It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have your current coach be the last guy to have led you to the NCAA tournament. That’s the case for a lot of good programs. It’s less of a positive indicator if (a) that tournament bid was in 2004 and (b) you’ve gone through a couple of coaches since then before bringing back the previous coach.
Dave Leitao is the Jose Mourinho of the Big East, except, you know, not Special.
To the man’s credit, he appears to have the program heading in the right direction, if not at a blinding pace. After finishing 183rd in the KenPom twice in a row while compiling an 18-45 record in his first two seasons back, he has won 30 games and finished 99th and 118th the past two years. Even more surprisingly for a retread coach at a bottom-dwelling program, he even has some recruiting momentum building.
Or at least he did, before he got suspended for 3 games and earned the program a fine for not promoting an atmosphere of compliance back in 2017. This infraction also cost the school the right to list that 9-23 in their record books, which I doubt they’ll worry too hard about.
Before we get to what comes back, we should note what left, namely about 60% of DePaul’s scoring in the form of Max Strus, Eli Cain, and Femi Olujobi. Those guys also accounted for about 40% of the team’s rebounding and just shy of half their assists. NBD.
Reinforcing the reigning CBI runners-up will be a pair of Mr. Basketball winners. Kansas transfer Charlie Moore won Illinois’s title in 2016. He dropped 12/2/4 as a freshman at Cal but failed to gain traction as a Jayhawk. He’s only 5’11”, but he boasts deep range and solid distribution skills. He’ll probably get the first shot at the PG minutes this year.
Joining Moore as a 5’11” guard with Kansas ties is four-star recruit Markese Jacobs, who was committed to Kansas before flipping and signing with DePaul. Jacobs is a Chicago native whose game is predicated on energy and a tremendous level of athleticism. He was averaging over 30 PPG before his senior year was cut short by a partially torn ACL, but he appears to be back to full go.
Romeo Weems is Michigan’s reigning Mr. Basketball, following in the footsteps of Big East Legend Brad Redford. He’s a 6’7” wing who averaged 28/11/4 as a senior and once posted a quadruple-double in points, boards, steals, and blocks. He can do it all and should have the opportunity to get his because, seriously, it’s DePaul.
Arkansas transfer wing Darious Hall rounds out the incoming players as a three-and-D type guy. He sat last year and has three seasons of eligibility left.
Coming back are, among others, Paul Reed, Jalen Coleman-Lands, Devin Gage, and Jaylen Butz. Reed and Butz are a pair of ferocious rebounding forwards who score efficiently in the paint. Reed got a lot more usage than Butz last year and averaged 12.3 PPG to Butz’s 6.9. Both figure to be essential building blocks inside for the Blue Demons.
Gage got 9/3/4 last year but posted a 42.8 EFG% and turned the ball over too much. He can fill in at both guard spots but will need to improve his efficiency.
Coleman-Lands is the real wild card. He’s a former top-100 recruit who shot 40% from deep and averaged 9 a game in two seasons at Illinois before transferring to DePaul and getting hurt after just 9 games. If he can score efficiently from the wing, he opens things up for the Demons. If he struggles to gain traction, the SG position becomes really thin in Chicago.
And that’s basically it for DePaul. You can’t squint at them and see a fringe bubble team in the making, like KenPom’s algorithm did in ranking them 77th to start the year. Or you can not squint and just see DePaul, like Bart Torvik’s numbers did in placing them 140th. The talent is there, but it has been before for Leitao. It remains to be seen if they can put it together into something that means anything on the floor.
Why DePaul can beat Xavier
The Blue Demons have a couple of big men that can force Xavier to work in the paint in a way that most other teams won’t. If that kind of pressure ends up requiring help from the perimeter, Moore and Jacobs will have room to slash, Weems will have room to work, and Coleman-Lands will have room to move into to get his shot. Perimeter defense might be a problem against Xavier’s big guards, but Weems and Hall have the length to make life difficult for the Muskies’ wings. The accumulation of talent is there.
Why Xavier can beat DePaul
A four-year senior at DePaul has won 13 Big East games total. More than half of those came last year on a squad whose ceiling was a CBI run led by three dudes who aren’t on this team. The question when a good coach brings in a lot of high-level talent is whether or not he can get it to mesh on the fly. When you plug Dave Leitao and the guys joining this roster into that equation, the uncertainties amplify. Xavier has a core of talented and driven players returning, plus a better coach and more experience joining. DePaul is going to have to execute at a really high level consistently to get by Xavier; the gap in talent on the floor and on the bench gives X a decided advantage even if breaks in the game don’t go their way.