second straight season, competing with Missouri, Rutgers, and Boston College for the dubious title of Worst Power Conference Team.