If his Blue Demons improve as expected this year, Oliver Purnell's media sessions will be far better and less stressful. (Photo courtesy of CSN Chicago)
Following a look at Ed Cooley and Providence going into the coming season, our Big East preview series rolls on with the westernmost program in the conference, but one with a proud basketball tradition on the verge of potentially being resurrected.
Last year's 12-19 record may not look like much for DePaul, but in reality, it was more than what Chicago's Big East program had produced in recent memory. The twelve wins served as the Blue Demons' highest victory total in five years, and the three Big East victories that head coach Oliver Purnell racked up tripled DePaul's conference efforts from the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, where the Demons went an abysmal 1-35 in conference play.
Going into his third year since arriving at DePaul from Clemson, where he had built the Tigers into a perennial postseason team just as he had in the past at Dayton, Purnell seems optimistic; and rightfully so, regarding DePaul's chances. "It's a year where you can look for a lot of growth," he said at Big East media day this past Wednesday. "We've got some experience, some firepower. If we become better defensively, it's automatic that we'll make the jump."
Some of the returning experience includes the inside/outside tandem of forward Cleveland Melvin and point guard Brandon Young, both back for their junior seasons. Last year, Melvin; a second team all-Big East selection at the start of this season and former conference Rookie of the Year, averaged over seventeen points and seven rebounds per game to once again serve as DePaul's leading scorer and rebounder, with Young backing it up to the tune of 14.5 points and nearly five assists per contest as the Blue Demons improved as the season went on.
Gone are sharpshooter Jeremiah Kelly and big man Krys Faber, but DePaul has the talent to replace them in swingman Jamee Crockett, whose big game on the final night of the regular season against Seton Hall effectively knocked Kevin Willard and the Pirates off the NCAA Tournament bubble, and Donnavan Kirk, who enters this season as the Blue Demons' top returning big man. Backup point guard Worrel Clahar brings a 47 percent shooting percentage from three-point range back into the DePaul backcourt, where Charles McKinney also returns for his sophomore season.
Up front, Moses Morgan is 100 percent after injuries sacrificed his productivity at various points a year ago, and the Las Vegas product will join Kirk and 6-10 sophomore Derrell Robertson in attempting to become breakout performers on a young, but deceptively talented, group. Freshmen Montray Clemons and DeJuan Marrero will be part of the frontcourt efforts as well, with Marrero being the highest profile recruit to come to Chicago in several years. "I like the character of this group," said Purnell. "I like the fact that we've gone through the wars and had positive experiences."
The wars begin on November 9th, when the Blue Demons open the season against UC-Riverside, continuing a tradition of tipping off the first game of the year on campus at McGrath Arena. Home games at the Allstate Arena, DePaul's regular venue, follow against Gardner-Webb and Austin Peay before the Blue Demons take part in the Cancun Challenge, starting their journey in Mexico against Gregg Marshall and Wichita State on November 20th before playing either Iowa or reigning Sun Belt Conference champion Western Kentucky the following night.
Fairfield comes into the Allstate Arena on November 27th, with DePaul heading to Auburn three days later to participate in the SEC/Big East Challenge. A road trip to Chicago State (December 5th) precedes alternating home and road meetings with Wisconsin-Milwaukee (December 9th) and Arizona State in Tempe. (December 12th) DePaul then concludes their nonconference slate with three home games against Northern Illinois, UMBC and Loyola-Chicago before opening 2013 on January 2nd with their Big East opener at home against Seton Hall.
The Blue Demons hit the road for two Big East games against Providence (January 5th) and UConn (January 8th) before hosting Cincinnati on January 15th and remaining home to meet St. John's four days later. DePaul gets a week off before invading the Petersen Center for the final time in conference play on January 26th for a meeting with Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh, with a trip to Carnesecca Arena on January 30th serving as the back end of a home-and-home with Steve Lavin and the Red Storm. Purnell and the Blue Demons open February three days later (February 2nd) by welcoming Notre Dame across state lines into Chicago, with Villanova coming into the Allstate Arena on February 5th.
A short road trip to Marquette (February 9th) is next on DePaul's ledger, with a return meeting against Notre Dame next up four days later at the Joyce Center in South Bend. Alternating home and road dates are next for the Demons, first welcoming Rutgers (February 16th) onto their home court before a trip to Georgetown. (February 20th) DePaul wraps up a home-and-home with UConn at the Allstate Arena on February 23rd, with Rick Pitino and Louisville coming in four days later.
DePaul opens March in Florida, taking on USF in Tampa on March 3rd in the first of a two-game road trip that culminates three days later with the Blue Demons' final conference game inside the Carrier Dome against Jim Boeheim and Syracuse. DePaul's senior day and final regular season game comes at the Allstate Arena on March 9th in the back end of a home-and-home series with Pitt, who joins Syracuse as Big East expatriates following this season, as the two schools will become members of the Atlantic Coast Conference.