Dave Leitao (87-99, heading into 7th season with the team)
This will be a big year for Dave Leitao, who is in his second stint with the program. Obviously, the second go-around hasn’t been as successful as he was with the Blue Demons back in the early 2000’s. DePaul finally got over the 10-win mark after two straight years of winning nine games the entire season. They also had their best conference record (4-14) since he took over again in 2015.
Now he has to continue to improve the program. Getting double-digit wins is really good for DePaul, but they can’t afford another setback. There are some winnable games on the schedule, and in a new stadium, there is a chance for the Blue Demons to build some momentum as a program. Obviously rebuilds like this take time but they need to show progress. It’s safe to say winning more than 11 games is a must for Leitao.
2017-18 Season At a Glance
11-20; 4-14 in Big East play; 10th in standings; 99th in KenPom rankings
Departures from 2017
Brandon Cyrus, Marin Maric, Tobias Dwumaah, Tre’Darius McCallum, Justin Roberts, Peter Ryckbosch, Joe Hanel, Austin Grandstaff
Returnees from 2017
Max Strus, Eli Cain, Paul Reed, Jaylen Butz, Devin Gage, Pantelis Xidias
Newcomers for 2018
Flynn Cameron, Jalen Coleman-Lands, John Diener, Darious Hall, Jason Malonga, George Maslennikov, Femi Olujobi, Lyrik Shreiner, Mick Sullivan, Josh Ozanne
What Happened Last Year
This seemed to be a different DePaul team in 2017-18. They won more than 10 games and were competitive against some of the top teams in the Big East. There also appeared to be a different aura around the program when they were playing. But there were also times where you could clearly tell this team had a lot of work to do. They did pretty well against the teams they were suppose to beat in the nonconference slate.
Obviously they lost to Notre Dame and were easily beaten in the PK80 Invitational. But they finished their nonconference slate wining six of their last seven. Conference play was another story. They had multiple losing streaks with a win in between. Surprisingly, three of their four Big East wins came on the road. They narrowly beat Georgetown and blew out both Providence and St. John’s. Their last win of the season came on February 24th when they beat Marquette.
They ended the season on a three-game losing streak, losing to Marquette 72-69 in the First Round of the Big East Tournament. As bad as some of the results looked, it was a step forward for DePaul.
Key Nonconference Matchups
There are some good matchups for DePaul in their nonconference schedule. I previewed all of them already, but I’m going to highlight some of them in this piece. There are some really good matchups for DePaul starting in November. They travel to South Bend and Evanston to play Notre Dame and Northwestern respectively. Those will be solid tests for the Blue Demons, especially the latter matchup.
DePaul also has two really good home matchups against Penn State and Boston College. The Blue Demons have a very strong chance of winning these two games and each would be a big boost for them. A win against Penn State would kick start the nonconference slate and a possible win against BC gives them momentum heading into conference play.
Reasons for Optimism
Change is fun and so is DePaul to a degree. Strus and Cain will have the ball in their hands and attack defenses every single offensive possession. They kind of have to do it but it almost led them to some victories (Northwestern). DePaul showed that they can be competitive against some of the bigger teams. A new stadium should make for more popularity and exposure to the Chicago basketball scene. They aren’t playing all the way up north now and students have an easier time to attend games. Plus the arena is super nice.
Now the results have to happen on the court. Strus and Cain will command a lot of attention from opposing defenses, which will open up opportunities for the new guys to incorporate themselves into the offense and get easy shots. That is a big thing for any player who is new to a program. There are some interesting players on this roster and if anything, they will be fun to watch. Strus and Cain will drop monster numbers every night. That will keep DePaul in games.
There seems to be a new feeling around the program and it obviously helps there are a lot of new faces. After the Top 5 in the Big East, the bottom of the Big East is a toss-up. If some of those games against Georgetown, St. John’s, Marquette fall DePaul’s way, they can find themselves climbing up the standings.
Reasons for Pessimism
This summer has seen a lot of the guys on the team leave. In fact, they lost eight players this offseason and it means there will be a lot of different guys in the locker room this season. A lot of new freshman and transfers will be brought into the mix. An overhaul like that is tough to make work in the first year.
There are a lot of young guys and losing guys like Brandon Cyrus really hurt. Last year was almost the same problem with transfers coming and everyone wondering if they are going to work. Also, not a lot of the new guys are proven and it will take a big leap for some of these guys to become key role players on this team. The two biggest areas of concern are at the backup point guard spot and starting frontcourt spots. Can two guys who didn’t play a whole lot last year in Paul Reed and Jaylen Butz step up? Who will replace Justin Roberts and who is the future at point guard moving forward? So many questions
DePaul hasn’t won more than 13 games in a season since 2006. It’s been 12 years of tough play and since they joined the Big East, they haven’t finished higher than 7th in the conference standings. With the conference only getting better, it’s a mountain for DePaul to get better. If they aren’t ready, conference play will be a pain.
Best Case Scenario
The best case scenario for this team is if all the new guys gel right away and fit in perfectly with the duo of Cain and Strus. They figure out their back up point guard situation and make up for the loss of Justin Roberts. DePaul is able to get one of their new guys to be the new Cyrus and provide a lot of energy from the 3-spot.
In this scenario, we also see Reed and Butz step up in the front court to make up for the loss of Maric not only defensively but offensively as well. DePaul slays some giants, not finish 10th in the conference, and wins at least one game in the Big East tournament. That’s a lot of ifs however.
Worst Case Scenario
The worst case scenario is in fact..... the exact opposite of the paragraph above (shocker, I know). It will be the same as last year where Strus and Cain are forced to take an an absurdly high volume of shots in order to keep this offense a float. Reed and Butz struggle to be anchors in the front court and the Blue Demons get mauled on the glass as a result of it.
They struggle out of the gate and drop some winnable games in nonconference play. It leads to being sluggish in conference play and we all know how that is going to end. DePaul doesn’t improve on the 11 wins they had last season, finish with less than 10 wins on the season, and finish in the bottom of the Big East standings again.
13-18; 5-13 in Big East play; 9th in the standings