Let's start with this. DePaul was the worst team in the Big East last year according the computer metrics. This season they open with a KenPom rating of 113. Yes, St. John's has dropped past them, but the perennial cellar dweller of the conference is ahead of six teams from the Atlantic 10 and a further three from the Big 10. No, they aren't going to challenge for the conference crown or even an NCAA bid, but a loss to them can be taken so long as it doesn't lead to a tailspin.
And that's good, because last year Xavier was one of the Blue Demons victims in their surprising 5-2 start to conference play. In that span DePaul also beat Marquette, St. John's, Creighton, and what appeared at the time to be a good Seton Hall team. Then they only won one more conference game, also over Seton Hall. The Blue Demons didn't collapse so much as just beginning to play the way everyone thought they would all year. Their defense was atrocious and very few teams in the nation allowed opponents to hit the offensive glass they way Oliver Purnell's squad did. They made up for that by playing tepid offense and turning the ball over a lot.
If that doesn't sound like a formula for winning basketball to you, you're right. It is, however, a perfect formula to lose your job, and that's exactly what Purnell did. In his stead returns Dave Leitao, the last coach to preside over a good DePaul team. Back in 2004, Leitao took the Blue Demons to the NCAA tournament. They've not returned since and Leitao hasn't had a job since running Virginia into the ground in 2009. Whether or not they are the second Big East team doomed by nostalgia this season remains to be seen.
The good news for Leitao is that Billy Garrett is coming back. Good for 12.3/2.4/3.9 and an offensive rating of 109.2 last year, Garrett was probably the Blue Demons best player. The junior point guard would be a great complimentary piece on a good team, but instead he's left trying to carry the load on a bad one. Coming back to help at the point is Aaron Simpson, whom you may remember Xavier making look like a three point hero for a game last January. Simpson finished the season with a 4.8/2.0/1.1 line on 34.6% shooting from deep.
Tommy Hamilton, a 6-11, 255 post presence, also returns. Hamilton shot 46.9% from deep on 49 attempts last year and also pulled down 18.6% of available defensive rebounds. The big man averaged 10/5.3/1 and had an effective field goal percentage in the top 150 in the nation. Myke Henry averaged 12.0/5.4/1.2 last season for the Blue Demons. He wasn't terribly efficient, only managing a 99.8 offensive rating, but he shot .464/.373/.687 and the 19/12/2 he put up against St. John's speaks to his ability to be a game changer. At 6-6 he's undersized for the work he does on the blocks, but he can step out and shoot it a bit. Darrick Wood is a 6-5 guard returning for his junior season with the program. Last year he managed 4.3/1.4/1.1 in 13.5 minutes per game. The final impact returnee is Rashaun Stimage, who averaged 4.6 points in 14 minutes of game time last year.
Jamee Crockett played more minutes than any other player on the team and took 11.9 points per game with him when he graduated. Durrell McDonald put up 4.3/2.8/2.3 in 23 minutes of game time and decided that his talents, and the 23 minutes per game he played, would best be suited elsewhere. Forrest Robinson also added 20 minutes per game and brought 6.4 points and 3.2 rebounds with that. He also graduated and moved on. For a team that wasn't particularly good to begin with, DePaul last a handful of the guys that help keep teams moving in the right direction.
To replace the missing, and to start the rebuild, again, Leitao has four freshman coming in on scholarship. Elijah Cain is the biggest name among those. A three star small forward, he turned down offers from Memphis, Oklahoma, and Providence to join the Demons. Cain profiles more as a ballhandler with his excellent handle and passing ability. He won't light up the scoreboard this year, but he could spell Garrett or give him a chance off the ball. Oumar Barry is a 6-9, 215 three star center who lacks polish on offense but could make an impact on defense this year. It's worth noting that DePaul was the only program in on him.
Joining those two is 6-8 power forward Develle Phillips. Phillips is an athlete who can get to the glass, but tends to lack the drive to do so. ESPN succinctly summed him up by saying "there's still no denying his long-term upside if he's willing to put in the work to develop his body and skill set." Notably, Phillips didn't do that at the high school level. DePaul pursued him, but no other major schools did. Erten Gazi, a Cypriot guard, who profiles played in the Turkish second league last year. He's showed great defensive instincts since arriving, but the jury is out on his offense. The final player coming in is Fred Scott. Leitao landed him despite his not appearing on any major ranking list.
The coaches have DePaul finishing above St. John's this year, but I don't see it. This team returns a little bit of talent, but no real stars. The departures aren't crippling, but they are the kind of glue guys that teams need to succeed. To top all that off, the recruiting class is underwhelming at best. Throw in a coach that hasn't been on the sideline at a major program since 2009 and hasn't faced the Big East and it seems like the Blue Demons could end this season right where they end most of them, at the bottom.