2007. That was the last year that DePaul finished in the top 50 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency. They went 9-7 in the Big East that season, their second in the conference, and coach Jerry Wainwright looked to be navigating the move from Conference USA toward a brighter future. Since then DePaul has chalked up 15 straight sub-.500 seasons in the Big East and shuffled through two more head coaches after Wainwirght’s departure in 2010, posting an almost unbelievable 49-220 record in conference play.
Last season former Oregon assistant Tony Stubblefield took the reins and piloted DePaul to not dead last in the conference, which is about as well as they could have hoped his first season would go. Now, after an offseason roster shuffle, Stubblefield is ready to take his second crack at getting that elusive .500 season and maybe a chance at skipping Wednesday night at the Garden.
If you are trying to get a team that has historically been shackled to the bottom of its conference on track, it would be a huge help if your top three scorers didn’t all depart after one season. Unfortunately for Stubblefield, his top three scorers departed after one season. Foremost among them was guard Javon Freeman-Liberty, who took his 21.7/7.3/3.2 to the Windy City Bulls in the G League. If he was option A, then fellow guard David Jones was option B as he went for 14.5/7.4/2.4 a game before departing to St. John’s. Also gone is 5 year stalwart Brandon Johnson who got 10.5/6.8/0.8 and led the team in minutes.
These three departures leave DePaul with no returners who averaged double figures and no returners who got more than 4.3 rebounds a game. The departure of Courvosier McCauley for Iowa State also leaves them with no returners named after French Cognac.
Nick Ongenda will be called on to take up the rebounding load left behind by the team’s three best rebounders, and his 8.3 offensive rebounding rate suggests that he has a nose for boards. Jalen Terry was terrific at times last season, lighting Seton Hall up for 28 at one point, but struggled with consistency shooting the ball and struggled with turnovers. Javan Johnson was a mid-season addition and was finding his feet, having cracked the starting lineup and posting 16 @ Villanova and 18 against UConn in his only two starts before a hand injury ruled him out.
The biggest addition for DePaul is Oklahoma guard Umojah Gibson, who led the sooners with 13.3 ppg last season and shot 39% from three, both of which are vital to compensate for the loss of Freeman-Liberty and Jones. Caleb Murphy came over from South Florida, where he averaged 11.4/3.1/3.4 but also shot 41% from the floor and had 14 multi turnover games in the AAC. Eral Penn is a grad transfer from LIU Brooklyn, who will be tasked with taking up some of the rebounding slack. DePaul also enrolls top-100 prospect Zion Cruz, who is a 6’5” guard that is regarded as a potent scoring threat.
There are some intriguing pieces here and if one or both of Freeman-Liberty and Jones had stuck around, you could see this squad possibly making a jump forward. Since they did not, though, it is hard to see a major improvement over last season, although Gibson and Terry have the ability to keep DePaul in a game if they get hot.