When Illinois' college basketball fans criticize the state's inability to make the Big Dance, they must be ignoring the squad from Lincoln Park.
During head coach Doug Bruno's 30 seasons at the helm of DePaul women's basketball, the Blue Demons have appeared in the NCAA Tournament 21 times. Additionally, the team reached the Sweet 16 for the fourth time with its win over Louisville (2006, 2011, 2014, 2016). Hence, success bleeds through the program.
Yet, a new achievement is still within its grasp. A victory against Oregon State on Saturday would mark the first time that the Blue Demons move onto the Elite Eight, and Bruno's bunch possesses the pieces to attain this milestone.
Beginning with Chanise Jenkins, the point guard leads the team in scoring with 14.6 points per game and was named Big East Player of the Year. Jenkins has shown the ability to score more after guard Brittany Hrynko graduated a season ago. She still exhibits the willingness to distribute, though, dishing out five assists per contest.
The senior doesn't hesitate to launch the ball from behind the arc, either, shooting 34.1 percent from downtown while firing up a team-high 205 three-pointers.
In fact, Bruno's offense relies on the philosophy of "DePaul Ball," where his players deliver the message that any feasible three-point shot, no matter how much time remains on the shot clock, is the right one. The Blue Demons rank 10th in Divison I in three-point attempts (883). All five starters excel at long-distance shooting, as each one shoots at least 30.9 percent.
In the tournament, DePaul hasn't failed to expose the nation to its strength, shooting 48.7 percent from deep.
Megan Podkowa's 48.6 percent clip from three-point land ranks first on the team. The forward also delivers 14 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. As a senior, her patience in the post has allowed her to grow into a consistent threat from all areas of the court.
Searching for an all-around playmaker? Jessica January sits at the top of the list. The junior posts 13.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, and most importantly, 5.9 assists per contest. Standing at 5-foot-7, January boasts the perfect size to duck into the paint for a bucket or find an open teammate.
Through the first two rounds of the Big Dance, January has excelled, producing 21.5 points, six rebounds and five assists.
She and her coworkers enjoy displaying their elite brand of synergy, ranking third in the country in assists (728). Only Baylor (759) and Connecticut (730) stack above the Blue Demons, proving, once again, that DePaul belongs in the conversation as one of the top programs in women's college basketball.
Shifting back over to January, the guard even creates havoc on the other end of the floor, averaging around two steals per game. Bruno tends to assign her to one of the opponent's best players, and January thrives on forcing the opposition into a crucial mistake. However, she handed that role over to Ashton Millender against Louisville in the Round of 32; the fellow guard drew an offensive foul in the final seconds to seal the victory.
Now, in order to jump into the record books, the Blue Demons must figure out a solution for the Beavers' pesky defense.
Although DePaul ranks sixth in Division I in scoring offense, averaging 81.2 points per contest, Oregon State only allows 50.4 points per game, placing fourth in the nation.
Controlling the tempo needs to be a priority for the Blue Demons, as well, and that starts with dominating the glass. Head coach Scott Rueck's unit has totaled 44.3 rebounds per contest this season, compared to 39.6 for Bruno's group.
Ruth Hamblin leads the Beavers' pack, averaging 17 rebounds per game in the first two rounds of March Madness. Hamblin was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, so she'll give Podkowa and Jacqui Grant a bit of trouble on the block.
In the backcourt, 5-foot-10 Jamie Weisner presents plenty of athleticism. The conference's Player of the Year scores 17 points and grabs 5.4 rebounds per contest, including a team-high 23 points against St. Bonaventure in the second round.
Surprisingly, a win would give the Beavers their first trip to the Elite Eight, too.
Despite the fact that the numbers might side with the Oregon State, for a program longing to pencil its name into the next round, just one digit ought to favor DePaul: threes. If those drop, the Blue Demons could pull off the upset.