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Big East Preview: DePaul

Is there hope for DePaul to finish anything but last this season?

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Providence vs DePaul
Dave Leitao’s prayers were not answered
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

John Ralston once sang of a “shallow grave of stubble field and half-remembered lies.” There’s every chance he wasn’t singing about Tony Stubblefield, but the stark imagery is rather fitting for the fallow land that DePaul basketball has become. The Blue Demons haven’t made the tournament since the 2003-04 season, they haven’t had a winning year in conference since 2006-07, and in the entire KenPom Era they’ve finished in the top 100 just nine times. It doesn’t matter which iteration of the Big East you prefer, DePaul is at the bottom of it.

Into that morass walks Tony Stubblefield. Stubblefield has no DI head coaching experience beyond a stint back in 2004 when he was an interim head coach at New Mexico State. In true DePaul fashion, he went 2-12. Stubblefield continued his mid-major sojurn by serving as an assistant under Mick Cronin at UC and finally made the step up to the big time by spending the last four years as an assistant at Oregon. The task in front of him now is immense. It’s no exaggeration to say that DePaul could be a casualty if the Big East decides to reshuffle again. Stubblefield’s job is to stop that.

Returning players:

To achieve that, Tony has a roster he has compiled almost all on his own. Charlie Moore isn’t walking through that door. Leading scorer Javon Freeman-Liberty is though. JFL went for 14.4/5.3/2.6 in a well rounded effort last year, but was below average in efficiency and didn’t shoot the ball particularly well from anywhere. DePaul’s next returning scorer is Nick Ongenda, who averaged 5.7/4.0/0.3 and hammered the offensive glass. There is also David Jones, who appeared in only nine games on his way to 5.1 points per game and shot 38% from the floor. The only other Blue Demon who played in double digit games last season and returns for this one is the excellently named Courvoisier McCauley. McCauley averaged 3.1/1.3/0.0. This is not a deep team.

Incoming players:

Much like Marquette and every other team that has changed coaches, there is an influx of new names on the DePaul roster. The only freshman on the roster is Ahamad Bynum, but he’s not a bad sole recruit to have. Bynum is a consensus top 100 guard who spurned Illinois to come to the Blue Demons. Jalen Terry, a transfer guard from Oregon, has some potential that he flashed in spurts for the Ducks last year.

Tyon Grant-Foster was a similarly bit part player for Kansas last season, but it would stand to reason that being there for a year has to have helped his development. The same goes for Yor Anei, a 6-10 big who played sparingly last season for SMU. Anei’s block rate of 14.4% should stand him in good stead in the Big East, his 7.4 fouls per 40 and 20% turnover rate less so. The best transfer to join the team is former Minnesota forward Brandon Johnson. Johnson averaged 8.9/6.3/0.7 on 46% shooting in 26 minutes per game for the Golden Gophers last year. He is a legitimate talent and adds depth and quality to an otherwise then front line. There is also the usual compliment of JUCO guys that are hard to quantify. Again, this is not a deep roster.

The elephant(s) in the room:

Tony Stubblefield comes with some baggage. Actually, that understates things. Tony Stubblefield paid a recruit’s father $3,000. Per Oregon Live

What that clearly indicates is that Bowen Sr. (the father in question) told the FBI that Stubblefield paid him, then was hesitant to confirm that on the stand. That’s actually not the worst part though.

Back in 2013, Brandon Austin left the Providence program after an allegation that he instigated a gang rape of a female student. That would be reprehensible enough on it’s own, except that Austin was recruited by another assistant coach to another program, where he promptly (allegedly) did it again. That program? Oregon. That coach? Tony Stubblefield. The kicker? Stubblefield knew about the allegation and the dismissal and recruited Austin anyway. Per Oregon Live again, “Doe claimed that UO head coach Dana Altman and his assistant, non-party Tony Stubblefield, knew about Austin’s suspension for sexual assault but recruited him anyway.”

Oregon settled the case for nearly a million dollars. DeWayne Peevy, DePaul AD, said that Stubblefield’s recruiting “prowess” was one of the reason’s for hiring him. The Blue Demons are hurtling towards a slightly less embarrassing last place finish this season. Whether their program is headed for a better place or not is a matter of some debate.