I would like to begin with celebrating the change in the Big East’s forfeit policy. Before getting into anything else, it would have been a shame if the Blue Demons had to start off conference play 0-2 without playing a single minute of basketball. With that being said, let’s begin!
Going into conference play the Blue Demons have a record of 9-1. I am sure that if you told any DePaul fan that they would have won 9 of their first 10 games, they would be more than content.
To start off the year, DePaul hosted eight straight games. Their first two games were expected wins, and the Blue Demons exceeded those expectations. They beat Coppin State and Central Michigan by a combined 58 points.
The next game on DePaul’s radar was an early challenge. The Blue Demons played host in the Gavitt Games to a (3-0) Rutgers team that was returning their star guard Geo Baker. This was one of DePaul’s three challenges in non-conference play. This was back and forth all the way through. I think that the main takeaway from this game was that DePaul can hang with the higher conference teams and even beat them. When the pressure was on, the Blue Demons continously hit big shots.
The Blue Demons had a bit of a competitive break after their third win of the season. The next three games for DePaul were all part of the Blue Demon Classic. In game 1, they faced Western Illinois in their toughest matchup of the three games. The Leathernecks lead by 6 with 10:44 left in the game. The Blue Demons answered, going on a 20-5 run to ice the game. After a close game with Western Illinois, DePaul beat up Northern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan by a combined 47 points.
After starting the season 6-0, the Red Line Rivalry was renewed between DePaul and Loyola-Chicago. This would be the Blue Demons’ sole loss of their non-conference bout. The Ramblers are a very tough team that I believe can beat almost any team in the country. DePaul gave up a 23-8 run to begin the game, but outplayed Loyola-Chicago after that. The main takeaway from this game for me was that the Blue Demons never gave up, and answered the early adversity. Despite being down 23-8, they finished the first half with a 6 point lead.
Finishing the home stand, DePaul welcomed Duquesne to Chicago. This game was definitely not a challenge for the Blue Demons. The narrative heading into this one was that DePaul was facing a “trap game” in between a tough loss and their road trip, but the Blue Demons quickly put all of that to rest. DePaul wrapped up their first 8 games with a comfortable 20 point win against the Dukes.
The last 2 games of the Blue Demon non-conference schedule were on the road. The main attraction was game 1 in Louisville. The Cardinals were 7.5 point favorites which to many people was reasonable. I believe that I speak for all DePaul fans when I say this, that was way too many points. This game felt like it would be a battle all the way through and would be closer than a 7-8 point game that Vegas predicted it to be. After another tough blow to start the game that felt similar to Loyola-Chicago, DePaul answered the same way. After starting in a 9 point hole, the Blue Demons proceeded to go on a 20-2 run. Louisville answered right back and went into halftime up 3. The Cardinal lead would extend back to 9 early in the second half. After this, the game was back and forth until DePaul eventually pulled away and came out of Louisville with a win. The UIC game was pretty much the same. DePaul started the game in an 8 point hole, and then came back and pulled away in the end to secure the win. The main takeaway from DePaul’s road trip was that the Blue Demons need to prevent themselves from falling into early holes. They showed that they could persevere and win despite being in an early hole, but come conference play this will not be sustainable.
I just want to preface this by saying that I will only be writing about players who have played 60% or more of the games so far this season. The list of players not included is: Ahamad Bynum, Brendan Favre, Tyon Grant-Foster, Shaheed Medlock, and Max Williams.
Javon Freeman-Liberty (senior, guard) (PPG: 20.9, REB/G: 8.3, APG: 3.9): JFL has been the star that this DePaul team has been looking for. The Chicago native leads the Blue Demons in points, rebounds, and assists. He has flashed the ability to take over games countless amounts of times. The main thing to look for with JFL during conference play is if he can continue to score at a high rate. He was held to single digits in DePaul’s two toughest non-conference games. If Freeman-Liberty can produce at the rates he had against weaker teams, this Blue Demons team has the potential to be one of the best in the Big East.
Philmon Gebrewhit (junior, guard) (PPG: 8.6, REB/G: 4.1, APG: 1.7): Philmon has been one of the X-Factors of this DePaul team in non-conference play. When he is hot, he can give you 4 threes and lockdown defense. This play elevates the Blue Demons to a different level. The issue is when Gebrewhit gets cold. When Philmon is not shooting the rock well, he is a non-existent factor for DePaul. The key for him in conference play will be to shoot efficiently, and when that is not working, for him to put in a little more effort on defense.
David Jones (sophomore, forward) (PPG: 17.4, REB/G: 8.3, APG: 1.9): David Jones has been the most pleasant surprise of this year’s DePaul team throughout non-conference play. He has flourished as the second scoring option for the Blue Demons. Jones’s career high 33 against Louisville was not only awesome to see for now, but also for the future. When JFL is gone, Jones can be All-Big East First Team. For the time being, the Dominican Republic native is an efficient scorer who has the ability to take over games, like JFL.
Brandon Johnson (senior, forward) (PPG: 11.1, REB/G: 7.2, APG: 1.1): Johnson is one of the more intriguing players on this Blue Demons roster. The Minnesota transfer is a scoring big that excels on the glass. He is currently third on the team in rebounding and fourth in scoring. Entering conference play, the question will be if Johnson can knock down the three ball. The current 25.8% rate will not cut it against any Big East team.
Nick Ongenda (junior, center) (PPG: 11.4, REB/G: 4.6, APG: 0.8): I think that Ongenda is one of the most underrated players in the entire country. The Ontario native has been an elite presence in the paint on both sides of the court. If I had to compare him to an NBA player, it would be Rudy Gobert. On top of the great shot blocking ability, Ongenda has amazing post moves. I am very excited to see DePaul’s lone center thrive against the best of the Big East.
Jalen Terry (sophomore, guard) (PPG: 5.0, REB/G: 2.0, APG: 2.5): Jalen Terry transferred to DePaul from Oregon this year, coming along with head coach Tony Stubblefield. Terry has quietly been a key piece in coach Stubblefield’s rotation. He is currently the 6th man for the Blue Demons, but has stepped in to a bigger role when either of the starting guards have struggled. Going into conference play, the main key for the Oregon transfer is to be a secondary playmaker for DePaul’s offense.
Yor Anei (senior, forward) (PPG: 4.0, REB/G: 3.7, APG: 0.2): I think that Yor Anei is the X-Factor off of the bench for the Blue Demons. When given the minutes, Anei can be a rebounding machine. Much like Ongenda’s blocking ability, Anei’s rebounding ability is off of the charts. While only playing 12.6 minutes per game, the 6’10” forward has still managed to make an impact on most games. The key for Anei heading into conference play is to continue to control the boards and limit the turnovers on the offensive end.
Courvoisier McCauley (senior, guard) (PPG: 4.2, REB/G: 1.8, APG: 1.0): Courvoisier McCauley is the energizer of this DePaul team. Both on and off of the court, McCauley is always smiling and bringing energy to the team. On top of the intangibles that the Indianapolis native possesses, he also poses as a scoring threat as he displayed against Eastern and Central Michigan. In conference play look for McCauley to give DePaul a solid 3-5 points off the bench each night.
I think that the first two Big East games that the Blue Demons play will determine the outlook on the entire season. Personally, I have DePaul winning both of these games against Butler and Providence. These two games will prove that their non-conference starts are not a fluke. Two seasons ago, they also only had one loss in non-conference play, but proceeded to go 3-15 in conference play.
Here are my official game predictions (win or loss) for all of the currently scheduled conference games for DePaul:
- (12/29) at Butler W
- (1/1) vs Providence W
- (1/5) at St. John’s W
- (1/8) vs Villanova L
- (1/11) at Marquette W
- (1/19) vs Xavier W
- (1/22) at Creighton W
- (1/25) at Villanova L
- (1/29) at UConn W
- (2/5) at Xavier L
- (2/9) vs Georgetown W
- (2/12) at Providence L
- (2/15) vs Butler W
- (2/19) at Seton Hall L
- (2/24) at Georgetown W
- (2/27) vs St. John’s W
- (3/2) vs Marquette W
- (3/5) at UConn L
Conference Record: (12-6)
The Big East is very deep this year and every game will be a challenge. There are insanely tough stretches of the schedule like where the Blue Demons have to play Creighton, Villanova, UConn, and Xavier in 4 straight road games. All of you DePaul fans have to show out at every game at Wintrust to support your Blue Demons. Every single game matters whether it be against Georgetown or Villanova. I will see you all Saturday against Providence! But first, let’s beat the Bulldogs.