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Know Your Big East Opponent: DePaul

The worst team in the league has gone from being 183rd in the KenPom in Dave Leitao’s first year to 77th to begin this season. That’s a big jump, but is it enough to get them out of the Big East cellar?

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at DePaul
I’m sure there’s context to this shot, but I don’t want it.
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Everything old is new again, and basketball season is finally almost upon us. We’ve given a game-by-game breakdown of Xavier’s non-conference slate and analyzed every player on the Muskies’ roster. All that’s left to do now is break down the nine other teams in the league, starting with the one the coaches predicted would finish bottom and running all the way up to Nova. First up are the DePaul Blue Demons (obviously).

For four of the five years Xavier has been in the Big East, DePaul has finished at the bottom of the league; they’ve also been the lowest-rated team in the KenPom in four of those same five years. Clearly, this has not been a juggernaut to this point.

There are signs of improvement, though, albeit incremental. Under Dave Leitao - whose hire I derided in private and probably on this website somewhere - DePaul has won 9, 9, and 11 games in the past three years, but last year they were 99th in the Pomeroy rankings after being 183rd for two seasons in a row, and they have made some positive steps in recruiting. Now they have a team with some interesting parts returning and the potential to be a fringe bubble team if things break right.

Xavier will take on DePaul at their place to open league play on Saturday, December 29th, with the return leg scheduled for Saturday, February 9th at Cintas.

Key departures

Marin Maric, C (13.6/6.7/1.2, .554/.333/.842)
Tre’Darius McCallum, F (10.0/5.7/0.9, .456/.283/.632)
Brandon Cyrus, G (7.2/3.5/1.6, .410/.346/.692)

Maric and McCallum played the 4 and 5 for DePaul last year, pretty much anchoring the middle of the floor for much of the season. Maric was a traditional post and a beast on the glass at both ends, but McCallum was a stretch four who shot 92 threes on the year. Cyrus is kind of an odd case; he probably was in line for a decent role on this team after a solid sophomore year, but instead he took his talents and his last two years of eligibility to UC Santa Barbara.

Key returnees

Max Strus, Sr., 6’6” F (16.8/5.6/2.7, .408/.333/.803)
Eli Cain, Sr., 6’6” G (11.7/3.7/4.7, .348/.313/.661)

These two guys are certainly not afraid to use possessions, especially not Cain. He shot 362 times last year despite that appalling shooting line you see above not being a typo. He led the team in assist rate and didn’t turn the ball over much, but his shot selection is pretty much just lighting possessions on fire. Strus is a volume scorer, but he put up a basically average EFG% despite being the main scoring option on a bad team.

Also keep an eye on Devin Gage, a guard who missed almost all of last season because he ruptured his Achilles tendon. He was a three-star recruit and hasn’t been lighting the world on fire so far, but he has time in the system and there will likely be minutes there.

Incoming players

Jalen Coleman-Lands, Jr., G
Lyrik Shreiner, Jr. G
Femi Olujobi, Sr., F

Coleman-Lands is the gem of this group of transfers. A former top-50 recruit who joins DePaul by way of Illinois, he’s a knockdown three-point shooter with a career mark of over 40% on almost 6 attempts per game to his credit. That will be a welcome addition to a team that ranked 331st in the nation in 3P% last year.

I think Shreiner will just be depth. He joins from Cal State Northridge and isn’t much of a shooter, though he rebounded and distributed the ball well there. Olujobi is an interesting add. He spent two years doing nothing at Oakland, then transferred to North Carolina A&T and put up a line of 16.3/7.7/1.2. Now he joins DePaul as a grad transfer with plenty of minutes to fill in the front court.

DePaul is probably at a crossroads here. Leitao is entering his fourth year of his second go ‘round with the team, and he needs to make hay. After a couple of early cupcakes, the Blue Demons will be tested against Penn State and Notre Dame before the Thanksgiving weekend is out. If they don’t roll into conference play with 9-10 wins in hand, the writing is probably on the wall.