DePaul 2014-15 Record: 12-20, 6-12 in the Big East
Key Players Lost: Jamee Crockett, Forrest Robinson, Greg Sequele and Durrell McDonald
Key Players Coming Back: Billy Garrett Jr., Tommy Hamilton IV, Myke Henry, Aaron Simpson, R.J. Curington, Darrick Wood and Rashaun Stimage.
New Recruits/Transfers: Develle Phillips, Oumar Barry, Eli Cain and Fred “King” Scott.
Looking at the whole picture, DePaul did not make a whole lot of progress last season. After all, DePaul finished with their eighth-straight losing season; which resulted in the ouster of head coach Oliver Purnell at the end of the season. But a closer look reveals that DePaul did have their best Big East mark in seven years, though, while finishing in a tie for seventh place (DePaul had finished in last in the conference the previous six years).
DePaul’s season was a true roller coaster ride, as the season can be divided into four factions: the first seven games of the non-conference schedule; the last six games of the non-conference schedule; the first seven game of conference play and the last 12 games of conference action.
The Blue Demons started off fairly well to start the season. Although they lost a head-scratcher to Lehigh early on, DePaul started 6-1 and beat a fairly good Stanford team (who, if you remember, won the NIT) along the way. After that, the bottom fell out and the team reverted back to some ugly habits to close out the non-conference schedule. They closed out non-conference play by dropping their last six games. Included were four losses by double-digits (two by more than 20 points), including bad defeats to Ohio and Loyola Marymount in Hawaii.
Then perhaps with a new, fresh slate to work with prior to opening conference play, DePaul showed a lot of fortitude to storm out of the Big East winning their first three conference games (including a win over Xavier) and five of their first seven games. They looked like a confident and refreshed team while catching the nation by surprise.
However, rather predictably, DePaul would fall apart from there, only winning one game the rest of the way. With that spiral down, DePaul almost had no choice but to fire Purnell, as the team looked lifeless down the stretch.
Individually, sophomore guard Billy Garrett Jr and Myke Henry had good seasons for the Blue Demons. Garrett Jr. led the team in both scoring (12.3 ppg) and assists (3.9 apg) and was named honorable mention all-Big East. Meanwhile, Henry was second on the team in scoring (12 ppg) while first in rebounding (5.4 rpg).
2015-16 Look Ahead:
To look ahead, DePaul first looked back and hired ex-DePaul coach Dave Leitao to be their coach once again. I guess DePaul figured what once worked before, could work again. After all, Leitao was the last coach to get the Blue Demons to the NCAA Tournament (2004). In all, Leitao got the Blue Demons to the postseason in all three seasons he was at DePaul (the Demons made two NIT’s sandwiched in between their 2004 NCAA Tournament appearance).
What Leitao and his news staff must do is instill some confidence and discipline in this group, especially on the defensive side of the ball. DePaul ranked last of near the last in most defensive categories in the Big East.
Playing tough defense and working hard were Leitao staples back in his first run with the Demons, so expect DePaul to get better on that side of the ball in 2015-16.
Leitao has a couple of good players to work with in Garrett Jr. Henry and junior big man Tommy Hamilton IV (10 points and 5.3 rebounds per game).
Garrett Jr is a fearless lead guard who loves attacking the rim and going to line, where he is money (.832 percent from the free-throw line). He has good range, but many times he can be too inconsistent. Otherwise, he is one of the finer guards in the Big East.
Henry is a versatile inside-out combo forward, who’s main asset is his ability to score the basketball. He is not that good a defender, so expect Leitao to help him in that regard. Henry is also a plus rebounder who can extend his game out to the three-point line.
Hamilton is a gifted big man who is the textbook definition of inconsistent. Some days he can be dominant and sometimes he can disappear. There is no denying the natural ability in Hamilton. It’s up to Leitao and his staff to fully harness his immense potential.
If Leitao can get the Demons to commit to playing defense, play hard for 40 minutes each game and get Garrett Jr., Henry and Hamilton to have average to above-average seasons, there is a good chance DePaul can make a run at a winning season and perhaps a run at the postseason. It may be too much to expect an NCAA run, but there is talent to work with, and if Leitao can maximize the most out of this group, a trip to the NIT is attainable.