A new start in a new conference means that the familiar names on the schedule come January and February are no longer there. Instead, Xavier faces a new slate of conference foes, some good, some bad, in their quest to continue building on the groundwork laid over the last 20 years.
In every conference, there is a whipping boy. In the old Atlantic 10 it was Fordham, in the new Big East, it's DePaul. 2-16 in conference last year (after an encouraging 9-5 start), the Blue Demons seem stuck in a perpetual rebuild. Now, talk of a new arena down the road has spurred a bit of excitement around DePaul, but is there actually anything to be excited about?
Old friend Oliver Purnell coaches the Blue Demons. Purnell had a successful enough stint at Clemson, but is back north of the Mason-Dixon now. The Blue Demons play fast (they also play sand volleyball), racking up a higher adjusted tempo than all but three other teams in the nation last year. With that speed comes an average possession length of just 16.3 seconds, good for 29th in the nation. In short, DePaul runs at you and then (attempts to) score quickly.
Unfortunately, the Blue Demons are not terribly efficient in their efforts to score or prevent scoring. Their defensive efficiency was 234th last year, and their offensive efficiency was a mediocre 115th. A lot of that comes down the Demons simply being awful at shooting (47.4% effective field goal percentage) and getting dominated on the glass. Below average at grabbing their own rebounds, DePaul fell in the bottom ten at prevent opponents from crashing the glass.
All that speed and lack of effective size didn't add up to a lot of long range gunning, though. Terrible (319th) at shooting the three and loath (322nd) to take it, the Demons were content to try to work inside to score. Over 60% of the Blue Demons points came from inside the arc. While their shooting percentage was not terrible, the 50.4% they allowed on two point attempts and 36.5% on threes both were. All the speed in the world doesn't make up for ineffective rebounding and defense.
DePaul lost four players to transfer this year, but only one, Moses Morgan, was a rotation player. Morgan averaged 5.9/2.3/1.0 in 19 minutes per game and shot the ball fairly poorly to acquire those numbers. Derrel Robertson Jr, Montray Clemons, and Jodan Price also all left via the transfer.
That didn't leave Purnell in much of a bind though, because he only lost one player to graduation. Worrel Clahar left after averaging 7.3/3.5/3.3 in 25 minutes of work per game. Those aren't the numbers of a superstar, but Clahar was a good passer (254th in assist rate) and attacked the ball well on defense. Clahar's shooting line of .408/.267/.720 will probably be somewhat easier to replace than his defensive effort and passing.
It's not all doom and gloom for the boys in Chicago though. Brandon Young and Cleveland Melvin lead the team with a virtual tie in scoring at 16.7 points per game. Young (16.7/3.3/4.6), a 6-4 junior guard, edged Melvin (16.6/6.8/.8) for points but was the less efficient of the two, grabbing his points on a .438/.313/.732 shooting line. Melvin, a 6-8 junior forward, shot .479/.294/.677 and was willing to let his limited ability from deep keep him from just firing away. Both return for senior seasons in which they will be counted on to carry the load.
Also returning is Jamee Crockett (8.7/3.6/1.3) who can play both guard positions but is dreadful (26%) shooter from deep. Another guard, Charles McKinney (5.3/2.5/1.5) will come back primarily as a defender (3.2% steal percentage) but also as a solid shooter who managed to make 52% of an admittedly limited 108 shots. Rounding out the returning backcourt players is Durrell McDonald, a freshman who played such a limited role last year it's difficult what to say he will add to the team.
The lone returning big not named Cleveland Melvin is Donnavan Kirk, a 6-9 shot blocker (5.8% block percentage) that also knocked down 39% from behind the arc. Kirk is a senior, so it is difficult to say he'll progress, but her certainly has the talent to impact a game.
6-9 forward Sandi Marcius managed only 9.3 minutes for Purdue last year but figured to get more this season. Instead, he brings his 3.3/2.5/.2 to the Blue Demons. According to our friends at Hammer and Rails, "This is honestly a baffling move. Purdue wasn't exactly great last year, but there was a lot of promise heading into 2013-14 both because of the returning experience and a weaker Big Ten after so many players left for the NBA. Sandi was going to play a lot next year and had shown he can play in this league."
Purnell added ESPN100 recruit Billy Garrett Jr. to help with the point guard responsibilities this year. Garrett, the son of assistant coach Billy Garrett, is well suited to moving the ball and was pursued by Florida State and UNLV as well. As a pass first guard he should fit nicely in to a team where Melvin and Young are taking most of the shots. Shots that Melvin and Young don't take may fall to incoming freshman R.J. Curington. Curington is an athletic 6-5 wing who would rather attack the rim than shoot. Maryland was interested, but Curington landed in Chicago and gives Purnell a highly touted incoming backcourt.
Thomas Hamilton Jr. is the last incoming freshman and adds the size that the Blue Demons desperately need. Standing 6-10 and weighing 280, he's no small man. The size limits Hamilton's athleticism, but recruiting word says he makes up for that with deft touch and a high basketball IQ. Whether he can help fill the massive gulf in rebounding remains to be seen.
Despite some good arriving pieces, it's hard to see DePaul adding more than a couple wins to last year's total. The Blue Demons will still play fast and put up points, but a dearth of big men, no particular ability to defend, and the growing pains of a freshman point guard will hamper them again this year.
Closest A10 comps: DePaul was 162nd in KenPom last year, landing between Rhode Island at 189th and Charlotte at 129th.